15 May 2013

For a day on Saturday 27th October 2012, the usual schedule of Bailrigg FM was taken over by former presenters to try their hand broadcasting again to listeners across Lancaster University.

"The aim of the reunion was to bring back several generations of student radio enthusiasts to Lancaster", said current station manager Charlie Edwards (pictured above, L-R, Nick Hodgson, Charlie and Jonathan Brierley)

“We wanted to give our alumni the chance to put on shows during the day” said Charlie. “The idea was for the veterans to pick their own music or other content. We then teamed them up with the current generation of presenters with help with the technology, which is very different from the equipment that people who were on the station in the 1970s or 1980s would have been used to. The people who come back were very impressed at the state of the station” he said. “We now broadcast 24/7, all year round, on FM around campus and online, with over 225 active members, all student volunteers. The station has moved from its old location in Fylde College a few yards up the spine to a purpose-designed studio in Furness. One of the highlights of the reunion for me was being given the tour of the "old studios", now an off-campus kitchen room, once the home of music on campus.”

“We got people who had been on the station stretching back to the 1970s,” said Tim Ripley, who helped to organise the reunion event. “The old crew were really made welcome by Charlie and the current generation at the station. People put a lot of effort into their shows and we hope the listeners enjoyed it.”

“We really spanned the generations,” said Tim. “We even got Russell Cross, a 1970s vintage member to come on air via Skype from North Carolina to tell us what it was like to broadcast to Bailrigg more then 30 years ago. The 1980s vintage members had the current generation gasping when they told them about going to see U2, Van Morrison and Dire Straits in the Great Hall” said Tim. “Then we had more recent former members who tried to push the envelope with specially designed jingles and audience participation ideas."

As well as taking to the airwaves of Bailrigg FM during the day, the veterans attended a party at Lancaster’s Gregson Centre.

On Air at Bailrigg

“When I was involved in the station between 1981 and 1984 it was called University Radio Bailrigg or URB and the studios looked very different from today. Now it's all digital technology, but the station certainly has the same atmosphere as the old days.  I signed up to join the then URB on my third day as a fresher at the University in October 1981 and almost had to be pulled kicking and screaming from the studio when I graduated in July 1984” recalled Tim. “In the 1980s apart from Radio One there were no other radio stations in Britain aimed at what we now call the 'youth market'.  URB got a huge following across the Bailrigg campus at that time. It was a real novelty being able to phone up with a request to the station from your kitchen extension phone – and then hear it on your radio within five minutes.”

“We put out twenty hours of broadcasting a day then – students have always been night owls and there was a real audience from people writing essays at stupid o’clock in the morning” he said. “I was always amazed at how committed people were to their shows and the station. It was not uncommon for one or two of the station personnel each year to fail their degrees because they were more interested in radio stuff than revision.”

“The station attracted all sorts” recalled Tim. “We had people who were really obsessive about music, there were technical geeks who loved playing with the hardware and sports fans who got off on reading out the footie results from Ceefax on a Saturday afternoon. There was also a hardcore of people who took it really, really, seriously. They spent days recording demo tapes in the studios on the old reel-to-reel tape machines and sending them off to A&R people on London radio stations. This gave the station a real edge and it was rather innovative.”

“Looking back, we were doing some of the stuff you now take for granted on mainstream radio stations” said Tim. “I have visited the station a couple of times over the past 28 years since I left and have seen plenty of that spirit of innovation, which is demonstrated by the number of awards the station regularly wins.”

Student Broadcasting at Bailrigg, 1969 to 2013

Pirate radio stations burst on to the airwaves in the 1960s and those heady days were recently relived on the silver screen by Richard Curtis in his film The Boat that Rocked. Harold Wilson’s Labour government famously tried to shut down the pirates by ordering the BBC to open Radio One to appeal to the youth of the day, who demanded an around the clock diet of pop music and chirpy chat from the likes of Tony Blackburn, Jimmy Young, Kenny Everett and Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart. 

An important – but little known - part of this liberalisation of Britain’s airwaves was the granting of broadcasting licences to local, hospital and student radio stations. A number of Lancaster’s students in the last years of the 1960s were keen to join this radio revolution and applied in 1968 for a licence from the then Ministry of Posts to open a radio station at Bailrigg, broadcasting in the medium wave. They were pipped at the post by our ancient rivals, York, to be the first fully legal student radio station, although one Bailrigg student had briefly opened his own pirate station in 1969. Four years of fundraising, wrangles with the university bureaucracy and the government licensing authorities followed until the station began daily broadcasting during term time in November 1973.

The next four decades saw the station metamorphose from University Radio Bailrigg or URB in 1996 to Bailrigg FM after the station received one of the first permanent student FM licences. This allowed the original and increasingly unreliable medium wave induction loop broadcasting systems to be turned off for good. More recent developments have included a move to new studios in Furness College in 2006 and webcasting all its output to the world on the station’s website www.bailriggfm.co.uk

Student broadcasting at Bailrigg is able to boast helping to propel some of the University’s most famous alumni onto their media careers including Top Gear presenter James May, Radio Two’s Richard Allinson, Lord of the Rings actor Andy Serkis, novelist and Dr Who script writer Paul Cornell, music journalist James Masterton, ITV technology chief Paul Dale and Sky Sports journalist Phil Barker.

Future Developments

Bailrigg FM has recently been awarded a grant of £8564 from the University's Friends Programme to buy a new mixing desk and equipment to allow better outside broadcasts and live events coverage.

In the past two years the station has introduced more coverage of campus events including campus fest, open days, LICA and college events. The new equipment will ensure that the station continues to move forward and keep up to date with new technological developments. 

The Friends Programme funding is made possible by donations from alumni and other friends of the University.  Thank you to all those who have contributed to make projects like this possible.