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On the right wavelength

Sarah Farley discovers that team work as well as talent is needed to get students on air

It's not easy being a DJ. There's a knack to speaking well on radio and it's harder to achieve than your average 15-year-old might believe. But, as those involved with school radio stations soon discover, there are plenty of other roles in radio that will make the adrenalin run, especially when the broadcast is live.

Involvement with school radio is possible at varying levels of commitment, and local broadcasters are keen to be involved. Having a studio in school is an achievable ambition through a mixture of school funding and sponsorship. The expense can vary hugely depending on what equipment is required, with the licence fee costing pound;500 for digital and from pound;30 to pound;84 a day for a restricted service licence for AM or FM.

Kings' School, a comprehensive school in Winchester, holds a digital licence through the multiplex (the transmitter for digital stations) held by NTL Broadcast and Capital Radio Group for South Hampshire. KARD (Kings On Air Radio) celebrated its first birthday earlier this year with Birthday Kard, a mix of music, comment, interviews, jingles and competitions.

Jan Radnedge, head of media studies at the school, says: "We had just heard that the special topic for media studies GCSE was local and commercial radio when Kings' was approached by NTL to see if we would like space on their multiplex."

After a seminar given by their local radio, PowerFM, the Year 10 students began exploring what they could achieve. With added support from NTL, and the loan of a digital audio tape recorder, the group learned how to record, edit and write for radio. It was too expensive to pay performing rights, so everything had to be produced from scratch, bringing in students from English and music to help provide material.

Jan Radnedge says: "We applied for a digital sound programme services licence and an additional services licence for text and picture from Ofcom, and we have to abide by the same regulations as any other broadcaster.

There are strict rules and regulations, which adds to the experience, knowing that it is for real."

The first venture was Test Kard, a nerve-wracking trial run, followed by Kristmas Kard, a broadcasting of the school's carol concert in Winchester cathedral. Recorded with help from Capital, it was edited by the Kard team and broadcast in the Winchester area by digital radio. With Birthday Kard, the team became more adept at producing broadcasts, as each individual grew into their role as sound editor, engineer, station manager and script writer.

Jan Radnedge says: "Kard is a fantastic development for the school as it encourages participation and interaction. We have built up a really strong scheme of work for coursework assignments and have made contacts with the broadcasting industry which we can build on. Our next project is a challenge set by NTL to develop a system whereby text messages about current issues can be sent to a scrolling text screen located on school buses. NTL will help with the technology, but the creativity is down to us."

Other schools are developing radio broadcasting through community connections, such as Preston Manor High School in Brent, north London, which through the City Learning Centre is broadcasting Blaze Radio to local schools. During the autumn it is working with the London Grid for Learning to broadcast to all London schools. Included in the schedule will be features, documentaries, music, GCSE support material and The Manor, a soap written in conjunction with other schools, the National Youth Theatre and the BBC's Learning for Real programme.

At Oscar Radio in Oundle, the directors are facing a crisis. Alex Davies, a Year 12 pupil at Oundle School, says: "The school's production of Les Miserables clashes with our time on air and most people are in both. It has meant that we have had to pre-record great chunks with massive technology problems, but we have learned something from it."

David Fuller is the only staff member involved with Oscar and he also acts as chairman of the board. "Since it started in 1998, the pupils have been in control. They work out the content, rotas, what equipment they need and the technological expertise, and are responsible for making sure they are producing quality broadcasts. Any lapses in taste are not tolerated and we have had some lively discussions," he says.

Oscar broadcasts on FM and applies twice a year for a restricted service licence for broadcasting a two-week trial run in May and four weeks in November. During this time, news, chat shows, competitions and music are broadcast at breakfast time and from 4.45pm to 10.45pm. One regulation is that mid-evening is the "culture" slot when live debates, mock orals for foreign languages, and relaxation exercises are broadcast. About 200 pupils are involved, from Year 7 pwards. Some are interested in the technology, while others help with sales and promotion. It also includes an element of community broadcasting, with contributions from the Prince William Comprehensive and the highly popular DJ Phoenix.

David Fuller says: "Oscar is a fantastic resource. Its benefits range from problem-solving to a huge amount of confidence-building, skills which encompass many areas of the curriculum. And it is something many pupils greatly enjoy."

For more information visit:

www.brentclc.comblaze offers guidelines and advice Commercial Radio Companies Association (previously Radio Authority)

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