Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Xstreameast radio producing the goods

Fancy yourself as a radio DJ?

Do you dream of commanding the air-waves with your voice, a catchy story and some pumping beats? How about roping in listeners with your warped sense of humour and engaging personality? How difficult can it be… surely it’s just a matter of sitting behind a mic and chatting the hours away – right? WRONG!

Putting together a radio show is no easy feat… something that aspiring radio superstars often learn the hard way. I was one of them. Until recently, the quest for decent radio training seemed like an impossible dream. That was, until I stumbled upon the XStreameast Radio Academy. Based in East London, the free and thorough training academy is a new online radio station which trains students, for free. Documentary making, presenting, radio drama, PR, promotions and the nitty gritty technical secrets are among the skills on offer. In addition, each student is taught the basics of radio production and station management, and then actually allow them to put their skills into practice.

The academy is the brainchild of Executive Producer Kary Stewart who came up with the idea after years of working in the music and media industries. To the 50 lucky participants chosen to take part in the training, she is a God-send to the radio world. In an industry renowned for competition (just try getting a work experience placement at the BBC – let alone paid work!) she has given a group of fortunate Londoners from all backgrounds a chance to live their dream and broadcast live to the world. The big bucks are provided by the funding and support of ‘On the One’, a music production facility that teaches young people how to make music. And who does the teaching you may ask… Ministry Radio have made the time to talk to the students, whilst BBC 1Xtra and Somethin’ Else - the production house giant, have held workshops and mentored the future talent. Big names for a mighty big project!

All very well, you may say… but how does a budding radio junky begin the rockin’ road to success? Each story is different. Mine began in a dusty land, far far away… My love affair with radio began at birth. I grew up in rural Australia – under the influence of two music loving parents. I’m not talking Mozart and Slim Dusty… when my parents came home from a day on the farm, they spent the evenings listening to Deep Purple, The Men and Metallica. Commercialised pop was cast aside in favour for the alternative radio station ‘Triple J’ – an institution in Australia renowned for supporting independent indie, hip hop, rock and solo artists. Once a month my dad would take a break from the dairy farm and DJ at the local school discos. At the age of four, I would accompany him and spend the evening perched atop the large speakers – watching the flashing lights, lanky teens trying their hardest for a quick grope and their first kiss. But whilst the smoke machine puffed away and the ‘big girls’ shook their crimped bangs, my four-year old mind soaking up the music.

Such was my father’s obsession with music, he even insisted that the radio played in the milking shed (apparently the “cows enjoy it”). It goes without saying – music has always played a major role in my life and the dream of presenting a radio show never strayed far from my mind.

Once again, all very uplifting, but how does one actually go from miming into a hairbrush ‘microphone’ to the real she-bang? As a youngster, I kept my dream to myself. I never imagined having the money to afford a full-blown radio presenting course – and to be honest, there weren’t any on offer. It wasn’t until my university years when I noticed a flyer in a local library, offering a presenters’ course for a measly thirty dollars – that’s barely fifteen quid to you Londonites! One month later I found myself presenting my own Wednesday night show with the community radio station AIR-FM. The equipment was donated, the seat creaked, funding was non-existent and I presented into the wee hours of the morning. I was in heaven.

My alternative local music show ‘Locus’ moved its way through the airwaves and on to a prime time slot on Friday nights with the seaside radio station WOW-FM. The next thing I knew, I was chasing the media dream on an exchange in Stuttgart, Germany – producing radio features in German, with a laughable Aussie accent. Lesson number one – seize the moment and make the most of EVERY opportunity that comes your way. Rain, shine, Germany, England or Alaska – potential radio employers and trainers will be impressed by a willingness to make that extra bit of effort. After seven months of beer, pretzels and lederhosen, London seemed to be the logical next step. After all, that’s where all the entertainment dream chasers find their calling right? Wrong again.

The necessity for full time work – wherever I could find it, soon outweighed any dreams of on-air grandeur. It didn’t take long to realise that paying the rent in this city comes close to buying a small island off the sunny coasts of Australia. Either I’d have to quit work and save money by cutting back my food intake to the point of starvation… or pursue my radio dream in my non-existent ‘spare’ time. I chose the latter. Lesson number two - if ‘volunteer’ is a dirty word in your vocabulary, buy a new Dictionary! Volunteer work is a must. Hospital radio is a great place to get started, many Universities are full of like-minded media enthusiasts and student radio is a great way to gain new skills. Be pro-active and research the local community stations in your area. Chances are, you’ll have to work for free but the experience you’ll gain will be worth a mint.

Here I am now – twelve weeks in to a radio training program that has turned my life around.
The road has been rocky, time consuming, tiring, stressful and totally rewarding.

I’ve learnt that there’s more to presenting a show than sitting back in front of a microphone, chatting away the hours and hoping for the best. It takes time management skills that would do any mother proud… down to the very last second! The positives are starting to show though - the confusing array of buttons and knobs that make up the presenter’s board no longer resemble something straight out of NASA. 'Segue' and 'links' are no longer alien words and turning off the microphone after talking is now second nature. A swear jar sits by my desk at work – 10 pence a pop for any profanity (all in the hope of preventing any slips whilst ‘on air’!) I’ve learnt that mini-disks can NEVER be trusted – especially when you’re trying to record that one special interview in the middle of a music festival. For the record, security guards at large-scale events are best approached with caution. Not only are they near-deaf due to their proximity to towering amplifiers, they are also VERY protective of the stars behind the scenes. Do not forget your press pass under any circumstances or you will be reprimanded! It’s also wise to note that nine times out of ten, interview guests will get caught up in London traffic. ‘Cover up’ skills are a must!

All in all, the experience has been thrilling and I am now the proud presenter of ‘The Big Smoke’. It’s a cracker of a show - a one hour, live to air London gig guide, aimed at giving listeners no excuse to spend their time at home, sitting on the couch. Each week there will be competitions, interviews, amazing tunes and enough enthusiasm to launch a small airplane. Check it out on Wednesdays at 5.00pm and while you’re at it, listen in to the other talent bred by the XStreameast Academy.

Each and every member has proven that commanding the London air-waves may be hard work, but is more than possible.As for the rest of you out there, chase that dream – no matter how big and unachievable it may seem. Find yourself a mentor with drive and vision and make your assault on the world. If they have even half of the passion of Kary Stewart you’ll be well on your way.

As for the future of the XStreameast crew… watch this space. This is one chapter that has only just begun. The online ‘air waves’ are in for some musical mastery! Be there.

For more info on the shows on offer and to tune in to XStreameast radio, check out the link below:



At 2:34 pm, Anonymous Izzy said...

We actors don't get a lot of Isobella Lawrence till we get "really" famous - but we live and breathe our Isobella Lawrence regardless. Isobella Lawrence
Like your blog :o)


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