Fresh Sources was a postgraduate research project by Jerry Padfield as part of the MA Creative Media Practice at the University of the West of Scotland. It was an attempt to broaden participation in community radio using digital technology, open source software and "Convergence Culture".
The project took place between March and August 2018 in Falmouth and Penryn and was a collaboration with Source FM, the local community radio station. This page is a brief summary of the project, the reasons behind it, the methodology, output, conclusions which can be drawn from it, and future possible directions.
Community Radio first started in earnest in the UK in 2003 with the Communications Act, brought in by then Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell. Since then it has somewhat boomed with over 250 stations at the time of writing. In addition, Community Radio has been shown to have proven health benefits to the participants and listeners. However, there exists a demographic skew, in that certain groups are currently under-represented in terms of participation in Community Radio, namely, women, the over 60s, young people, people from rural communities and people with disabilities.
Fresh Sources sought to address this by trying to find innovative (and affordable) methods to increase participation amongst the under-represented groups. The fantastic radio station based in Falmouth, Cornwall: Source FM 96.1 was chosen to work with as it is the station I formerly worked for as studio manager, and is based in a rural community.
At first a number of different methods were used to see which worked best. Over the course of the project a methodology was developed with the various collaborators according to need and efficiency.
The project for the most part sought to use open source software, partly because it is generally free, but also as it is very customisable, due to the source code being accessible and alterable. This is a perfect fit for Community Radio, which often needs bespoke software to cater to specific circumstances. The following are the some of the pieces of software which were used during the project.
Mixxx is a piece of open source software designed to be used by DJs in nightclubs to create mixes, usually involving 2 or more tracks played at the same time, perhaps also processed or effected at the same time. Because of this Mixxx is a very powerful piece of software, but although it is quite advanced and therefore can be complicated, it can also be used in a simplified manner to perform more traditional broadcast radio shows, possessing as it does the ability to cue tracks, use a microphone, and trigger samples (e.g. jingles, idents).
Mixxx is well-supported on the Web with forums, advice and tutorials, and I also prepared a getting started guide (pdf).
Audacity is an open source Digital Audio Workstation, capable of editing, processing, multi-track recording and just about any sound engineering task you may require in the digital realm. It can be used to put a show together in its entirety, to edit interviews or content to be inserted into a "live" show, or can be used for post-production purposes (tidying up Mixxx recording sessions for example).
There are many great tutorials and resources online for learning Audacity, and I also created a handy getting started guide (pdf).
Anchor is a smartphone app that makes podcasting and creating radio shows super easy. It is a great way to create broadcast content using a device which you carry around in your pocket. It isn't open source but is completley free to use. For more advanced broadcast content I would recommend using the software above, but it's a good place to start. None of the collaborators in the project used this app in the end when given the chance, preferring to use an audio recording app on their phones and then edit in Audacity.
P2PStudio (Peer to Peer Studio) is a piece of software which I developed as part of the project. The idea was to use cutting-edge technologies such as WebRTC and WebAudio to allow the streaming of audio content to a studio in the most simple way possible.
As I began the collaborations with the groups and individuals it became clear that people were much more interested in the idea of being able to pre-record and edit rather than stream live into a studio, so P2PStudio didn't become as developed as I would have liked. However, I have successfully trialled it and it is functional. It allows you to stream audio from one computer to another simply using a browser and accessing a web page. Traditionally outside broadcasts have been complex affairs requiring a technical crew, which makes them more difficult for Community Radio stations who all tend to have small budgets and rely on volunteers. I also see it having massive potential for conference calls on-air (allowing greater audience participation), collaborative remote shows and simplifying outside broadcasts.
P2PStudio is being developed as an open source piece of software, the github for which is here.
Most, if not all, Community Radio stations run on a shoestring budget, and are the living embodiment of "Convergence Culture" - a term coined by Henry Jenkins to describe the meeting of old and new technology in a creative and pragmatic way. For this reason I wanted to make sure that the costs involved would be kept to a minimum. I also wanted to make the technology non-intimidating to the collaborators, hopefully using devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops which they already owned. Over two-thirds of adults now own a smartphone, for example, which is a device capable of recording audio and streaming it over the Internet.
While I wanted to keep the hardware costs to a minimum, USB microphones have become incredibly cheap and can offer a step up in quality from built-in laptop microphones. I picked up two USB microphones, both cost around £20 used on eBay. A Samson C01U and a rather fetching Blue Snowball. The Blue microphone represented the most quality, and the eye-catching design became something of a talking point and even reassuring object to the people who took part.
During the course of the project I developed a short guide about best practices for recording interviews or other audio (pdf).
The shows were broadcast on Source FM 96.1 over the course of July and August. I tried to keep people to hour-long slots, but I was kindly given a 2 hour slot by the Source and the freedom this gave meant I was more keen on people creating freely rather than forcing them to cut content out to meet the hour-long format. The following is a list of the shows together with some information about their production and links to listen to them in their entirety.
Trevern Radio Club was a collaboration with Trevern care home in Falmouth. This collaboration was the most difficult ethically as some of the participants had a diagnosis of dementia and therefore gaining informed consent meant working very closely with the partner organisation, Cornwall Care. In fact the activities co-ordinator on the project, Maria DiCarlo, put in a large amount of effort making sure the collaboration was possible. The members of Trevern Radio Club were the least interested in technology, but also engaged with it when presented with the opportunity. Some highlights included seeing a man in his 80s using Mixxx to introduce his favourite songs, residents interviewing each other with digital audio recorders, and the smiles on people's faces hearing themselves recorded.
Trevern Radio Club was a weekly meeting with the residents over the course of 8 weeks, during which we worked out the format we would like to use and recorded the content in the show.
Olive Branch Radio was a community collaboration centred around Saint Gluvias Hall in Penryn. It was inspired by the Olive Branch community café. This collaboration was the most elaborate, featuring interviews, recorded prose, music, narration, a collaboratively produced script and features edited by the members of the group.
The collaboration lasted 12 weeks, during which a core group of 3-4 members was built up who took an active role in developing the format, structure and content for the show. We also used the most varied amount of technology, and because of the extended time I was able to give people more training in Mixxx and Audacity. Both groups could have done with a longer time-frame ideally, as we felt that we had just developed a good working structure when the collaboration came to an end.
Guilty Pleasures was a collaboration with Johanna, a young woman originally from Germany. Johanna was too busy to commit to coming into the radio studios every week to do a show and she also wanted to use the radio show as a way of connecting with her adopted community in Cornwall. We worked together to come up with a format "Guilty Pleasures". Johanna adopts the alter-ego of "Judge Mental" to judge her guest's slightly shameful listening pleasures "guilty" or a "pleasure". The shows are performed and recorded in Mixxx. I think we've developed a strong format which can be taken forward in the future.
Whilst working on the collaboration with Trevern, the activities co-ordinator also expressed a desire to have a radio show. She was also the exact demographic which this project wanted to reach out to and so this collaboration was born.
The Maple Mix was a collaboration with a young woman living in Falmouth, originally from New Brunswick in Canada. Maria was homesick and saw the show as a way of talking about the two communities she felt a part of, allowing her to discover more about her home. Maria was the most engaged with the sound engineering aspects of the process, learning Audacity to a fairly advanced level. (To the point where she started butting up against some of its weaknesses).
FM247: Radios In Motion was a show made in collaboration with a man not unfamiliar with community radio, however, this project was a personal exploration of his experiences with his mental health and the alter-ego he invented, Rob Noxious during his time in a psychiatric hospital. The collaboration came out of my attempts to establish a partnership with Carrick Mind, which is a mental health charity in Cornwall. Although we didn't manage to form any collaborations with Carrick Mind's members, the promotion brought forward Rob and his unique idea for a radio drama on the subject of mental health.
Direct to Source was an experiment which involved building a website which allowed people to upload audio recorded on a smart phone or computer directly to me for inclusion in a show. Although the amount participation was somewhat disappointing I still quite like what came out of it aesthetically. There has also been an expression of interest in adapting the software used for other art projects in the area.
You can see the website here: https://www.thesourcefm.co.uk/direct
The Fresh Sources documentary is a brief discussion of the project, why there was a need for it and the things it tried to accomplish. It also features in-depth conversations recorded with two of the most important figures at the Source FM around the issues raised and the challenges facing Community Radio in general: Matthew Rogers, original and longest-serving station manager at the Source and Russell Clarke, acting station manager at the Source at the time of interview and original Source license applicant.
The project has trained people in the use of digital audio technology and broadcasting. Some of these people intend to keep using this knowledge to keep making radio/podcast content. A summary of what the project leaves behind:
I think the project has proved that digital technology can be used to increase participation in Community Radio. The quality of audio is perhaps not quite as nice as that which you would get in a radio studio, with nice microphones and an acoustically treated room, but I think the benefits of allowing people to create content from their own communities outweigh the minor deterioration in audio quality.
The feedback has been universally positive and I am extremely happy to be able to develop further the methodology and practice of the MA having secured a studentship for a practice-based PhD at University of Falmouth.
If you're in the Falmouth area and you'd like to have a show on the Source FM please go to the Source website or email email@example.com. If you live elsewhere there's probably a community radio station somewhere near you that would love to hear from you, or you could use some of the resources here to create your own podcast, give it a go...