School Radio – Education Is In The Air

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School radio stations are becoming increasingly popular due to the ease with which you can install a radio system in school and set up a radio station broadcasting over the internet. With developments in download speeds and with broadband being present in most homes, internet broadcasting is now a viable and valuable service. Couple this with Clyde Broadcast’s latest school radio system, the S-Radio Hybrid and you could be teaching students all the skills required in radio production and broadcasting your own station for little more than five thousand pounds. For those who want to broadcast over AM or FM, this option is also now a lot cheaper, but there are a number of benefits that internet radio offer that not only make it a lot cheaper, but also in some cases, better for schools than transmitting.

Why does a school need a radio station?

A school radio station can be used for a wide ranging number of subjects. It needn’t just sit in a converted cupboard and only be used by a few students for playing music and announcing activities during lunch break. It can be used to record lessons and distance learning material, recitals, performances, school news, and radio plays. Also, it isn’t just about learning how to be a presenter or disc jockey; anyone wishing to be a sportsperson, politician or professor would also be advantaged by practicing being interviewed.

There are a number of courses that would benefit greatly from a radio station, including media courses, journalism, broadcast and radio. For the latter, the equipment is a must, but by adding the actual radio station you give the students a real life experience of broadcasting to the public, adhering to deadlines, censorship and public reaction and delivering a well rehearsed and faultless performance.

Why radio and not television?

Online television is also comparatively easy to set up over the internet (and you can view my related article on this http://magazine.dv247.com/2011/05/19/a-lesson-on-school-tv/); but aside from the additional cost of camera equipment, the benefits of a solely audio media is that it can be listened to almost anywhere. Students can download shows to their phone or iPod and listen to it on their way to and from school, they can listen at home whilst doing their homework, it can be played through the school PA and it can be played in the car whilst travelling to school. This portability makes the additional value of a school radio station, such as lessons, recitals and school news, all the more pertinent.

There will undoubtedly be a large number of students who really want to be DJ’s or MC’s and will jump at the chance to broadcast their skills and their music to their peers. This is a great activity for them after school and during lunch hours, giving them an outlet for their skills and ambition. For some of these students, the school radio station provides one of the few opportunities they will get to acquire meaningful skills for a career they are passionate about. They may come in through the front door wanting to be the next big DJ or MC, but if their big dream doesn’t work out, then at least they can walk back out of the front door to pursue careers as technicians or engineers, capable of running a radio station, maintaining a rehearsal room or recording studio, or become producers, presenters, journalists or reporters, to name but a few of the careers they could follow. As such, the school radio station presents a great opportunity to feed students into academic courses such as English, journalism, media studies and music.

Music shows also provide a good opportunity to advertise or announce school news, provide factual information and advertise school events and learning opportunities. Interviews give an opportunity to discuss important topics and give the students a chance to speak up about the issues that are affecting them. Chat shows present an opportunity to openly debate schools policies and open up communication between the staff and the students, as well as letting students discuss the problems they face.

Equipment, complexities and costs

The equipment is quite straightforward and you could build your own studio from scratch. As a minimum requirement, you need a mixer, some microphones, CD players, a computer with adequate software, speakers, and headphones. However, there are problems and limitations with attempting to build your own studio, and you really want a dedicated studio to ensure it’s not being constantly unplugged and therefore need reconfiguring every time you want to use it. Also, because it is a shared resource, it will need to be used by other departments. So, to make life simple, it may be best to look at one of the Clyde Broadcast S-Radio systems.

Clyde Broadcast has 30 years of experience installing studios for the likes of Classic FM, BBC World Service and Capital FM, amongst others. Because they had already developed the software and controller technology, they have been able to use this technology to create some cheap, small, off the shelf systems that is designed especially for schools and educational groups. The S-Radio systems start from £4799 and give you all the equipment you need and training and support to get you started. You even get a sign to show you are on air!

The major benefits of these systems is the mixer, which doubles up as a controller, the software, which has been developed over many years to give you instant and easy control over your media content, and the computer, which is especially made and configured to broadcast audio or create media files for the internet. There is one other piece of equipment that you may require, and that is the phone monitoring unit which allows you host “call-in” chat shows. This is a nice touch, but is an optional extra on the cheaper units.

The mixer allows you to plug in a number of sources, much the same as a studio mixer, so you can connect CD players/turntables or a DJ mixer, live bands, or more microphones for chat shows.

Broadcasting can either be simple, cheap and limited, or complicated, expensive and powerful. The cheap way is to broadcast over the school P.A. system – but this has limited range and few listeners paying little attention. The expensive way, is to get a broadcasting licence and use AM or FM to transmit over a localised area – and whilst this is expensive, it does give you a wide audience and the possibilities for revenue increase with potential number of listeners.

There is a third way, which is inexpensive and can still have a wide reaching audience, and that is Internet radio. Using this method, you simply upload the files to a web service and listeners logon to the internet and play the files back. You can either host the files yourself, or use a service such as www.radiowaves.co.uk. You will need a licence to play copyrighted material, but this is not prohibitively expensive and could be made back through advertisements and sponsorship.

Going on air

To find out more, give either myself or Gareth a call on 01708 771950 or email sales@digitalvillage.co.uk. For bigger systems, someone will come to the school and help build it for you and give you some in depth training. To see how other schools are already broadcasting, get more in-depth material on what the S-Radio packages come with and how to get up and running, visit http://synergyschoolradio.com/getting-started/school-radio.

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About Author

Starting out as an IT student, Robin inadvertently found his way into the music scene in the mid 90’s when a friend asked for help getting a copy of Cubase for Window’s 3.1 to work. The blooming dance scene of the mid 90’s sparked a passion in DJing and production and he held many residencies at clubs around the country in the late 90’s. Since becoming too old to stay up all night partying, Robin has devoted his skills to teaching others DJing and Music Production and most recently to giving sound advice on how to get started in the world of making music and running our educational sales department. Email him on robinheyworth@digitalvillage.co.uk if you have anything you can contribute to our educational news section.

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