209 radio interview
(september 2004)
The long and short of it is that we were duped. Cambridge Community Radio, that is. The short of it is that after years of shoestring subsistence punctuated by a month-long annual frenzy of broadcasting we finally had the opportunity to apply for a full-time licence. Only one problem: we needed money. But we got it - a sugar daddy. And that's where the problems started. We won the licence, but the money talked and people walked. And then the station name changed, and then it changed again and then, well it just wasn't community radio any more.

That was years ago. Water under the bridge, you might think. But I'm still bitter. And I'm not the only one. When CCR couldn't broadcast while they were applying for the licence, we set up and ran Impulsive for a month in the summer. We gave a show to anyone who wanted one - local charities and community groups in the day and music shows at night. So what if they'd never been on the radio before, I'll take someone with passion and something to say over someone who just wants to be on the radio every time.

209 deskWhich brings us to 209. Fired by the same passion for the local community and community music that made CCR so great, it's an internet radio station broadcasting every other weekend and odd nights with its eye set on a full-time FM licence. Karl Hartland told us how and why down at the studio (also known as his living room) while my show was on one Sunday.

What is community radio and why does Cambridge need one?

Karl: I don't like the word community radio, I prefer grassroots broadcasting. Community radio, for a lot of people, is wrapped up in left-wing local council messes from the 80s.

There's a hell of a lot of stuff that goes on in Cambridge, and there's a hell of a lot of people on the community side of it who work a lot of hours.. All the way through this I've worked temporary jobs and I've had to put in a lot of hours to keep 209 going and I've come to realise the amount of effort voluntary groups and charities and other social projects put in and the little apparent reward people get, but they still keep doing it. I think that what I'm doing can tie into all of that for them. They can get their message out to a lot of people.

It's also extremely difficult today to get into the media and a lot of people think there's a dumbing-down of the media anyway. Grassroots broadcasting can provide people with training so that they can understand the media around them and better interpret it because it can be extremely confusing. People do need to be able to interpret the media and what better way to do that than to get involved, make programmes for themselves, on subjects that they're interested in broadcast to other people who might be interested?

What's the remit of 209?

K: There will be two remits of the station: One, specialist music that doesn't get airplay on the local stations - and a community station should provide listeners with music they wouldn't get elsewhere - and, two, the social side. They're not separate. Look at Revelation, our reggae group, they're funded, they're a charity, they do social work even if most of it involves making, listening and dancing to reggae.. ha ha..

I bumped into a guy at the Folk Festival who worked for an ambulance group and he told me about this project for ambulances in isolated rural areas where you can't get ambulances to accidents fast enough. They're training local people to get there first and administer primary care. That's exactly the kind of thing that we want to be promoting.

Everything will need to be at the right time and place, of course. Listeners have their traditional times that they expect to hear certain things. But ambulances or whatever are no less worthy than the chap spinning jazz tunes on a Saturday afternoon. We want to cover all parts of life that are being pushed to the margins by mass media and commercial interests.

Tell me how you got to here.

K: From the very beginning? At the moment we're expanding to fill the community radio gap in Cambridge, in the very truest sene of the word. But it started as just the one show, just me, once a week, here in this very living room.

209 studio/living roomWhen did it start?

K: It began in April 2003. I was sat here one day not long after taking voluntary redundancy from a job in industrial chemistry. I took redundancy because I wasn't very happy and I wanted to do something worthwhile but I didn't know what. I wanted to get into some form of journalism and the day war broke out in Iraq.. It was a bit of a dark day, everyone had seen it all brewing and there was dissatisfaction with my job and what was going on in the wider world and I just wanted to do something - anything - which made me feel that it was worthwhile.

On the run-up to that day I'd had a few knock-backs from the trainee journalism posts that I'd been pursuing and I decided to do it for myself. I went out and researched how I could stream over the internet and I started putting shows together, once a week for two hours. It began with me just playing music and then it grew and I decided I wanted to get guests in. I was getting more and more into going out in Cambridge and I was beginning to realise that there was a lot of talented people here as well. Charlie Don't Surf [local promoters] were the first guys - Toby and Damo - and they came in on separate weeks and did excellent DJ sets that are still legendary now, because they really pulled out all the stops.

The Loopsoup [local promoters] guys came in and played as Vacuum Knob Jockeys and we went through this selection of producers and DJs. Until the colleges broke up and my listenership just fell away. So that was the end of that, really. I didn't want to be putting in so much effort and having no listeners because I was learning to do everything from scratch, relying on friends' knowledge and reading up and watching other people like a hawk.

But then Uncollected, promoters from Norwich, put on an event at the Norwich Arts Centre and asked me to stream it on the web for them. We had no idea whether we could do it or not so we loaded up two cars full of equipment just in case we needed something. Literally, two cars full of equipment.

I bet you could do it on a laptop..

K: Yeah - now.. We got there late and we only had an hour to set up, and three minutes before the stage was due to open we hooked in and we were broadcasting. We had two computers, a mixer, bags of cable, spare monitors, just in case something blew. But we did it.

We had a hell of a lot of listeners from all over the world and it really fired us up and we started talking seriously with Charlie Don't Surf about putting on live events. One of my favourite electronic outfits, Bitstream, got wind of what was happening somehow and said they'd be up for playing in Cambridge. We got them to play at the Portland Arms and used the net café next door and we had a fair few people come down.

It was a good success and we put on one of them a month at the Portland during term time. We've had people from Australia, Germany, Miami coming to play for us, from the most minimal electronica to the most old-school dub plate gabba, ear-bleeding limbs-thrashing stuff.

So as far as there being just the one show with one remit, we had a lot of success and a lot of people came on board. More people got interested in what we were doing rather than the music I was playing and one-by-one we've now got a whole range of shows from singer-songwriters to Latin and left-field, indie and reggae and a hip hop show.

When did it expand to be more of a wider community station?

K: I don't know. As I was getting more people involved we were all enjoying what we were doing. I think it's grown piecemeal and now it's about creating something new.

At the moment it's an internet station?

K: Yes, we've joined the Community Media Association who provide our internet streaming platform and we're pursuing funds, not only to be able to physically put together a radio station away from my house but also be able to justify our application for a community FM licence which are coming in with the new Community Media law.

Internet broadcasting is a very grey area legally and you can get away with a hell of a lot. FM is extremely regulated. From now until we switch over to FM we'll be training people on how to run shows properly so when we switch over there'll be no problem in having to get people up to speed. Hopefully when we get premises we'll be broadcasting all day long on the internet and it'll be just a case of flicking the switch to FM.

When is the Cambridge licence up for grabs?

K: The window for applications ends in November and then licences will be issued - and this is still not confirmed - the end of this year or the beginning of next.

How do you see 209 progressing from now?

K: We can't physically take on any more shows here for our own comfort. The plan at the moment now is to get the funding pledges and confirmations in, build the studio and as soon as we've got premises and moved the studio in - whether it's this stuff [waves at the kit piled on the shelves in his living room] or dedicated equipment. We can start adding more. We've already got our first dedicated community program with Justin Coleman. He's putting together interviews with local community leaders, politicians, major businessmen. People whose decisions and actions affect the way people live in the city. That's going to be an hour every fortnight just before your show..

..building the audience for me..

K: Ha ha! Our schedule is really rarefied at the moment..

I'd rather listen to a station like that. Tell me about the shows.

K: There's Jimmy Possession who's a fanzine wizard who's been involved in radio in Cambridge for quite a while and he's got a lot of people reading his zine. He brings a little bit of the music he writes about and a bit from his dusty crates.

Roddy from RevelationThere's Revelation who run the reggae tent at Strawberry Fair, one of the biggest free festivals in Europe and it's been going for an extremely long time.

There's Loopsoup Sunday Service, which starts in 9 minutes, and they're co-directors of the station and they've been making music since the early 90s. They concentrate on electronics and local acts.

There's Phil Pethybridge, ex-Cambridge University Radio, he now does his show, The Scence, local and national unsigned indie bands.

Then there's Gil Karpas, a local promoter at The Fez. He does Latin, Bossa, Breaks. Marcus Taylor's going to start doing a hip hop show soon. There's myself as THR doing the Irreducible Representation, that's underground electronics, and Justin Coleman starting soon.

And are you looking for sponsors?

K: The downfall of some previous community projects is that they've put too much faith in one individual with a lot of money.. but we're going to try and avoid that. We'd have to be extremely cautious in taking large donations. Most of our funds will come from charities, trust funds, small donations, memberships and events.

Get involved: www.209radio.co.uk

*209illustration by seacat17@yahoo.co.uk

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