Three-D Issue 29: Radio Research Network report

2017 was a very busy year for the MeCCSA Radio Studies Network, hosting no fewer than three separate radio-related events, starting a weekly Radio Studies reading group, maintaining an energetic social media campaign, and sowing seeds for events for the next two years.

Sponsored RSN panel at Rights and Might: Cultural Counternarratives of the Migrant and Refugee Experience

Figure 1 (l-r): Josephine Coleman, Ajit Singh, Kathy O’Hara, Caroline Mitchell and Emma Heywood speak at at the RSN Panel of Rights and Might, University of Westminster, June 2017. (Photo credit: Helen Gubbins)

The Radio Studies Network organised a panel for the Friday afternoon of the University of Westminster’s Rights and Might conference. It was well-attended and our speakers very well-received. Caroline Mitchell (University of Sunderland) presented the Transnational Radio Encounters project and its viral radio.garden app, one of the methods the team developed to present their findings. She shared their research in relation to migration and refugee experiences, including how community stations use radio to connect transnationally with similar minority ethnic, social and cultural groups. Emma Heywood (University of Sheffield) described the role of local radio in conflict-affected and occupied zones, based on a British Academy-funded project analysing radio output for refugees in the West Bank in 2015. The findings confirm radio’s contemporary importance as a mode of broadcasting, demonstrating how it reinforces a sense of local community and provides new communicative possibilities for marginalised social groups. Kathy O’Hare (University College Cork) talked about setting up a radio station in an illegitimate refugee camp in Calais. Her paper looked at how social media tools can be used to facilitate digital learning, through the development of a digital community radio station, which offers refugees full editorial control.

Ajit Singh (co-founder of Desi Radio) spoke about ‘Serving the Panjabi Community in Southall and beyond,’ and how volunteering with the station provides many people from the local area with transferable skills and life-enhancing opportunities. Members actively seek to build and improve links with other communities within West London not only to celebrate the cultural diversity of the area, but to welcome newcomers, for whom training in radio skills and language is a precious gift of friendship. Jo Coleman (Birkbeck College, London) chaired the panel. Feedback said that the presentations were thought-provoking, enlightening, and heartfelt.

Regular steering group meetings

Rights and Might was also the location for the RSN Steering Group’s annual face-to-face meeting, which was busy and productive. A follow-up meeting took place in October, over Skype. A conference call with eight people always runs the risk of becoming unwieldy; however, with a clear timed agenda decided ahead of time and specific people allocated to lead each item, we managed to keep it very much on track, and with every agenda item either resolved or flagged for follow-up discussions. As this method was cost-free and significantly reduces the required intputs of time and energy by the participants, we intend to include Skype as a regular meeting “location” to complement our face-to-face gatherings. In addition, Chair Josephine Coleman and Deputy Chair Helen Gubbins used Skype for their numerous meetings throughout the year.

50th Anniversary of Local Radio

This year marked the 50th of BBC local radio, and the Radio Studies Network were involved in organising two events to mark this.

Reaching Out: The past, present and future of Local Radio audiences, De Montfort University, Leicester

De Montfort University in Leicester was the appropriate venue for a lively conference to mark the 50th anniversary of BBC local radio being launched in that East Midlands city in 1967.

Figure 2 (l-r): Barnie Choudhury, Sheetal Parmar, Gurvinder Aujla-Sidhu, Kamlesh Purohit & Gloria Abramoff. (Photo credit: Josephine Coleman)

Reaching Out: The past, present and future of BBC Local Radio, held on the exact anniversary, 8November, attracted a host of participants from the BBC and further afield. It was organised by Gurvinder Aujla-Sidhu, De Montfort University and Josephine Coleman of Birkbeck College, London, both experienced radio journalists, through the MeCCSA RSN and the Leicester Media School. The first panel discussed diversity in BBC local radio and was made up of Gloria Abramoff (FRSA, ex-BBC, now Tonic Productions) Sheetal Parmar (BBC English Regions) Kamlesh Purohit (BBC Radio Leicester) and Barnie Choudhury (University of Buckingham). This lively, and at times passionate, discussion was chaired by Gurvinder Aujla-Sidhu, who worked for BBC national and local radio stations and the Asian Network, before joining DMU. In a wide-ranging discussion the panel agreed progress had been made in diversity, but there was still a long way to go. Reaching out into communities to find the next generation of broadcasting talent and offering good role models were two ways proposed for greater progress.

Academic papers were presented by Liam McCarthy (formerly BBC Leicester, now University of Leicester), Dr. Peter M. Lewis (London Metropolitan University); Josephine Coleman (Birkbeck College), Amber Hammill (Queen’s University, Belfast), and Aleksandar Kocic (Edinburgh Napier University). Dr. Paul Smith (De Montfort University) chaired a discussion on the place of sport on the radio with Jason Bourne (BBC and TalkSport) and Andrew Dawkins (BBC West Midlands).

The final panel brought together Kay Wright, the experienced news editor of BBC Leicester, another experienced BBC hand John Ryan, now running his own company 2ZY, and Matthew Gull, who also has 20 years’ experience in BBC radio and now lectures at the University of Lincoln. In another wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion, the panel mused on how far radio audiences should be offered what they needed rather than what they wanted and on the value of the vox pop as an informative news format. The conference, which attracted a sizeable audience of academics, journalists and students, was opened by Professor Jason Lee of DMU’s Leicester Media School, and closed by Professor Stuart Price of DMU’s Media Discourse Group.

BBC Local Radio 50th Anniversary Symposium, University of Westminster, London

Figure 3 (l-r): Matthew Linfoot (standing), Mark Norman, Robert McLeish, Helen Boaden, & Trevor Dann speaking at the BBC Local Radio Conference, University of Westminster, November 2017. (Photo credit: Rob Watson)

The 50th anniversary of BBC Local Radio was rounded off in style at the University of Westminster on the 18th November 2017, with a day full of lively discussions on local radio including the diversity of today’s local radio audience; its competitors in commercial radio and elsewhere; debate on the purpose and legacy of local radio, and the creation, maintenance and ongoing accessibility of local, regional and national radio archive. The recent announcement by BBC Director General Tony Hall that cuts to local radio funding would be withdrawn was a regular point of discussion, as were the importance of storytelling in local radio, the disruptiveness of local radio, the impact of historical events on local radio scheduling and organisation, descriptions of local radio as of the establishment or anti-establishment, and others. Expertly organised by Matthew Linfoot at the University of Westminster with support from Josephine Coleman (RSN), the day was one to remember.

Weekly Skype reading group

In September, the network set up a weekly Radio Studies reading group for postgraduate researchers and early career researchers, with the unusual feature that it is run over Skype. The reason for this was to increase opportunities for discussion and collaboration for early careers scholars in radio studies, but removing as much of the cost in time and money that attending such reading groups often involves. After an initial call for interested collaborators returned interest from Australian radio studies researchers, we scheduled the meetings for 9am on Friday mornings. Every week since, a small group of radio studies researchers stationed in Ireland, Britain and Australia have been either sipping a morning cup of tea or winding down on a Friday night with a glass of wine, all while discussing that week’s article. Other subjects of discussion include key writers in radio studies, methods and theoretical frameworks in use in Radio Studies, key influences on our work, and reports on our own individual research in radio. Feedback from the group so far has been resoundingly positive so, although the current term closes in December, the Spring term will start again with gusto in late January 2018. If anyone is interested in joining our weekly discussions, please see https://radiostudiesnetworkreadinggroup.wordpress.com/ or email Deputy Chair Helen Gubbins at hgubbins1@sheffield.ac.uk

Radio Studies at 2018 Annual MeCCSA Conference, London Southbank University

Finally, the MeCCSA Radio Studies Network are delighted to have two official panels scheduled for the annual conference this year (on the Thursday of the conference), and there are other radio-themed panels and papers throughout the conference which we are looking forward to hearing. Our annual network meeting promises to be an exciting one, with details of future events and initiatives being revealed, and the election of new members to our Steering Group also. Our social gathering will be held on Wednesday evening at 7pm at the drinks reception of the main conference, and members of the RSN Steering Group would be delighted to meet other interested potential members and discuss the network’s many varied events and initiatives.

We look forward very much to meeting you there!

Posted by Einar Thorsen