Students look to radio link to open up airwaves
RESTRICTIVE broadcasting legislation makes it difficult for many university and college students to listen to radio stations run by and for students. But the affiliation next month of the Student Radio Association with the Radio Academy, the industry's professional body, could help bring about change.
Nick Wallis, the SRA chairman, said the move would improve communication between student broadcasters and the radio industry. The association will gain a permanent administrative base, and assistance in voicing its concerns and ambitions. An alumni association is also planned.
The academy will benefit by gaining direct contact with the next generation of radio industry employees. John Bradford, the Radio Academy director, hoped the alliance would help get radio discussed in academe and result in more research about the industry.
Mr Wallis said the affiliation at last would provide a forum to discuss the reform of broadcasting regulations, which restricts the development of student radio.
The SRA wants a nationalnetwork of full-time stations, but controls imposed by the Radio Authority, the government regulator, makes this difficult to achieve.
Britain's 36 student stations are restricted to "induction loop" systems or low-power AM frequencies that can only be received on or just outside campuses, and to restricted service licences allowing transmissions on FM for a few weeks each year.
Stations are forced to compete with commercial bidders for full-time licences. As a result, there is just one permanent student-run station in Britain, Oxford's Oxygen FM, which won a seven-year commercial licence last year and began broadcasting in February.
In the same month, Liverpool's Shout FM lost its bid for a Merseyside licence, despite backing from both universities in the city and local personalities, including Brookside creator Phil Redmond.
Mr Redmond said: "There must be a way of establishing a permanent radio station that does not force it to compete in the same arena as larger commercial organisations".
Big players such as the BBC are also giving their support. Radio One sponsored the first national student radio awards last November and will do so again this year.
Speaking at last year's awards, Matthew Bannister, BBC director of radio, said a thriving student radio sector would benefit the whole industry.
The prospect of change in the near future seems slim. Daniel Owen, development officer for the Radio Authority, said student radio was one of many groups that the body had to consider and that it must balance the competing demands of them all.
He argued that student radio was not disadvantaged by the licensing system, as the success of Oxygen FM demonstrated.
To overcome their limited reception, some stations have experimented with "broadcasting" on the Internet, and Bradford University's Ramair is available on FM to Yorkshire Cable subscribers.
Despite these efforts, it seems most students will have to keep their ears to the refectory speaker or transistor to hear their campus radio station for some time yet.