Rehoused radio station plans involvement in academic programs

Published 25 August 2010

emilyOne of the oldest community radio stations in Australia, TUNE! FM at the University of New England, has begun broadcasting from new studios that will enhance the station’s capacity to serve its University and Armidale communities.

The Chancellor of UNE, Richard Torbay, speaking at the opening of the new studios on Saturday 21 August, said that the station, which provides student volunteers with radio industry training, had “touched many lives”. He said the new studios would allow for even more “involvement and development of skills”.

The event on Saturday also celebrated the 40th anniversary of continuous broadcasting by TUNE! FM, and Dr Torbay noted that it was the fourth “opening” of the station that he had been part of in his long association with the University. “It gives me great pleasure, as Chancellor, to be part of this opening – and congratulations to everyone involved,” he said.

Among the guests at the celebration were former station managers and volunteers – and local high-school principals. Emily Blackburn, Assistant Station Manager at TUNE! FM, explained that among the station’s plans for the future was a greater involvement of school students. “We’d love the schools to get more involved,” she said. “We’ve got great equipment here and we’d really like to share it. We’ve had quite a few school students here for work experience, and they’ve taken to it like ducks to water.”

Ms Blackburn (pictured here) is the radio station’s only full-time employee. The new Station Manager, Marc Lansdorp, and the Operations Manager, Colin Doak, are employed on a part-time basis, while the hands-on operation of TUNE! FM is run by a cohort of student volunteers – currently about 50 strong.

Mr Lansdorp has extensive experience as manager, producer and announcer at radio stations around Australia, and as a lecturer in radio and sound recording. Ms Blackburn, who comes to her job with a strong background in the music industry in Sydney, was herself a volunteer for three years before taking on the Assistant Manager’s position. She said that while most of the station’s broadcasting over the years had been music programs (with a “popular alternative” flavour), TUNE! FM was now planning to become more involved with the academic and research activities of the University. “We’re approaching researchers to get them to talk on air about their work,” she said. “There’s so much great research happening here. And now that we have the facilities to do so, we’re planning to produce our own current affairs programs. We’re really excited about it.”

The space occupied by the former “Footlights” restaurant, opening onto the University’s Northern Courtyard, was renovated to accommodate the new studios with funding from the Commonwealth Government’s Better Universities Renewal Fund, the University, and Services UNE. They comprise a main studio, a production studio, a music library, and a training room that doubles as a green room for performers at functions in the UNE Bistro.

Simon Paul, the Chief Executive Officer of Services UNE, said that the station’s management was planning for some integration of UNE coursework into the broadcasting schedule – including practical experience in the production and presentation of programs in fields such as journalism, music, and drama. “We want to get full use of the facilities,” Mr Paul said, “and for them to become known as a real educational asset – not just for students at UNE, but also for high-school students and other members of the Armidale community.”

The station uses new automation software designed by Google to facilitate its 24-hours-a-day operation. “We’re one of only about 15 radio stations in the world using this system,” Ms Blackburn said, and Dr Torbay commented that it was now one of the best-equipped radio stations that he had seen.

The station that opened as Radio UNE in 1970 with a pre-recorded message from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Zelman Cowen, has come a long way in the past 40 years. Dr Torbay recalled some of its “trials and tribulations” (including, in the early years, interference problems and frustration with a low-powered transmission system), but most of all its “fantastic achievements”. TUNE! FM “broke a lot of new ground,” he said, and predicted that the spirit of innovation would continue.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of Emily Blackburn displayed here was taken at the opening of the new TUNE! FM studios. It expands to include Simon Paul (centre) and Marc Lansdorp.