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M+ Magazine asked them about the trials, tribulations - and joys! - of setting up an online community radio station in the age of internet pirate radio; and why local communities need online radio now. More than ever.

We spoke to the station managers, Liz Southall and Dr Gavin Hammond, co-founders of Gavin has a background in local radio that spans over five years and several radio stations, depending on where/what he was studying at the time (he has a PhD in Nuclear Physics). Liz has a background in marketing and teaching. Gav and Liz felt there was a need for a broader community involvement.  Gavin, or Dr Gav as he is better known, having returned from working 18 months as a patent writer in Munich had no desire to rush into another “anything will do” job.  Instead, he began talking to Liz about setting up some science and business based radio shows that Liz (with her background in marketing and teaching) would sell into schools.

And yet a new community station was born. We asked how.

What was the driving force, or were the forces, behind starting up Red Shift? What inspired you? (Okay, two Qs in one there….)

Liz: Gavin and I met whilst volunteering on another community radio station trying to get a full time FM license. The programme schedule was heavily weighted towards music and the presenters all did it as a hobby outside of fulltime employment.The driving forces were: both having a passion for radio, Gav being unemployed, Liz loving being creative and working on new projects and both having a belief that there is a need and opportunity for a radio station that gives an affordable voice to local businesses, schools, charities and community groups.

What were the biggest challenges at the beginning, and how did you overcome them?

Liz: We started the project as three people and the third one who was fully responsible for everything technical (hardware, software, server, streaming etc) began to become less reliable. Eight weeks prior to launch we discovered this chap had been lying to us. He admitted this then six weeks before launch he disappeared completely! This meant that Gavin had to quickly swallow and learn all the technical jobs to get us up and running. Being a self confessed geek and general brain box helped immensely and Gav was able to assume the role of Technical and Operations director.

In the meantime Liz had to assume Gavin’s role of programme controller and in addition to all her marketing and sales duties (and another business) had to creatively build the programme schedule to what it is now – over 45 shows and nearly 50 presenters!

We overcame our challenges simply by working hard and laughing lots. We have a very special relationship, get on incredibly well and have suitably daft, positive and well matched personalities. We have spent an average of 16 hours a day at the studio (which we also built from scratch!) since July and have loved (almost) every minute of it. We have a perfect blend of creative, technical, logical and entrepreneurial skills to make this a success.

Financial challenges have been rife due to only two of us putting money in whereas we had budgeted for a three way split of the set up costs. We have had to manage on an excessively low budget but thanks to Gav’s dad Howard who is a Quantity Surveyor and keen builder we built our bespoke studios to a very high standard for a very reasonable budget. We are in need of more funds to renew some of our second hand computers and have just been sponsored by Virgin Trains Training Academy to by a new server and run the Listen Again feature which is brilliant news as this frees up our repeat day of Sunday for more live shows!

How does the town inspire you?

Liz: Neither of us are from Crewe, in fact Gav lives 6 miles north in Alsager and I live6 miles south in Nantwich. Crewe however is a town that we feel is screaming out for a community station. With a strong identity as being a working class railway town there is no denying Crewe needs a big injection of money and rejuvenation. That said however, we have been inspired by the music talent of local bands, the community atmosphere and support for the local theatre and sports clubs. Every day we receive emails or visits from people that have discovered us and pledged their support.

Because we are currently on the Internet only we are not fully limiting ourselves to the Crewe area. We have two strap lines “Bringing Communities Together” and “Community Internet Radio for Cheshire & Beyond”. We have presenters from Northwich, Chester, Liverpool, Stoke and the Wirral, with this comes a wide following of listeners.

How has social media aided Red Shift, and how important has it been in playing a role promoting the new station?

Liz: Massively! I am on it most of the day! I should find time to do some analysis but a guess I reckon we’ve found at least 10 presenters, four sponsors and umpteen guests through social media. I manage it and am learning every day. We have recently made associations with some fairly high profile business owners, some actors and bands.

How important is local community radio like Red Shift, and why?

Liz: Very important! We give a voice to community groups and businesses that may have been either nervous or unable to afford the high prices associated with radio advertising. Our shows are a platform for local businesses to share their news, events, and promotions with. We are open to any charity or community group having a dedicated interview (programme schedule attached for ref). We give schools the opportunity to integrate radio broadcast into their syllabus with a 6 week “junior school run” hosted by three 10 year olds every Thursday and “Senior School Run” hosted by two 15 yr olds every Tuesday.

We have a show for seniors, the local Polish community does a show in Polish and in English, we promote local bands, events, business opportunities…. the list is endless!

What is your favourite thing about working on a radio station?

Creativity of the programme schedules, meeting new people, me and Gavin having a laugh presenting our daily show and learning about business whilst presenting my business show, knowing that we are bringing people together…and knowing that we are making our presenters and guests happy by giving them the experience of being on the radio.

What do you do to chill out?

Liz: Ha! Not much! We have been home before midnight six times since July and Gavin has recently educated me with the Alan Partridge Box set to wind down so I now know where his sense of humour and funny sayings come from and he is determined now to get me watching Rocky and Back to the Future before the end of November.

We really haven’t had much time away from the studio; we are together most of the time and just laugh in the face of the challenging times. Whenever we get a chance we pop round to see friends or family for a brew and quick catch up! We hope to have Christmas day off!

What can we look forward to in the future?

Liz: A full time FM license serving Crewe and the surrounding towns and alongside that the continuation of the internet radio provision as we have listeners already from across the UK and on some shows, across the world.

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