Is this thing on…? Broadcaster, Russell Prue, gives us all the ins and outs of school radio and why you may want to start your own school station.

Why do schools invest in a radio station?

It’s all about the thrill and agency to explore language and collaboration and to develop confidence in a safe and secure fashion. Schools with radio stations often demonstrate a boost in students’ motivation, creativity and efficacy. Radio stations are exciting places to be, there’s always lots going on, music, jingles, chat and the all-important audience feedback. Radio allows young people to engage with an audience without standing in front of that audience. Schools don’t have to do everything live; they can always produce content and stream it later or present it as a podcast. Playground speakers certainly add another dimension to the set-up. It’s the quickest way to generate a live listening audience and it will also broaden the appeal of the station. All those that listen and enjoy the content will want to get involved! Young people can also develop their communication skills for differently aged audiences in their broadcasts.

Immediate benefits

There’s no doubt that speaking live and being part of a live production builds confidence and self-esteem. It’s something that young folks want to do! With very little effort, broadcasters can sound fantastic, and professionally-voiced jingles add an authentic radio sound to the broadcasts. Almost immediately, colleagues will notice an improvement in confidence and reading skills, although there are many other outcomes on offer. Young people love to chat about their favourite music, hobbies, sports and gaming achievements. Having your own station can also present the school well within the local community and connect them with a global audience. Plenty of colleagues can get involved too. There’s lots to do that connects the station to every curriculum topic and activity. Starting a Radio Club should be a priority; it’ll get the station off to a flying start.

When did you become interested in radio?

I was first on the radio with Timmy Mallet on BBC Radio Oxford in 1977. I was just 13 years old and already had my own mobile DJ rig. I was regularly performing at school discos, weddings and at the local golf club. Later, my local station in Oxford encouraged students to broadcast a dedicated radio show on Wednesdays and I was invited to join the broadcasting team. Then came some hospital radio at The Churchill Hospital in Oxford. I looked again at radio in 2004 and it was whilst closely following the work of Professor Sugata Mitra and his SOLE concept (Self-Organised Learning Environments). As the educator, we can feign ignorance so that learners get on with it themselves. I had a thought that this might lend itself to the art of radio production. Certainly, there was a deadline and the perceived risk of failure. All the ingredients were there for a creatively-led self-organised activity. We’ve seen such a huge increase in audio broadcasting – just look at the hundreds of thousands of podcasts that are available today. According to Podcast Insights there are “over 48 million episodes as of April 2021.” 1 There’s certainly a global appetite for audio-only content.

What have you been doing in radio since?

I’ve been hosting radio broadcasting workshops since 2008; these have been pupil-led broadcasting activities and I’ve had my live radio station since then. I’ve been publishing these workshops on SoundCloud to provide a ‘listen again’ resource and I’ve had over 109,000 listens and downloads. The workshops are incredibly popular and are often used as a celebration or a treat for a year-group achievement. In 2016, I was appointed as a Lead Creative Schools, Creative Practitioner and started work as part of the initiative at Hendre Junior School in Caerphilly. I was broadcasting a series of workshops with a mixed ability Year 5 class over two terms as part of this creative initiative in Wales. We produced eight radio shows that parents listened to live at the end of each day – and they had the opportunity to get involved and contribute to the broadcast.

In these workshops, I always encourage text messages and social media posts to be sent into the broadcasting team. Often, telephone callers are added too! When you listen back to any of these shows you can hear the joy in the voices of the children as they read out messages from listeners enjoying their broadcast.

What does outstanding broadcasting sound like?

It sounds smooth, no gaps, no hesitation – pure confidence. It happens when young people take responsibility and, ultimately, have control of their broadcast.

When they’re making decisions, carrying out tasks and enjoying it, you’ll hear a smile in their voices. When there’s a greater sense of ownership and learners take greater control of the activity, young people feel much more involved and give so much more.

With a live broadcast, there’s always a deadline and no undo facility. It’s real, live and ever so thrilling! Broadcasting also gives the opportunity for listener comments and feedback and therefore involves more people in the activity. Having the right equipment on hand also helps; everything just needs to work perfectly.

How can schools improve their broadcasting?

Young folks respond well to doing things with technology, so a MIC LIVE sign that illuminates automatically is a great accompaniment. I always use an on-screen clock too with language prompts to help read out time checks. There are free apps for iPads that do this too – search ‘studio clock’ to find a BBC-looking ON AIR clock.

There’s a good deal of writing to do with any radio show and you can’t consistently rehearse without some sort of script. During the hundreds of workshops that I’ve hosted, I’ve noticed a reluctance to redraft and edit using pencil and paper. During the Lead Creative Schools Workshops in Wales, we wanted to see whether writing outcomes could be improved by using iPads and laptops for script production. They can, and in the final review and report to the Arts Council of Wales for of the project, the school felt there had been a significant improvement in oracy when iPads and laptops were used for script writing. The report went on to say that, up to twice the amount of text was being typically produced by each pupil using a device, compared to those using paper and pencils.

Having prompts and sentences printed out on the wall can be extremely useful: ‘that’s it from me’, ‘next up’ and ‘still to come on the show…’ can inspire greater levels of confidence. Presenters should try to avoid telling their audience what they’re about to do. For example, “I’m going to pass over to Harlee” is more of a stage instruction. This should be replaced with “Stay with us, next up is Harlee.” Another benefit of having some studio equipment in school is ‘in-ear prompting.’ This is when the producer speaks privately into the headphones of the presenter. This is a great feature, as you can support the presenters without the audience hearing. Confidence grows and the next time, help is often unnecessary. It is inclusive and everyone can then feel part of the show.

What do I need to consider?

Buying your own portable or fixed radio studio provides an amazing resource the whole school and community can use for many years. There’s so much you can do with a school radio station that impacts learning across the whole school. Some dedicated space would be useful that the whole school can see into. Parents may be able to support you with fundraising as well. You’ll find examples of these on my website, together with more ideas and cases studies. It’s time to get back to real words and real meanings and embrace language in a new and exciting fashion.

References

  1. Podcast Insights (2021) ‘Podcast Statistics’. Available at: https://www.podcastinsights.com/podcast-statistics/ (Accessed: 2 January 2022)

Author

  • Russell Prue

    Russell Prue is a Broadcaster, Educator and Author and provides workshops and school radio equipment to schools all over the UK as well as regularly hosting educational shows on LearnRadio.Net. Russell also designs and builds radio stations for schools that don’t cost the earth. He hosts and speaks at conferences about using technology to support wellbeing, creative learning and broadcasting.

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