The rebirth of student radio at Oxford


A student radio is often at the heart of a university. In the UK, it’s hard to find a student union that doesn’t support or fund one.

On a national level, these student or university radio stations are represented by the UK Student Radio Association, and there is even a Student Radio Awards – which are themselves supported by BBC Radio 1 and Global.

At Oxford, however, the media scene has always been a little different.

On Live from Downing Street, former BBC and ITV Political Editor, Nick Robinson, lamented how he “tried and failed” to set up a student radio during his time as an Oxford undergraduate. As he recently tweeted me, law and technology didn’t favour his quest to broadcast at the end of the ‘80s.

Instead of student radio and TV, Oxford students have usually focused their journalistic interest around newspapers. Still going strong, Cherwell and The Oxford Student publish thousands of copies every week, despite the fact they are rarely picked up from the JCR. Fortunately, both papers’ online presence has grown and established them as two major sources of news, gossip and entertainment from in and around the University.

However, Oxford has been lacking a much-needed student radio for too long. Of course, Oxford has had some form of student radio for the last twenty years; but it has never been able to do it right.

Students desperately need a platform that newspapers can’t give to them.

Firstly, Oxygen FM broadcasted to students from 1997 and 2001, until they were fined £20,000 for apparently lying about its programming. As a result of the fine and the expiry of Oxygen FM’s license, there was a new station founded in 2001, but there was no real stability until Oxide was founded, which was then heavily impacted by cuts in 2006. Since then, Oxide has been wavering. From controversies involving Nick Griffin to technical difficulties, the student radio scene in Oxford has not been anywhere as formidable as it has in other UK higher education institutions.

Oxide is relaunching again in October at a time when radio and podcasts are incredibly popular. The Financial Times and The Times Red Box have podcasts which are equally as popular and modern as traditional radio programmes, and signals that there may be a future for radio, and certainly for podcasting.

Some may argue that Oxford, as well as many other universities, don’t need a radio station. Yet, unlike television, for example, radio does have a foreseeable future. John Simpson, the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, was told as he joined the BBC that radio was dying. Yet, the 11.55 million people who tuned into Radio 4 one week at the beginning of this month beg to differ.

Therefore, students at the university need to get with the times; if TV arguably has no place in a few decades from now, it is hard to see how newspapers in their current format will!

As well as this, the wide-range of interests and talents of students cannot always be utilised through a written article. Of course, newspapers often encompass broadcasting platforms, but podcasting offers students from different backgrounds and with various interests the opportunity to showcase their own talents.

Also, for those interested in going into the media, student radio is a great way to learn technical and broadcasting skills that other platforms do not offer. Without a student radio, it’s not always the case that we can broadcast what’s happening in Oxford to the nation (as many student radios have done by picking up numerous awards for their event coverage), and show people how good we can be.

Most of all, it seems like students want a student radio. They want to listen to their peers and friends. They want politics and nature programmes, comedy and culture. That’s what a student radio is all about. Students desperately need a platform that newspapers can’t give to them.

Theo Davies-Lewis is the Station Manager of Oxide Radio in 2017/18

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