Sunday, 4 November 2012

The first BBC Radio 1 Student Radio Awards

I first wrote about this here in 2008, and three years later was asked to write about my recollections of the first two Student Radio Awards ceremonies for the 2011 awards programme. As you will see, my memories of the second event are particularly patchy. If you have some hard information you can provide, or photographs of either, please get in touch. 

The following post is a tidied up version of the history that appeared in the 2011 awards programme:

Details of the first two Sudent Radio Awards are largely lost in the mists of time, with most of the participants now dead, or having faded into insignificance.

This was in the days before your social medias, your Facebooks and Twitterspaces. Mobile phones were the size and weight of gold ingots, with about the same functionality.

There were no digital cameras (thankfully), and because the water in the last century wasn't safe to drink, most students survived on a form of methanol suspended in food colouring, known as Mad Dog 20/20.

As a result almost no records of the first two Radio 1 Student Radio Awards exist, and the ones that do are a little hazy. But ULU '96 and Oxford Brookes '97 did definitely happen, much to the surprise of almost everyone involved.

This much I know:

In November 1995 I was elected Chair of the SRA. In December 1995 I wrote (when people actually conducted business by sending letters in the post to each other) to Matthew Bannister, the then Controller of Radio 1, suggesting the SRA and Radio 1 set up a student radio awards. 

Matthew sent a letter back, two weeks later, saying it was a jolly good idea and that we ought to come down to Radio 1 to discuss it.

For a student with far-off dreams of working in the radio industry this was like receiving an invitation to the Emerald City. 

A month or so later, armed with the Secretary of the SRA and a nice man called Dan McEvoy (now a high up at 5live) who independently had the same idea as me, we converged on an office somewhere in Yalding House (or was it Egton? It was probably the now-demolished Egton). 

There we were welcomed by the poshest woman I had ever met. In a faintly disinterested manner, she told us Matthew Bannister was sorry he couldn't come to our meeting, but he really wanted the awards to happen and so they would. And that, was that.

We went away and did everything we could to make sure student stations entered the competition and came to the event. Radio 1 put a genuinely fantastic team on the case, who provided patient, friendly and expert guidance as we worked towards making the very first Radio 1 Student Radio Awards worthy of the name.

The first ceremony took place at the University of London Union in November 1996. The Evening Session's Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq hosted. The gig afterwards featured the bands Shoot, The Longpigs and Space. 

The compere at the gig was a chubby, cheerful northern fella called Peter Kay (now the UK's biggest-grossing comedian ever), who had recorded childrens' TV theme tunes onto a dictaphone, and spent most of his act playing them out through the PA, saying "Remember that?"

Jarvis Cocker, at the time one of the most famous people in the country, was on the guest list that night. I remember seeing his name and asking the Radio 1 press person "Why is Jarvis Cocker on the guest list?" 

She said "Dunno, we thought he might like to come. We invited him and he said yes..." 

Never going to happen, I thought. A few hours later I was standing at the bar and Jarvis Cocker walked past. "Jarvis Cocker!" I blurted, in amazement. 

"Hello." he said politely, and walked on. I couldn't believe it. The man who wrote Common People and who, the previous year, had headlined Glastonbury with Pulp, had just popped his head round the door to see what was up at an event I helped put together.

Whilst we were organising the event I had another interesting conversation with Radio 1, which went like this:

Me: "Is the ents manager alright with us coming here and taking over most of his union for a private function on a Friday night?"
Radio 1 person: "yeah he's fine. He's a really nice bloke actually..."

The ents bloke was called Ricky Gervais, eight years away from giggling helplessly in front of Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson, clutching a Golden Globe for The Office.

It was a good night.

The second Radio 1 Student Radio awards was the centrepiece of the 1997 Student Radio Association autumn conference, held at Oxford Brookes University. Word had spread through the student radio community (using a form of rudimentary semaphore) about the success of the inaugural event and loads of students from all over the country piled into Oxford. 

All the talk was of Oxygen 107.9, the student radio station which had broken out of closed-loop AM broadcasting and FM RSLs to win a permanent FM licence. Oh well.

The star turn at the awards was Ed Byrne, a brilliant young comedian who went on to become the voice of Mowbli in the Carphone Warehouse adverts, and despite never having to work again, is a now an older, but still brilliant, award-winning comedian.

Ed was effectively hired to give us all a laugh before the awards started, but when Dave Pearce dropped out of presenting duties due to illness, Ed was forced to announce himself as the host, a job he did with aplomb, given it had been sprung on him at the last moment.

There are rumours that Oxford Brookes marked the first sit-down dinner at a student radio awards, but I don't remember it like that. At ULU the refreshments were basically crisps, nuts and beer. I seem to remember us being seated theatre-style for Oxford Brookes. 

Having trawled around for peoples' memories, that recollection appears to be in dispute. 

As I say, it's all a little hazy now.


NB: The Radio 1/student radio awards relationship actually existed well before the "first" ones in 1996. I didn't know this when I first approached Radio 1, and neither did the people at Radio 1. At that time there was something of a scorched earth policy towards Radio 1's previous regime and everything it represented.

The previous existence of an older awards scheme became apparent when we were working on the new ones. The discovery that Radio 1, in its incredibly naff phase, had held a relationship with the Student Radio Association's predecessor NASB (National Association of Student Broadcasters) filled me with terror. If Radio 1 discovered the previous regime had also thought holding a student radio awards was a good idea, they might feel it was tainted by association and drop the new one like a shot.

Nonetheless I felt I had to bring it to Radio 1's attention. After all, knowing the awards had existed previously hardly meant we could launch the new awards as the first.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Er... I've discovered that Radio 1 used to have a student radio awards scheme which it ran with our predecessor organisation."
Radio 1 person: "And...?"
Me: "Well that means this isn't the first Radio 1 student radio awards, like we've been calling them."
Radio 1: "Oh, I don't think we need to worry about that now."
Me: "Er... okay."

And so the new awards were born. The first between Radio 1 and the SRA, and the ones that have grown into the extraordinary talent-sourcing behemoth they are today.


1 comment:

  1. I vaguely recall the 97 awards - I was there with my Radio Authority hat on. My memory is definitely of a sit-down dinner affair. I also remember Ed being brilliant. Otherwise, it's all a blur. But then, I was very, very drunk.