Stephen Ellis – Station Manager, 1 Brighton FM

At a little over a year old, 1 Brighton FM has just been awarded an FM license. With approximately 90 volunteer DJs, they produce a jaw-dropping spread of high-quality, independent content, and this is sure to only increase as they truly take to the airwaves. We caught up with Steve Ellis, the station manager, to go over the origins of 1 Brighton FM, what the license means for them, and to see what the future holds for this exciting new feature of Brighton’s broadcast landscape.

Briefly describe the origins of the station.
The idea of 1 Brighton FM came from Mickey Jukes, our MD. Funnily enough, he was making enquiries into applying for an FM licence for another local station where he was DJing at the time but, for whatever reason, the manager of that station went cold on the idea so it didn’t materialise. The licence application window is only open for a few months every 3-5 years and coincidentally the window for the South East was due to open. Mickey decided to start his own station so as not to miss the opportunity. He has a broad musical taste and he knew that there wasn’t a local station that was dedicated to providing a daily programme of varied, high-quality underground and specialist music. I guess it was a bit of a light bulb moment. Realising there wasn’t a lot of time, he set about finding the premises and quickly assembled a team to get us up and running. It took five months from the start of the station build to the first online broadcast. Thankfully, Ofcom kept putting the window for the FM application back so that gave us the opportunity to get rolling and accumulate a year of experience before it actually came around.

What kind of work goes into the building of an independent station?
I’m sure Mickey won’t mind me saying that he had no idea about the day-to-day running of a radio station, let alone building one from scratch! Initially, he started a community interest company to oversee the control of the new project. He then met someone who knew how to build a soundproof studio, found the premises and paid a couple of pals to assist in the construction of the studios. He brought in Chris Galloway as a director and between them they started to construct the roster of DJs. The other directors and management team were then formed out of that. Lastly, he enlisted the help of a couple of local guys who had set up other amateur radio stations and knew how to get us an online broadcast. It all happened pretty quickly but I think it took longer than Mickey was expecting. In November 2014 he was telling everyone that we would be broadcasting in a few weeks; then in December and January we were 24 hours away from going live at one point, apparently! As it turned out we finally started in April 2015. Ultimately, time, money, hard work and overall, passion, are the most important things for a project like this.

How much was it a DIY effort?
It was totally a DIY effort at first. As mentioned above, there was no experience aside from the core team having played on a few different stations over the years. The difficulties that arise from DIY is that mistakes are made and things take a lot longer. We’ve never seen that as a negative though, it’s part of the learning process and it’s all good fun at the end of the day. If you love something it doesn’t seem so much like work. Professional radio experience materialised after we started broadcasting. It’s easier to involve people who know what they are doing once you have something tangible; dedicated web guy, tech guy etc. We have a solid team in place now.

What are the aims and ethos of the station and its programming?
We love Brighton and Hove. For a small city the diversity, the creativity and the musical heritage are remarkable and we want to contribute to that and raise the profile of local talent. We work closely with a number of local organisations including Audio Active, University Radio Falmer, Kiss My Disco and The Clock Tower Sanctuary. The station will soon be able to offer internships to students at Brighton & Hove City College and gives students airtime to practice their skills. In terms of aims, well, it’d be nice to see some of our DJs reach the wider audience their talent and music deserves and for the station to reach as many folk as possible!

Would you describe 1 Brighton FM as an innovative station, and why? What makes it different from the other stations in Brighton?
I think we are innovative, yes. When we started, our broad remit was to provide a music service that falls somewhere between NTS, Rinse FM and BBC 6music. It’s fair to say that we’ve created our own unique roster while providing the same quality music you can hear on more established stations. I think that the main difference between 1 Brighton FM and a lot of other local services is our provision of a live programme of music every day. Presenters come into the studio and broadcast live from 9am-midnight most days (we are a couple of shows short of that being every day). Our next plan is to broadcast 24/7 over the weekend and then from 7am during the week. We’ll see where it goes from there.

Which shows do you consider to be particularly exciting, and why?
We’ve got close on 100 folk playing on the station each month so I’m loathe to single any out, as I’ll be kicking myself for missing someone deserving, but here goes: Kinfolk (Fridays 6pm-8pm) and Danny Webb’s World Wireless (on the second Tuesday of every month, 9pm-midnight) are where I get a regular schooling; I enjoy the tunes and presenting styles of the What’s Wrong With Groovin’ show (bi-weekly Sundays, 4pm-6pm), the Burnt Toast show (11am-1pm Saturdays) and Molly Pop always puts a smile on my face with her Wednesday morning shows. We’ve had Steve Mason host a show when his commitments allow and his was possibly the best radio show I’d heard in ten years – I’m hoping he’ll be back after the summer. We cover so many styles that there really is something for everyone: these I’ve mentioned play everything I love.

Will the station ever introduce corporate playlists, or are there any shows which are intended to cater to the pop scene? Can you ever envisage a regular 1 Brighton FM breakfast show, for example?
Corporate playlists? No chance! The whole idea of the station is focused around underground and specialist music. It needs representation. Everyone involved is a passionate connoisseur of their own particular taste and we feel that corporate playlists would betray that ethos. We don’t have a dedicated pop music show. We do have a few presenters that play pop music in their programme, however this is what we would deem good quality pop music. For example, a lot of well known 80s pop stars get played but not necessarily the obvious ones, more the unknown B-sides and rare remixes. There is an incredible back catalogue of good pop music to discover. Our guys have their fingers on the pulse, so anything decent that comes out gets discovered and played. We have discussed a breakfast show, which would have to be in keeping with our music policy, but yes, keep your ears open for that one.

1 Brighton FM has pretty extensive community involvement – explain some of the ways the station contributes to the city.
We work with a number of local community groups and charities and that will increase as the project grows. What we are able to do at present is provide them with a platform to reach the local community via the radio. We have had numerous fundraisers for local charities and we want to expand that going forward. We are just about to undertake an advertising/sponsorship campaign and as we generate money we will be able to implement our plans to set up workshops and accredited training courses aimed at members of the community that wouldn’t necessarily get the opportunity. There are a couple of studio spaces that we have built solely for this purpose. We want to organise more outside broadcasts and engage the wider community through the various events that we promote. Ultimately, we want to be able to provide opportunities for the marginalised and underrepresented members of our community to come and get involved in what we are doing.

The station’s very visible in the local gig scene – you curate your own events, and many of your DJs are respected independently on the scene. What have been some of the high points in terms of gigs, and what’s coming up that people can look out for?
Thanks! Yeah, it’s fair to say that some of our gang are respected for sure. And not just locally but in many cases internationally – and that is because they are among the best at what they do. Balearic Mike, Nick The Record, the Soft Rocks boys, Tim ‘Kalidasa’ Rivers, Jaime Reed and J Felix are all among the best DJs in the country for me. Anyone who goes out in Brighton will know the names Dusty Du, Family Funktunes, Beatwell, Daddy Marcus, Jeff Daniels, Affy Go Bang, Suze Rosser et al, because they are playing in the city’s bars, pubs and clubs every weekend. We’ve hosted a few parties at the Big Beach Café that have sold out and been exceptional fun, in spring we had UK house don Mark E come and play and he was amazing. We also hosted a party at the Thomas Kemp on Pride weekend this summer, which was off the hook – our guys get people dancing! We’ve also got a few residencies, including Patterns. This month, over the bank holiday weekend, we’ve got a two-day fundraiser at the Big Beach where Balearic legend Nancy Noise will be joining us on the Saturday and local reggae icons Prince Fatty, Pressure Drop and Roots Garden are all playing to help us raise funds for a transmitter that, once purchased, will enable us to broadcast on the FM frequency.

Describe your experience of submitting an Ofcom application. How do you feel about Ofcom in general?
Errrm! It was a wonderful experience! Hours spent trawling through documents is a definite highlight. Our relationship with Ofcom is new but they have just awarded us an FM licence. We are happy. I guess there is plenty of time for that to change – although we are looking forward to a long and happy relationship with them, of course!

Do you worry that, with this raft of license awards taking the number of local radio stations up to five, Brighton’s broadcast scene will become saturated? Do you have any plans to counter this?
I think it’s brilliant that there are five FM stations now. Gaydio and Platform B have each been awarded an FM licence along with us and each of us three new license holders will bring something new to the table. Brighton and Hove is a wonderfully diverse city and that is reflected in so much that goes on within the arts and music sector, however it hasn’t been reflected in the quality of the radio service in the last ten years or so. No disrespect to the existing services but there is no way that they can provide the variation and quality that truly reflects Brighton and Hove on their own. They are great at what they do but in my opinion there has been a huge void in the radio service in Brighton and Hove for years. These new FM licences are very much needed. The more radio the better, as it’s a wonderful format. We don’t need to counter anything, we just need to stay true to what we believe.

Now that you’ve got the license, what steps do 1 Brighton FM have to take to get the stream onto FM?
Well, first thing we need to do is raise the funds to buy a transmitter, install it and do all of the rather dull techy stuff that will enable us to broadcast. The good news is that there should be zero impact on the day-to-day output of the station and we will continue to broadcast online, on DAB and via the TuneIn app. Once we’ve got the transmitter in place we will run test broadcasts, publicise the frequency and then, knowing us, have a party to celebrate and try and get a few guests in for those early FM shows!

What are your main barriers to this? What steps are you taking to achieve this and how can ordinary people help?
Funding is the main hurdle but we are well on the way to achieving that. We started from scratch and we’ve come a long way, primarily through self-funding. If people want to help then buying a ticket to the fundraisers would be great – all of the money we raise from those over the bank holiday and also from the Family Funktunes’ 15th birthday party at the Rialto Theatre on 9th September will help us on our way. We’d also love people to check out the station online – and if they enjoy it, tell their friends, follow us on social media, engage with us. If any venues or promoters would like the 1 Brighton Soundsystem to work with them then we’re ready to talk.

What are your short term goals alongside the FM broadcast?
In the short term and with regards to the music, we won’t look to change the content too much. We would like to engage with more well-known guests such as visiting bands and DJs and encourage them to come into the studio and get involved. We’re also looking to train all of our presenters so that we can provide the best broadcasts possible. In the medium term we want to complete the building of our ‘Beat Basement’, which will entail creating a live studio area for unsigned local musicians to come and perform live on the radio. We do that at the moment but we want to improve the quality. It will have cameras set up to record the sessions and we will then broadcast these on our own YouTube channel. There’s lots to look forward to.

And what are your long term aims and ambitions?
As we have mentioned, we have a strong community involvement and that is something that will grow as we do. In the long term we have discussed the idea of starting our own charity.

 We want to have official involvement in the many festivals and performing arts events within the locality and further afield. Beyond that, we have discussed curating a 1 Brighton FM festival. We want our brand to become as well-known as the likes of NTS and Rinse FM. This is a station in its infancy and we have a lot of improvements to make and a lot to learn but the ideas about where we can take this project roll thick and fast. The sky really is the limit!


Buy tickets to ‘1 Brighton FM & Big Beach Cafe present Summer Madness!’ via the FaceBook event HERE.