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November 05, 2006

The Student Radio Awards

This Thursday will see the highlight of the student radio calendar (admittedly, it may be the only entry in it) – the Student Radio Awards. It’s a night of drunken celebration and celebrity-worshipping, but it also holds some deeper significance, as I’ll try to explain.

Many of the most important people in the media started off in Hospital or Student radio. Stephen Merchant – profiled in today’s Observer – began at RaW, as did Simon Mayo and Timmy Mallett (ok, there’s some un-important people too).

It really is a hot-bed of creativity, which at times can make it more exciting than the professional media world which many of its alumni go on to occupy. This isn’t surprising – people are often at their most ambitious and creative when young. But there are sometimes a few things that the big-guns can learn from the amateurs. I know – pretty much for a fact – that some Radio 1 DJs steal borrow their ideas from student radio stations, including RaW.

Especially when there’s the minimum amount of politics going on, student media can be the best place to try out new ideas and see how they work. At Cardiff’s Xpress Radio, DJs can get hold of listening figures for their own show, so can literally see whether one feature was a hit or a miss. If it’s a miss, it rarely matters. But if it’s a hit – and I’ve seen this happen – it can plant seeds that turn into careers.

Student radio can sometimes show us what professional radio is missing out on, too. I won’t embarrass them, but if two former RaW DJs decided to make a career in radio, they could make it to the very top. It’s the listener’s loss that they went in different directions.

But hopefully this week’s Student Radio Awards will recognise some of the future talent and also some of those who probably won’t go into the media. With categories from Best Comedy and Drama to Best Outside Broadcast, the SRAs recognise the full range of talent in student radio, and present it to an audience of industry bigwigs who, if they take it seriously enough, can foster new ideas and new careers.

Avoid the New Connaught Rooms in London this Thursday. You don’t need to see the riotous student behaviour that will go on. But keep in the back of your mind the idea that in that one building, many of the stars of the future will probably be taking their first staggering steps towards fame and fortune.

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