Monday, February 13, 2012

Radio Station Field Trip 29 - Trinity FM at Trinity College Dublin

View out the Window at Trinity FM

Last month when I was visiting Ireland I managed to visit two student radio stations near Dublin. My first stop was Belfield FM, which I profiled a few weeks back. My next visit was to the Trinity College radio station in Dublin, known simply as Trinity FM.

I headed over to Trinity FM on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 17, 2012. Located near the entrance to the college, the station was on the top floor of House 6, a historic campus building that contains a number of offices, including a book shop and the communications office. Trinity College itself is more than 400 years old and the campus features beautiful old buildings surrounding a central area full of walking paths and green spaces. Despite the age of the university, the radio station is relatively new and first started as a temporary station around 1998 in order to cover the "Trinity Ball," a massive annual music party held on campus to celebrate the end of each academic year. The station was such a hit that they decided to keep it going.

Trinity College Dublin. Trinity FM is Located on the Top Floor

Run entirely by student volunteers, Trinity FM operates out of a small space up several flights of stairs in House 6. When I visited they hadn't yet resumed broadcasting for the semester, but were set to start webcasting from 5pm to midnight beginning on January 30th. As is the case with many student stations in Ireland, Trinity has a special radio license that allows them to broadcast over FM for a specific number of weeks every year. This year they are approved for 6 weeks of terrestrial broadcasts, which will air from 9am to midnight during 6 pre-arranged weeks throughout the year over 97.3 FM. The first FM week this semester will be the week of February 20 to 24.

An old Schedule for Trinity FM

Trinity FM's Station Manager Matthew Taylor toured me around the station and filled me in on the inner-workings of the station. Taylor said that there is a great amount of interest in the student radio station, with 300 people signing up to join Trinity FM during Freshers Week (the week before classes start). He said that about 100 students are active at the station, with a core group of 20 to 30 volunteers. Students who sign up to volunteer at Trinity have the opportunity to apply for regular streaming shows, which pretty much air for the entire year. Approximately 60% of the streaming shows are music shows and 40% are talk programs.

Trinity FM Station Manager Matthew Taylor in the Studio

FM shows work a little differently and the application process is much more competitive. An editorial board selects programs for FM across a number of specific categories, including news/current events, culture, Irish, light entertainment, film, European affairs, and music. Taylor said that the FM slots fill up quickly, as editors match applicants with available time slots. During the weeks when FM broadcasts occur, the regular streaming shows go on hiatus.

In terms of content, shows on Trinity FM include the live music show Reverb, which features local bands, the popular long-running (it's in its 7th year) Plastic Soul show which is hosted by a Drama lecturer from Texas, and a vinyl-focused show called Wax Poetics. Over the years there have also been a number of shows hosted by international students from Russia, the United States, and South Africa. Schedule updates can be found on Trinity FM's twitter feed and on its Facebook group.

Taylor said that DJs have a lot of freedom to do what they'd like on their shows as long as they are respectful of the rules. Hosts are asked to limit swearing before 8pm and to not air anything libelous. They also aren't allowed to smoke or drink in the studio so as to ensure that equipment isn't damaged. Taylor mentioned that many years ago a DJ was kicked off the air after for a foul-mouthed show about bondage. He said that when the show was initially awarded the DJ was vague about the concept of the show, so it ended up being a surprise to the staff when he went on air. He added that they do listen and check in on FM shows in particular for appropriateness, especially after that incident. Streaming content has a little more freedom and isn't as regulated as terrestrial radio in Ireland.

They've opted to divide the 6 weeks allotted for FM broadcasts across the academic year so that terrestrial broadcasts occur for the most part during the last week of every month. The frequency of 97.3 is actually shared across a number of broadcasters, which is part of the reason why they are only licensed to use it for a certain number of weeks every year. The FM signal only reaches about 2 miles, so for the most part Trinity FM is only heard on campus.

Trinity FM Office

The small Trinity FM space includes an office and the broadcast studio. Since it's in a historic building they have some limitations on what they can do with the space and because of that they are unable to do extensive soundproofing. For that reason they have to make sure that people in the office aren't too loud when a DJ is on the air in the adjacent studio. Additionally, because the historic structure can't be upgraded to be wheelchair accessible, Trinity FM is unable to apply for some community funding that is contingent upon having a more accessible station. There was some talk that they might be about to move to a Student Center in a different building, but those plans were squashed when a Student Center referendum failed to gain enough votes.

Trinity FM Studio (Notice the Old Fireplace in the Background)

For the most part DJs bring their own music to Trinity FM, with some opting to bring CDs and vinyl, but many just use You Tube or play music from their laptops. While I was touring the station, one DJ popped in and mentioned that he'd been sent a red transparent vinyl record and he spoke of it as if it was a novelty, so it would seem that vinyl is only sparingly played there despite the availability of turntables. They have a 45 gig library of digital music available for DJs to play, but there isn't much in the way of a physical library. A CD library does exist, but it was in a locked cupboard when I visited. I was told that DJs play an eclectic mix of music including indie, folk, reggae and live music.

In addition to their on-air work, Trinity FM also brings events and lectures to Trinity College, including a series of talks presented by professional DJs who have shared stories about working in radio. One station volunteer is working on a graduate project related to radio journalism and someone else from Trinity FM did her dissertation on the topic of radio and society. The station has also put on a number of concerts on campus, including a recent one in a chapel and another in a gothic building. One ambitious event, the Hallow Sessions, was a mini acoustic music festival.

As I toured the station I was also impressed to see their painted wooden signage. I was told that due to the inclement, often windy and rainy weather in Ireland, regular banners often blow away at events. Because of that, they have built big wooden signs that they haul out for campus events like Freshers Week (the week before classes start).

Taylor said that he's really enjoyed his time at Trinity FM and mentioned that he's gotten close to many people through his work there. He used to do a news and public affairs show and has attended conferences in Brussels on behalf of the station. He said, "Being on the radio is really fun."

Thanks so much to Matthew Taylor and everyone else at Trinity FM for giving me the grand tour.

Previous Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips:

Field Trip to WECB at Emerson College
College Radio Field Trip 2 - Cal Poly's KCPR
College Radio Field Trip 3 - Notre Dame's WVFI
Radio Station Field Trip 4 - WFMU in Jersey City
Radio Station Field Trip 5 - East Village Radio in NYC
Radio Station Field Trip 6 - WNYU in New York City
Radio Station Field Trip 7 - Northwestern's WNUR
Radio Station Field Trip 8 - Stanford's KZSU
Radio Station Field Trip 9 - University of San Francisco's KUSF
Radio Station Field Trip 10 - Santa Clara University Station KSCU
Radio Station Field Trip 11 - UC Berkeley's KALX
Radio Station Field Trip 12 - KSJS at San Jose State University
Radio Station Field Trip 13 - WBAR at Barnard College
Radio Station Field Trip 14 - KFJC at Foothill College
Radio Station Field Trip 15 - UC Santa Cruz Station KZSC
Radio Station Field Trip 16 - Haverford College Station WHRC
Radio Station Field Trip 17 - FCCFree Radio in San Francisco
Radio Station Field Trip 18 - Flirt FM in Galway, Ireland
Radio Station Field Trip 19 - RXP 101.9 FM in New York City
Radio Station Field Trip 20- WGBK at Glenbrook South High School
Radio Station Field Trip 21 - KPDO in Pescadero, California 
Radio Station Field Trip 22 - KZYX in Philo, California 
Radio Station Field Trip 23 - San Francisco's Pirate Cat Radio
Radio Station Field Trip 10.5 - KSCU's New Digs at Santa Clara University (2010)
Radio Station Field Trip 24 - Radio Valencia in San Francisco
Radio Station Field Trip 25 - WZBC at Boston College
Radio Station Field Trip 26 - KSFS at San Francisco State University 

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