Voices Radio was launched in 2020 from a cozy studio in Kings Cross by founders Kit Lockey, Tobias Oxnam, Faris Riaz, Will Melvin & Jack Onslow. Founding a radio station was a natural evolution from the community-driven work they were already doing online: hosting panels and discussions touching on music and industry at large. But, launching a radio station mid-way through a pandemic was no easy feat.
Committed to their vision of building “a platform that gives voice to different social issues in the creative industries” in the last two years, Voices Radio has evolved into one of London’s most popular radio station. They’ve invested in their community deeply, and consistently taken a chance on new, upcoming DJs. Voices serve as a fantastic example of a platform anchored and strengthened by the community. We sat down with the founders to talk about everything from how the station started and its mission, to their programming and what makes a great radio host.
How it All Started
What motivated you to start a radio station?
We had originally planned to organize DIY club events that would act as charity fundraisers, but due to the pandemic, we were forced to move our fundraising efforts online. Fortunately, we found that the digital realm allowed for much better access to what we were doing - things like our panel series started to garner viewers from all of the world - and we slowly started building a community who were either involved with or wanted to support, the causes and issues we were discussing. In early 2021 we were offered an amazing opportunity to take on space in Coal Drops Yard and continue our mission, which also added a more tangible way for the community to get involved with our project. So first came the mission, then months of agonizing about the name. We’d already been through several iterations as a party brand before we became Voices (throwback to the heady days of Jammin’ Beats and OSSIA for those that know), so we were determined to come up with something we would stick to this time! By then we had this huge network of creatives, each doing their own invaluable work, and so we built the station with them in mind, as a means to platform all the amazing initiatives going on around us
Set the scene for us at Voices studio and tell us about three pieces of equipment that have been essential to running the station up until now?
The first thing we’d recommend is a powerful computer with ample storage. With the way that software and digital recording work these days, anyone can set up a radio station with nothing more than a laptop - so that’s the place to start. We do a lot of audio and video editing while running our live radio, so we use a Mac Mini with some upgrades that give it enough computing power to handle multiple complex programs, but honestly, you could get up and running with an old MacBook.
The second item is Rode’s Rodecaster Pro, which we use as our mixing desk and audio interface. It’s actually designed as an all-in-one podcasting station and even has the ability to record directly to an SD card without even needing a laptop. For us it’s just a really easy-to-use interface with several microphone inputs, other audio inputs (including Bluetooth for phone interviews!), and even has a sound bank where we trigger our jingles from.
The final thing on the video live-streaming front is BlackMagic Design’s Atem Mini Pro camera switcher. Since discovering Mixcloud’s live-streaming service we’ve started taking the video aspect of what we do more seriously, and the Atem allows you to switch seamlessly between up to 4 camera inputs. This is super important if you’re trying to deliver a professional-looking live stream that keeps the attention of your audience - lockdown bedroom live streams with a single laptop webcam got real tedious real quick. So it’s been a fun challenge learning and adding the video side of what’s typically an audio-only medium!
The Mission is Simple
What are the core values of your brand and mission as a radio station?
Community is at the epicenter of what we do. We would be nothing without the hugely diverse mix of creators who make up Voices, each set on making the world a slightly better place in their own way, through music or word. We could never be greater than the sum of our parts!
Our mission is simple: platform good people with good ideas.
What factors into the programming of your station?
We’re not interested in becoming another radio station that plays 24 hours' worth of dance mixes. So we look for anything that’s a little off the beaten path concept-wise when putting show pitches in. We really enjoy shows discussions, or podcasts (we are literally called Voices, after all). After that, it basically comes down to whether it seems like a good radio show idea or not, and if the person presenting it seems like they’d be nice to work with! If you manage to tick those boxes (and most people do!) then we can usually make something work.
The Lessons Along The Way
What makes a great radio host? What are the top 3 skills?
Knowledge – Having a good understanding of their chosen topic area or music genre is an invaluable asset for a presenter. We love having people on the station that want to share info with the listeners instead of just laying down a 2hr DJ mix every time, so knowing what you're talking about is key!
Curiosity – A good presenter is inquisitive! Whether they’re thoroughly researching the field that their show covers or intrepidly digging for new tracks – they’re always looking to find out more about their passions and to learn from the people around them.
Empathy – Being a good listener isn’t only reserved for the audience! Understanding what your audience wants and why they tune in, i.e what it is they enjoy about your show (and perhaps the things that they don’t!) is an important part of creating content that people will want to engage with. An empathetic host also makes a better interviewer, and in general, a nicer person to work with. A good attribute to encourage in most folk, we think!
How do you keep your listeners switched on during a broadcast, what’s most important?
Instagram is probably our most important medium for letting people know about the station’s goings-on. However, TikTok is definitely also proving to be something we should be spending time on too. Monitoring our website chat room and getting back to people when they hit us up is also a very important way of making sure people feel like they’re involved with what’s going on in the studio! We're also building a community Discord server for the audience to connect even more with what's happening in the studio. So watch this space!
Walk us through the steps of acquiring a license for your radio station?
We’re currently only available online, so we only needed to get a PRS license, which is relatively simple to acquire. However, we are seriously looking into moving to DAB later in the year, although it will be a lengthy, expensive, and protracted process! We think it should be worth the effort though as we’re hugely proud of the content we’re putting out on the station and want to be getting it out in front of as wide an audience as possible.
Which Mixcloud features have supported you in your professional and creative processes at Voices?
The feature that first attracted us to Mixcloud was being able to host the full archive of our shows on one platform. We get a lot of our listenership via on-demand playback, which we manage fully through Mixcloud.
In addition, Mixcloud Live has been an invaluable asset since we started the station, allowing us to seamlessly live stream without the threat of mutings or takedowns. Mixcloud Live has also allowed us to organically reach a much wider audience, especially the times we've been lucky enough to get featured broadcasts, which has let us get hits via the Mixcloud homepage. With the way everything seems to be pivoting to video content at the moment, it’s incredibly handy to have a reliable, legal platform to share content on. What’s more, access to Pro stats has been a very handy tool for us to know where people are listening from, what kind of content they seem to resonate with most, and has offered insights into what kind of listeners we have in general! Plus it’s incredibly easy to use!
Discover Voices Radio on Mixcloud here.
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