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October 16, 2017 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

In Which a Boy Leaves

I’ve always been a fairly lucky kid. I essentially lucked out at birth, being born white, male, heterosexual, to a well off family. My life was never going to be particularly hard. And so my tale begins, with another stroke of sheer luck. After my girlfriend suggested I take up a radio show, I applied to the Victoria Broadcasting Club (VBC), and managed to gain a regular slot through pure chance — the slot I wanted was literally vacated by the previous occupant minutes before I arrived, and my presence was a welcome relief for the station manager.

My show was a relative non-affair. I don’t think I ever had more than ten listeners at any one moment, but the quiet time away from the rest of the university was a weekly, welcome relief, and I got to feel the unique pleasure that is exposing others to something one enjoys.

As time went on, it became clear that the station wasn’t doing too well. The station manager complained about VUWSA’s lack of involvement, about the inability to contact the trust that founded the station in the late ’90s, the fact we weren’t played on campus, along with a host of other things. Equipment broke frequently, and because I’m a massive fuckin nerd, I fixed it.




So, toward the end of 2013, when the station manager retired, I ended up being one of the few people there who knew how things worked — I replaced keyboards, pressed buttons when things broke, swivelled knobs that needed it. I spoke to VUWSA, suggesting they buy the station from the founding trust and expand their plethora of student media. In the end, the trust agreed to sell the station, all its equipment, and the rights to the radio frequency to VUWSA, all for the grand cost of “writing off its unpaid GST bill,” less than $3000 if memory serves me right. And so, my job as station manager began. Well, not quite a job, no one would be paying me, but I could say I managed a student radio station! Big changes!

The first year was an absolute nightmare. Most of our equipment either didn’t work as intended, or didn’t work at all. Getting stuff replaced took months, simply because VUWSA hadn’t quite worked out what they wanted to do with a radio station yet — they hadn’t actually owned one for over a decade, since RadioActive became independent, so all institutional knowledge was gone, and I had very little idea of what the hell I was actually meant to be doing. I knew how to keep it all going, but upgrading, and replacing, equipment was a fucking mystery. I tried googling some things only to find a lot of our equipment had been out of production since the late ’90s. The only guy who actually made the things that connect a phone to an analog mixer was some hermit.

But hey, I got to write “station manager” on my CV. S T O K E D.

Towards the end of 2014 I had this big idea to integrate the station with Salient. The intention was to help future-proof the station, as well as the magazine for when print media was no longer economically feasible, and an online publication was the next best option. By having more than just written content, we thought we could have a lot more value than other student magazines. This idea expanded to include SalientTV, allowing us to have a full multimedia suite. After jumping through a whole host of hoops, in 2015 we were renamed SalientFM. The editor at the time, Sam McChesney, had a whole host of ideas about what he was going to do with it; there’d be live interviews, recordings, gigs, the whole shebang.

But things don’t always work out as planned. While Sam put a hell of a lot of time into revamping the website, it’s always been something of a mess. WordPress, while useful for something like a magazine with weekly uploads and a large number of different pages, isn’t exactly the world’s most flexible platform. SalientTV and SalientFM were passed off onto their own separate subdomains, and we’ve been trying our best to stay afloat since. Numerous proposals to VUWSA about upgrading the website have been submitted, but as anyone who’s been here longer than a year can attest to, it hasn’t happened.




So, rather than focus on the visual presentation of the Salient brand online, I focused on the technical side of the stream. In order to simplify things, we cut down the equipment necessary from four computers to two. We changed the compression and encoding from three hardware sources to a single software source. We changed our hosting provider, meaning we no longer have a cap on people who can connect to the stream, as well as higher quality audio. The hope was that once we’d done all of this, we could redirect funding towards serious promotional efforts.

2016 came and went without much fanfare. We started experimenting with podcasts, collaborating with writers for the magazine, speaking to artists about their music, shit like that. (Interestingly, our two most popular pieces of content in 2016 were Max Key and Beach Boy, which has always confused me a little). We sort of just tried to focus on showing VUWSA how we could deliver value to student media in general. I still don’t really know if they actually saw any, but they did a survey in which people seemed happy to keep the station, so that felt pretty good.

2017, so far, has felt relatively similar to 2016. There haven’t been any drastic changes, primarily because we haven’t really needed any. We have a stable listener base (though, interestingly, we also seemed to have gained a dedicated following in both Germany and India; I’m still not entirely sure how), ample volunteers, and, for once, everything just works. Dreamy.

I don’t think my tenure here has been perfect. I wish I could have put more time into helping people with their shows, with things like how long to talk for, what to talk about, what tracks to play if you’re attempting to grow your listener base — you know, the kind of shit that real radio stations do. It would probably have made things a bit more boring but, after looking at Radio One’s financials versus ours during a visit to Dunedin in 2015, I’m pretty sure it would have been a solid choice. I wish I’d had the time and funding to run sponsored gigs. They didn’t even have to be big ones, I just wish we’d had Dugtrio, or CK, or Mermaidens, or one of the other, numerous, incredible local bands playing under a billing we’d put out. And I wish we’d managed to unify the website. My greatest regret will probably be that I couldn’t make it happen. We had quotes, a plan in place, a basic framework and schedule, but with NZ On Air funding applications closing way before the date they initially announced, we missed our window.

These are all things I hope whoever ends up in this role ends up doing, and I hope the things I’ve worked towards make it at least a little easier for them to do so.

So let me take this moment to be a little bit mushy and defensive. Student media, in the eyes of most of the student body is, let’s be honest, something of a joke (shoutout bad memes). But hot diggity dog, everyone I’ve met here and work with puts in way, way more time than they’re paid for. Editors frequently work 70-hour weeks, designers are up till ungodly hours of the morning, not just to deliver a product for students, but to help writers gain invaluable experience that you honestly can’t really get anywhere else. And I get it: sometimes it’s super fuckin avant-garde, sometimes the pieces written are pretty fuckin’ opinionated; but in my opinion, this is one of student media’s greatest strengths. Where else are you going to see a piece about sex workers’ rights, a heartfelt discussion about dealing with Asperger’s as a university student, and a discussion of the weird as shit circumstances surrounding the Capital Market? Certainly not in the Herald. And if you don’t like it? Write for us. If your piece is good, it will get published. Despite opinions otherwise, we don’t really have an agenda.

So thanks to Laura, Tim, Jayne, Emma, Sam, Duncan, and Cam for curating this shit over the years. Thanks to Matt and Indigo for giving us money. Thanks Rory, Jono, Rick, and Sonya for thinking we’re worthwhile enough to keep around. Thanks to the countless number of volunteers we’ve had; I’ve seen close to a thousand, and I haven’t even met half the people who wrote while I’ve been here.

Shoutout to whoever left Metallica’s Death Magnetic on repeat for an entire weekend. Mistake or not, it made me laugh very hard.

Thanks Campus Care for the numerous calls you get every night asking people to let volunteers in after hours (though, for real, sort out swipe access for us, yeah?).

Cheers to Stanislav Barabash, our dedicated Ukrainian listener who had us playing through a laptop at the hotel where he worked, and the nice emails he sent us. Hope you’re doing alright.

To the café in Germany who plays us literally 18 hours a day: you’re a champ.

Shoutout Double Brown and sub $8.00 wine, the show hosts’ drinks of choice.

Sorry we ended up with so much of your cutlery Hunter Lounge, please keep delivering beer to us.

I’m probably going to miss this place.




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