My days on the airwaves

Alumnus Frazer Sheppard recalls his stint as a DJ for University Radio York

URY, the campus radio covering the University of York, was the first legal independent radio station in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1967 by student Mike Greasley, the station broadcasts 24 hours per day during term-time. The station was initially established to broadcast lectures and educational material as well as popular music.

Frazer Sheppard, who was a Breakfast DJ for URY in 1981, and is now an ITV Producer, recalls that the station was “no more than a couple of portacabins in Derwent” during his time at York.

Students in the sun

Frazer remembers his time at the station well:

It’s June 1980, crack of dawn, and I am leaning on a gate in the countryside near Heslington listening to the birds sing. The sun is shining on the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, and I am wondering whether to play Bill Withers “Lovely Day” as my first tune on my first early shift on URY.

I can’t help but wonder how many students will be up at this hour to marvel at my talents, but as my Dad – a radio professional – taught me, you are only ever broadcasting to one person, not thousands. Maybe that one person will be sharing in the dawn chorus and looking for a song to kickstart their day?

I tear myself away from this idyllic scene to head for the ramshackle collection of portacabins that is University Radio York. In my pocket is the doorkey that will turn the ignition on another day in the station’s life. Perhaps someone will hear me and make me famous – although I know Home Office regulations mean the broadcasts are restricted to the campus through a series of aerials on college roofs…

Students early 80s

In my hand is a bag full of vinyl to stir the student soul on a Monday morning, and a handwritten running order that I am even now rethinking – maybe “Lovely Day” is the song to spur the heart on this blazing morning, and not whatever I have at the top of the list (“Le Freak” by Chic, I think). But there’s also “Instant Replay” by Dan Hartman, or some American guy singing “I am the Morning Deejay” (too corny!) or Earth Wind & Fire’s latest funk episode. What to play as my curtain raiser?

The studio is a scruffy affair, like all radio studios – I’ve been in to learn the mixer desk and the way to cue the decks, but I am bound to cock it up when I go live. It’s just nerves. I play with the faders and test the instant roll – it all seems to be working. Ten minutes to go – just me and a clock and a mixing panel, and a track list I wrote the night before that doesn’t make much sense, and a few cheesy links scribbled down in a notepad that seem less inspired than when I wrote them.

Oh, and my new girlfriend. She’s fascinated with the whole radio thing, and promises to listen even if nobody else does at this lonely hour. She thinks it’ll be great. So no pressure, then…

Boats on the lake

The clock hits 7am, the faders go up, and I’m live. I read my hastily written intro and hit the button – what was that first track? Dan Hartman I think, but don’t sue me if I’m wrong – it was 30 years ago. Then “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones, because I liked it and I could inflict my musical tastes on a whole community. Then Squeeze, “Up the Junction” – amazing lyrics. Something by Blonde, some slick time checks and a few wry observations on the day ahead from mein host.

The grey landline phone went at 8 and my new girlfriend Susie said it sounded great. Who else was listening that morning, who knows – we had no Twitter, no Facebook and no mobiles.

Whoever does the job today has all of those technologies, and I expect the advantage of digital playlists rather than a carrier bag full of vinyl and a notepad. But the job is the same – sounding the morning fanfare, picking the tunes that tap into the soul at an early hour and make you feel someone is out there to make your day brighter. URY has a very special wavelength – tuning in to the hearts and minds of the population of the campus. I hope my modern-day replacement tries to feel that heartbeat as I did all those years ago.