Fresh Air (Edinburgh)

For the US radio show on NPR, see Fresh Air.
Fresh Air is the alternative music student radio station serving Edinburgh, Scotland. Launched on October 3, 1992, Fresh Air is one of the oldest surviving student radio stations in the UK. Winner of the "Student Radio Station of the Year" award at the Student Radio Association awards in 2004, Fresh Air is a registered student society with several of the city's universities, but remains an independent body.


In the autumn of 1990, Edinburgh University student Robert Barrow conducted a survey to gauge support for a student radio station within the university. In the course of the survey Barrow met fellow student Eric Wilkinson, and soon partnered with him to form the Edinburgh Student Radio society, with the initial aim to set up a permanent radio station. By the beginning of the following academic year, they realized that this was perhaps overly ambitious as a starting point, and instead focused on the idea of a short term broadcast, taking advantage of the Radio Authority's new Restricted Service Licence scheme.

With support from the Edinburgh Enterprise Centre, ESR recruited prospective presenters and ran a training course with the help of John Gray, formerly of BBC Scotland. The team also identified a site from which the broadcast could be run and, eventually, a name for the station: Fresh Air FM (other suggestions included Outburst Radio, UFM and plain old Edinburgh Student Radio). The final hurdle, finance, was cleared by the procurement of a grant from the Edinburgh University Development Trust to supplement advertising income: together this represented sufficient funding to cover the costs of a two-week RSL broadcast.

Fresh Air FM was launched on October 3, 1992. As one of the first wave of student Restricted Service Licence stations in the UK, the initial broadcast generated a lot of media interest, not all positive: numerous incidents involving the use of bad language on the air drew criticism from both the media and the Radio Authority. This initial broadcast was followed by a shorter one in December of that year to coincide with the European summit. The first broadcast to make full use of the time restriction imposed by the station's RSL - 24 hours a day, for 28 consecutive days - occurred in October 1994, and Fresh Air FM successfully conducted semiannual 28-day broadcasts thereafter, typically in the months of October and May.

T In the Park 1997

At the invitation of Glasgow sister station Subcity, Fresh Air FM ran the Edinburgh end of an ambitious three-site RSL broadcast for the T in the Park festival in the summer of 1997. Together the two stations mounted a major outside broadcast operation at the T in the Park site near Perth. With generous sponsorship from Philips Consumer Communications, Fresh Air was able to record interviews on minidisc, edit them in the on-site editing suite and send them via ISDN to the Glasgow and Edinburgh studios. There, interviews and features were blended with a playlist showcasing the extraordinary diversity of music at featured at the event.

Financial difficulty

Aside from the initial grant opportunities, company and council sponsorships, Fresh Air remains to this day an entirely self-funded station, purely reliant on self-procured advertising and sponsorship money instead of university funding. With the costs of a 28-day FM RSL just managing to stay within the four-figure mark, Fresh Air FM barely managed to break even, and often ran into debt. The situation came to a head in 2002, where debts reached a level that was unsustainable, and forced the committee to make the difficult decision to suspend broadcast until all debts were repaid. Notably, the university's students association proved unsupportive of the society's efforts, suggesting the society disband and start from scratch, operating under the association's umbrella organisation. The society declined.

The refinancing process took two years, but the society was successful in its efforts, and returned with a positive bank balance to broadcast on FM in April 2004, kicked off by an hour-long outside broadcast from the city's The Venue featuring a set by local band The Hustlers. As this was the first broadcast to be simulcast on the Internet, the decision was made to drop the "FM" from the station name, with the result that the broadcast was the first to operate under the Fresh Air name.

Station of the year

Fresh Air's successful turnaround and preparations for the April 2004 broadcast were documented in full, and sent along with a 20-minute compilation tape as part of the station's entry in the "Station of the Year" category at the annual Student Radio Awards. A 40-strong delegation from the station attended the awards ceremony in November of that year, where it was announced that Fresh Air had won the top prize of the night.

The prize included the chance to pre-record a free-form, two hour music-based show for BBC Radio 1, to be broadcast on Christmas morning. Four society members were flown down to London to act as the show's two presenters, producer and production assistant. Music picked for the show consisted of a number of Fresh Air favourites, but also featured music from and interviews with some up-and-coming Scottish bands, as well as an interview with the Scottish musician Mylo.

Broadcasting complications

2004 proved to be a bittersweet year for Fresh Air, as changes to Edinburgh University's academic calendar that autumn forced the station to fall back to an annual 28-day broadcast schedule, usually conducted in February or March.

In February 2006, the launch of the local talk radio station Talk 107 forced Fresh Air off the air again, when Ofcom refused to issue any short-term licences surrounding the station's launch to discourage competition, citing section 1.7 of its notes for applicants document The society opted instead to broadcast exclusively over the Internet for two months. In order to broadcast on-line legally using the required licences issued by the MCPS-PRS Alliance and Phonographic Performance Limited, significant finances still had to be raised to support the broadcast.

Current Activities

The 2007 Fresh Air FM RSL application was once again denied by OfCom, due to the imminent launch of local community station Leith FM However, changes to on-line licencing laws have enabled the station to broadcast all year round on the Internet via its web site, allowing over ninety hours of live programming to be broadcast during each week of term-time.

For the 2007/2008 broadcast the blue print from the previous year was followed; Fresh Air was to be an internet radio station. The addition of second studio meant Fresh Air could begin pre-recording shows so that content could be aired after studio access hours.

The society holds its annual major club event, Indie Club Together, in early Spring, bringing together about a dozen local indie music nights under the same roof. The next is expected to be held in late October. In addition, various on-air and other fundraising events have been and will be held, including Radio Day on February 22 2007, a 24-hour radio show fronted by then station manager Tim Johns in order to raise funds for Comic Relief. For the 2007/2008 broadcast all live events experienced a re-branding, all club nights, gigs and other fundraisers were to come under the brand 'Fresh Air Live Presents'. Around fifteen live events have currently been hosted under that brand since September 2007.

The society organises a number of fundraising events at local venues, and provides training to third parties, most notably as part of the recent European Union Vienna Project. Recent events fundraising for other causes raised the profile of the station, from its involvement in John Peel Day 2006 to its participation in Hearing Aid 2007, in aid of Comic Relief.

Fresh Air at the Festival

The successful broadcast of 2006/2007 meant that Fresh Air was in a position to cover the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2007, the only Internet radio station to do so. Fresh air at the festival works as a separate entity to the normal term time station, with its own dedicated committee and separate sources of funding. The broadcast in 2007 focused on interviewing comedians at the festival rather than presenting music and building unique shows, plans for 2008 revolve around creating more opportunities for creating a variety of shows and allowing the presenters more freedom


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