LDC Radio: A Conversation with Leeds' Brand New FM Station
In an age of streaming and downloads, it's perhaps easy to question the relevancy of FM radio as we enter into a new decade. Whilst vast media companies are able to provide nationwide coverage on the likes of BBC, there is a startling lack of local independent FM stations around at the moment, and compared to the prominent position that these smaller stations once held in the landscape of UK music, stations that adequately reflect local communities are few and far between. However, although the music industry has found new ways to reach out to its listener over the years, there's one thing that new Leeds-based station LDC is making sure of; radio isn't dead.
Leeds Dance Community radio is exactly what it says on the tin. With a fresh and vibrant wave of enthusiastic presenters, strong ties with local projects and businesses across the city, and a shared love for dance music from across the world, LDC Radio aims to rekindle the flame of FM radio, and restore it to its former glory. We had a chat with LDC's co-founder Dan Tidmarsh to find out more about the initial motivations behind creating the station, the kinds of things we can expect to hear of the airwaves in the coming months, and how LDC has been engaging with the local Leeds community.
For people who haven’t yet tuned into yet, how would you summarise LDC Radio? LDC Radio is brand new dance music station in Yorkshire that plays under-represented music that's isnt played on commercial stations. We’re classed as a dance music station, but if it makes you makes you move and makes you smile, then we play it. Dance for my 72 year- old parents is motown. Dance music for me- I’m 37- is 90s house. Dance music for my 54-year-old friend is acid house, which is what he listened to when he was at uni in 1989 and Dance to a 20 year old is Deep House. If it’s good music that’s not played on commercial radio, we will play it. Funk, soul, disco, motown, house, deep house, tech; we span across all genres - relevant to all ages. Where are you currently based, and how did you come to acquire that space? We’re based at the James Graham building on the Leeds Beckett campus. We acquired the space following about two and a half years of negotiation with the university. We wanted to work with them as we felt that we could support them with our knowledge of music and radio and they brought a level of professionalism as well as fresh, new talent and ideas from their student base. Why is FM Radio important, and why do you think it is needed in the community? For me personally, I played on the radio in pirate form for about 12 years. However, due to the nature of pirate, it wasn't consistent. So sometimes the transmitters would get taken down etc. With regards to Leeds, this city has been revered as one of the hotspots of night life in the UK about 40 years. Not just the UK either. In Ibiza every year, they have Leeds week. There’s no Manchester, Liverpool, or Birmingham week. It’s an international music scene. You have some of the old classics that aren't there anymore like the Music Factory, which spawned Hard Times, Love to Be & other massive nights. You have Back to Basics which is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the longest running club night. So Leeds as a hub for music has been at the epicentre of it all for a long, long time. The only thing is, we’ve havent had a radio station that properly reflects that for a long time! We did in 1997; back then I was a teenager, I used to go out to the Majestic night club which was a circa 2000 capacity venue. In that year on Valentines Day, Kiss 105 was launched. Prior to that we had Dream FM which was a large pirate, but a lot of the DJs from that moved to Kiss. The reason I loved it was because I’d be able to go out on a Thursday night, then get up for school in the morning and in the car on the way to school I’d have Kiss FM playing the exact same tunes I’d been listening to in Majestic 7 hours earlier with my mates! Kiss 105 gave me a love and passion for Radio. Radio isn't dead, there’s just been an entire generation that haven't had anything on radio that’s made them want to listen to it! The other thing about radio is that it’s free! So I’ve always been interested in getting involved with it. It’s accessible to the masses. In 2017, Ofcom announced that they were allowing a license to come to Leeds, and we applied for the tender process. We were successful in the end, but within the next 12 months, Bauer media absorbed all breakfast and drive time shows. It was all syndicated to London. All of these local regional shows just disappeared, and radio wasn’t relevant to Yorkshire anymore. Moving on another 12 months, and Bauer media has purchased another 56 radio stations from around the UK and turned them plus others into the Greatest Hits radio. One of which is Radio Air, which Leeds is about to lose. Well you can use that to your advantage, and bring back that local relevant content to the city. Of course! The large stations are based in London. A lot of radio is now just very generic across the country; the Weatherspoon’s of radio, if you like. There’s now BBC Radio Leeds, and Fresh FM and People’s FM which are both pirate. LDC isn't bound by many constraints. We aren't just a playlist- I’ll look outside on the way to the studio and it’s a beautiful day, and I’ll think to myself ‘I could do with playing some old skool garage, some uplifting motown and funk for the sunshine.’ That’s what’s going through my head on the way to work.
LDC Radio HQ on Leeds Beckett Campus
Well that’s what you want from radio isn't it? It’s that personable aspect. Exactly. You want the interaction and you want it to sound and feel like the people who are listening are involved. You’re doing it for them! For us it’s not a numbers game for some chief executive in Whitehall, it’s done for the people. Its radio created by the people, for the people. It’s a platform for expression. Radio is an amazingly powerful platform. You find yourself listening to radio when you’re not even meaning to. I love Spotify, but I hate the adverts and to avoid them, I have to pay. With our adverts, we do it this way. We do 20 minutes of music, 3 minutes of adverts. However, the specialist shows have an hour of content before the 3 minutes of adverts. On some stations they have 5/6 minutes of adverts at a time! Who are some of the key people involved in LDC Radio? So there’s 3 directors and another chap who is our head of HR, and those guys have been instrumental from within the organisation. We all have different professional backgrounds but all have a love of music and varying experience in radio. if you’re talking externally, we’ve had help from Hillary Benn MP, Tom Riordan from Leeds City Council & Dee Reid from Leeds Beckett University. Who have all been essential for helping us facilitate and realise the dream. To do this in the middle of lockdown was a pain as well. We had to get a lot of things done & without their help this would not be possible. Do you have any specific targets or aims that you are working towards? How do you fund your station? So it’s Community Radio which is what makes us different. With regards to funding, we were led to believe that we were eligible for funding. However, when it came to it and we had won the license, it become apparent very quickly that, actually it’s very hard to get any funding before you are up and running rather than the start-up funds that we needed. To set the radio station up, me and the other directors took out a personal loan. We have personally funded this station. Now that the station is up and running we are eligible for other funding, but there isn’t any at the moment due to the situation with COVID! It’s not great. So what’s the solution going forwards then? I assume some grants will become available in the coming months? Well we are eligible for a lot, but all the funding has been pulled, and covid won't be going away for a long time. However, we are selling advertising, we need to survive independently of just funding. It needs to stand on its own to some extent. We are selling advertising at reduced rates to help the local community. We looked into commercial stations advertising fees and they are extortionate! This got us all thinking and we concluded that there’s a massive disparity between the public, reality, and large commercial powerhouses like McDonalds and BMW who will happily pay just for brand recognition. The little man next door who owns a shop can’t afford that. So we have reduced our fees massively. If you’re a small business in Leeds, then we’ve made it affordable so that you will be able to get the same level of campaign that BMW would for a fraction of the price. I think that, especially with you being a Leeds-focussed community station, the fact that you’re giving a platform to local businesses within Leeds, especially at the moment, ties in with perfectly with what radio should be about. Exactly! We’re helping the local economy. We need to help Leeds get going again. We’re doing a lot of things with the community. For example, we’re working with the NHS, and there’s a new initiative for mental health in Leeds. A lot of people feel very isolated at the moment. Leeds City Council are keen on speaking to the community, and they see from the music we are playing and the target output is that it focusses on a lot of those community. Due to this, they are having a weekly slot where they are talking all about mental health within the BAME community in 20 minute segments. The Council and Leeds Beckett will have weekly input as well. This all ties in with local social cohesion, and at the end of the day, music transcends all barriers. If you play a tune & everyone on starts tapping their foot, & nodding their head then clearly it is good music. It doesn't matter who or what you are, race, religion, creed, profession. It doesn't matter. Music is universal language. What has the response from the Leeds community been like since you launched? We’ve been really taken aback. Everyone’s embraced the station way more than I thought they would do, and I didn’t expect to be so well revered after such a small space of time. I think it’s a breath of fresh air for a lot of people. A lot of people have been contacting us and saying they want to help, so without people like yourself saying that, we wouldn’t be as far down the line as we are. So I’m very much indebted to the local people of Leeds. People who hear the output and really like it and think ‘Where’s this come from?’. We’ve got some new big shows starting like the Breakfast Show, and the mid-morning Mothership show & a new Drive Time show. We’ve got some great presenters that have come over to our station from commercial stations across Yorkshire due to the fact we are different & a breath of fresh air. We have the news and the weather coming soon as well. We want to get into livestreaming events as well. Not everyone can attend events and festivals, so we want to, in an Ibiza style, live stream what’s happening at these events. We can have some guys going around getting footage to go on the website as well. We’d love to be able to capture the ambience and atmosphere and be able to broadcast it out to people.