mixing board

Here’s a little thing that happens in a traditional radio environment: the Producer sits in a booth surrounded by buttons, dials, switches and faders. Meanwhile, the Programmer sits in another booth – they are separated by glass – and in the Programmer’s room, there’s only a microphone and a red light.

When the red light turns on, the Programmer (aka the ‘talent’) gets to say things as written on the piece of paper they hold, which is given to them by the all-powerful Programme Director.
The Producer in the other booth fiddles with their buttons, dials and faders for the sole purpose of making the talent sound good.

When it’s all done, the Programmer gets to drift out of the booth, inflated like a dirigible by the power of their own ego. Off they go to drink lattés and talk to their lattés about how sexy their own voice is.

The lowly Producer, on the other hand, scurries off to a dark corner and nibbles on bones because that’s all the radio station gives them to eat. The scurrying, cowardly Producer cannot even dream of uttering a word on the air, while the Programmer cannot dream of being competent on the soundboard. This is traditional radio.

You may have heard the term ‘producer-oriented radio’ banded about when it comes to Trent Radio. That’s because all of our Programmers are also Producers.

You get to move the buttons, dials and knobs, and pull all the levers. In addition to all that, you’re allowed to speak. It’s the hippy-dippy alternative to the above totalitarian radio structure.

Commercial radio DJs don’t pick what they play. Their all-powerful programme directors do. The conflict—a kind of radio-wave class conflict—between programmers and producers is important for the programme director who has to maintain control over what goes out on the air, making sure neither the talent nor the gear-head ever realize how much power they actually have.

If they did, it would be revolution! Radio revolution! Should programmers and producers get together, they could overthrow the tyranny of the programme director and do things … well, community-oriented. That’s us.

Producer-oriented radio is about taking back that power and putting it in your hands. I may be a programme director, but I don’t decide what you play. (I’m not quite all-powerful.) This means the radio that happens is interesting, crazy and, well, because the person in the booth is usually doing too many things, it’s also haphazard, clumsy, and amateurish. And that’s fine. We’re creative.

The above kind of a radio is too much of a caste system for much creativity to come from it. The downside of such a creative approach is that it involves a lot of support, but again – that’s fine. It’s only fine because there are “Operators”.

Operators are volunteers who come into Trent Radio once a week for a shift where they are in charge. Generally they hang around in the kitchen, drink coffee, do their homework and are there to support the programmer in their artistic struggle from afar.

In order to make producer-oriented radio work, the operator needs to be there as the guiding hand so that the programmer/producer/show host/DJ on-air is then free to clumsily maneuver around the airwaves.

Operators are not in the booth. They’re there just in case the programmer ducks their head out and yells, “Help! What does this button do!” or “Help! How do I work these turning-tables?” or “Fire!” or so on.

Operators are in charge. Operators are all-powerful. Operators are cool.

An operator’s duties include: Monitoring the broadcast (CRTC speak for “listen to the radio to make sure it’s still working.”); Making sure there’s coffee (Radio runs on coffee); Ensuring the equipment is working, and if it isn’t, know who to call, Being supportive to programmers; Taking phone calls; and For a little while, just for a little while, being in charge. Operators usually also have their own show.

I think ‘being in charge’ is probably the most important part. Trent Radio is owned and operated by the students of Trent University, and it depends on members of Trent and the Peterborough community to step up to volunteer in order to make the producer-oriented dream come alive.

And that involves taking responsibility for the airwaves—taking ownership of the airwaves, and making them your own.

So… wanna be an Operator? Trent Radio has live programming from 9am until about midnight everyday. There are about 125 programmers right now, pursuing their own glorious, selfishly artistic dreams. This requires a lot of support from the operators to make sure everything comes together.

Right now, we need operators for the following shifts:
– Tuesday mornings 9am until noon.
– Wednesday mornings 9am until noon.
– Wednesday afternoons noon until 5.
– Thursday mornings 9am until noon.
– Friday mornings 9am until noon.

Do any of these times look appealing to you?

“But,” you say, “yea, verily, I am not experienced enough to be an Operator. I knoweth nothing of Trent Radio and its strange ways!”

Well, you can learn the things you need to know pretty darn quickly. It’s not important to have radio experience to be an operator, not even with the radio. Just having read this article, you’ll come out knowing most of what you need to know: that community comes down to you. All you need in order to be an operator is competence and a little bit of heart.

Let me put it this way … One of our operators once shared with me that he responds to the question, “What do you do at Trent Radio?” with the following, unintentionally sage summary: “I make coffee, community, and noise.”

And that’s all it takes. That’s all you need to be: the kind of person who is willing to make coffee. Willing to make community. And, now and again, someone who can really make a whole lot of noise.

If you’re interested, contact Programme Director James Kerr at [email protected] He’ll get you to come in, have some coffee, give you a little tour and tell you all you need to know.

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Sometime in the 1980s young James Kerr placed a peanut butter sandwich in his parent's VCR and was transported to a magical world where he was taught by long-dead ghost druids the secrets of community and radio waves. Returning to this world he became an arcade champ, dungeon master, and perhaps most relevantly the Programme Director of Trent Radio 92.7 fm. His parents had to clean the peanut butter out of the VCR.