THE BEGINNING

The wireless goes DIY in a Hackney cafe.

london-fields-radio

Photography by Owen Richards

THE WIRELESS GOES DIY IN A HACKNEY CAFE

It was the modern photocopier that turned print DIY, coughing out fanzines from the mid-’60s and reaching its eventual boom at the end of the ’70s. For TV, early ’80s Cable first did the job of cutting out the establishment (“Party On! Excellent”) before Youtube finally turned up and gave us all our own channels, filmed on mobile phones. Recorded sound had the revelation that anyone could walk into a pressing plant, followed by Tascam 4-tracks and the tape cassette, and GarageBand and the MP3. Legitimising the medium of homemade radio, though, seems to have taken forever. Pirate stations of the early ’60s (like Radio Caroline, which would broadcast from a boat in ‘international waters’ to slip through a legal loophole) were finally outlawed in 1967, and few stations have been looked on as little more than trouble (and noise) makers ever since. London’s Rinse FM – which was finally awarded a community FM broadcast license a year ago next month – beat the odds, but that only came after sixteen long pirating years, four of which had them also broadcasting on the Internet.

Like most things, it’s the Web that’s really revolutionised the wireless. More and more DIY Internet stations are springing up, and perhaps the most idyllic of them all is London Fields Radio, ran from the corner of a working Hackney café by Kate Hutchinson and Sarah Bates.

“People have to record their shows when the café is open,” insists Sarah. “That’s the whole point, because we like the atmosphere of the public chatting and the coffee machine going…”

“And you can hear it all in the background,” adds Kate. “Some people shit themselves when they come in to do a show for the first time because they’re not use to having a lot of people sat around, or the sound of a coffee machine going off, but it all adds to the atmosphere of the shows.”

The Wilton Way Café – on Wilton Way, London, E8 – wasn’t so much chosen by Kate and Sarah, but rather chosen for them, by the station’s founders and café owners, who run another community-based creative space on the other side of town – Notting Hill Arts Club.

“David and Dom opened the café in December 2009,” says Sarah, “and their only thing with the station was that it had to be inclusive. So it became local radio for local people, but anyone can come in and do it.”

“There’s the music based shows like ‘For Folk’s Sake’, but it’s kinda like Radio 4… for Hackney people,” says Kate of the spontaneous chat found on LFR, like one show that consisted of its hosts leaning out of the café’s window and interviewing male customers of the bookmakers next door about their girlfriends and love-lives. “Again, it comes back to the café,” says Sarah, “a lot of the shows discuss the kind of things that people talk about in cafes or down the pub.”

Most of ‘The Men-o-pause’ (the gambler’s Question Time) was, perhaps unsurprisingly, not suitable for public airing, but that’s the beauty of a station still in its infancy – it allows a project to be more liberal than the busy bodies that whipped up ‘Sachsgate’, and, still in its 1.0 podcast guise, the odd unquestionable offence can be cut before being uploaded to the Web.

“We try not to edit the shows, though,” says Kate. “which is what makes us different to all other pre-recorded stations. They’re edited to the enth degree; we’re a bit more organic.”

By Stuart Stubbs

LFR is ‘on air’ now. Find it at www.londonfieldsradio.com.

Originally published in issue 28 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. May 2011

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