As university campuses have closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, student radio has faced a new struggle: how do you continue to make student radio relatable, when there is nobody on campus? How do you ensure your members and other students stay engaged with student media from home?

In the UK and NI, there are around 73 student radio stations that broadcast during term-time, with most of these stations being members of the Student Radio Association (SRA). Being a member of the SRA means that student radio stations can avail of training and support, as well as becoming part of a wider radio community.

A key event on the SRA’s calendar is their annual conference, which is hosted by a different UK student station every year. This year, the conference was due to be hosted by Shock Radio at the University of Salford from 15th-17th April. However, due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions the conference was cancelled.

Despite this setback, the SRA team wished to continue supporting their member stations, and so the conference went ahead, albeit digitally. 15 live sessions were held across the three days and broadcast onto Facebook, from various locations around the UK, using Zoom video calls. To date, the conference has achieved 4,800 views across all three days.

Scott Duffield, the current Northern Ireland Regional Officer for the SRA, hosted a live session from Belfast with Q Radio’s Jordan Humphries, where they discussed the importance of local radio and audience engagement as part of this digital conference.

“It’s been incredibly impressive to see how quickly so many student radio stations across the UK have been able to adapt their output due to the current pandemic…We’ve seen students find new and innovative ways to continue producing fantastic content,’ said Duffield.

One such way of keeping listeners entertained through innovative content comes from Leeds Student Radio. On 17th April, the station broadcast a 15-hour long radio show directly from their bedrooms. Citing boredom as a reason for doing the broadcast, they outlined a further reason for the lengthy broadcast – their concern about local businesses impacted by the coronavirus lockdown.

On their GoFundMe page for the event, Leeds Student Radio said, “our friends at Hyde Park Book Club and Babystep have told us how much they’ve been struggling with the lockdown and no customers. So, we thought we’d help out.”

And help out they did, by fundraising £1,005 before, during, and after the event, much more than their £450 target.

Alongside this, the station has also pulled together during lockdown to fundraise for Leeds Women’s Aid in order to help the charity keep their services running. On 1st May, they did an evening broadcast called “Girl Power” – 3 hours of “all-female everything”; interviews and music, coupled with information and safety advice.

This was followed by a Saturday bingo night in aid of the charity. The station has once again smashed their fundraising targets with these remote events, raising £576 for Women’s Aid.

It is important for student stations to keep listening figures high during this tough time, but it is also necessary to ensure the future of the stations post-lockdown. Society AGMs normally occur around this time of year and so have had to adapt to lockdown.

Queen’s Radio, Northern Ireland’s only student radio station, held their AGM digitally last week. They created a Facebook event page, where members were urged to nominate themselves and their friends for the top positions within the society.

Daily updates were posted on the page regarding nominations, and closer to the voting days information about each of the candidates were provided. Candidates recorded a short video outlining their plans if elected and urged members to vote for them. Voting took place online using the Queen’s University Student Union website, from 29th-30th April.

Jessica Lawrence, the outgoing Station Manager of Queen’s Radio, said on the first day of voting that in-person AGMs usually tend to have quite a low turnout, as it can often be hard to get members to attend an AGM when student club nights in Belfast are so popular.

“We’ve seen around 23 people vote in at least one election so far, which is a great turnout considering people are under significant pressure right now,” said Lawrence.  As for the future of society AGMs, she said, “this system combined with an in-person AGM may help members who are unable to come out and vote in person.”

Lawrence said that the coronavirus had really taken away the human impact of the AGM, as members would usually gather in-person to celebrate the year’s achievements and look forward to the future.

However, she remained optimistic that the society can gather digitally one last time this year to provide a send-off for the outgoing committee members.