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March 24, 2008 | by  | in Features |
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The VBC

Salient Music Co-Editor Sophie Barclay caught up with programme manager Matthew Davis and business/production manager Douglas Tereu, aka Puck, to talk about their noisy one year old, the VBC 88.3 FM – Vic’s on-campus radio station.

The VBC
Student radio was a major part of campus life from the late ‘70s, when Radio Active was set up, to the early ‘90s, when Active was sold off by the Student’s Association and moved to its current HQ in Victoria Street. However, lots of people were still interested in the concept of an on-campus radio station, says Davis. “Many different groups of people had tried to set up a station at Vic over the last 6 or so years and for various reasons they had all sort of failed, or not really got it up and running.”

Nonetheless, three motivated, Wellington-based superheroes, Davis, Kristen Paterson (programme manager with Davis), and Thomas O’Halloran took their chance and set up the Victoria Broadcasting Club at the end of 2005. “We just started working slowly… [We] set up
a club at Vic, got people involved, then went through the process of trying to get money [in order] to set up, get some funding, get a room…” At the end of 2006, they received a loan from the University to set up a pilot station and buy basic gear. Then the station was awarded a grant from the VUWSA Trust to “set it up, provide all the gear that you can see… set up the booth, the computers… the basic startup.” Puck, returning from Melbourne, came to good friend Kristen’s aid, and took Thomas’ place in the trio.

Puck says he strongly supported the notion of creating a station that was “part of the University, but not directly controlled by the Students’ Association or the University itself;” one that was “self-sustaining and would never get sold off.” The VBC is set up as a limited liability company, with all the shares owned by a trust. As Davis explains, it is essentially organised as a non-profit company, and, once costs are covered, any money that The VBC makes will go back into the trust, and be given out for grants and projects.

Working closely with Kristen, Davis and Puck is a team of dedicated helpers; Lisa Brown (advertising and design), Matthew George McDonald-Bates (station engineer), Matthew Kerr (who constructed the website and keeps it running), and of course the charismatic breakfast host Murdoch Stephens. Together, these hardworking VBC-ers commit a lot of time to the station. Some of them spend most days (and sometimes nights) in the office, and, they don’t get paid a cent for it. “We’re all volunteers,” Davis explains.

Setting up a station is far from easy. When asked about initial ‘teething problems,’ Davis replies with a wry grin, “it was smooth sailing all the way.”

“It was difficult because we’d never done anything like this before. None of us had a very in-depth knowledge of how radio worked, how to set up, what kind of gear we needed… We didn’t have any money, and none of us had ever set up a business before, or done a business plan.” Once the initial barriers were crossed, they were faced with a whole other set of challenges, building and designing their DJ booth from scratch, getting the gear up and running, and the colossal task of organising 80 DJs. It was also hard to generate financial support through advertising, Puck points out, “when you start something from scratch no-one really knows about it, and people aren’t really willing to invest… Now we’ve got a community and people in the community know about it, there’s a lot more interest and more people wanting to become a part of it.”

Puck also attributes the success of the station “to the DJs, because otherwise we wouldn’t have the music that people like.” Among the great DJs frequenting the station are Murdoch Stephens, who was heavily involved with Dunedin’s Radio1 (as were DJs Dan Cape and Frank Eggleton). The VBC also played host to Ben Buchanan, aka Coco Solid’s ‘Eric Ultimate,’ who was doing the Thursday drive show until just last week. Media lecturer Geoff Stahl (‘TV Disko’) also DJs 7-9
Tuesday nights.

The VBC has also managed to get involved in activities outside of broadcasting. One of their better-known ventures is Bandwagon, the weekly gig guide available around town. “When ‘The Package’ unfortunately stopped publishing, we felt there was a need for a weekly gig guide [and] we had an idea of doing a really lo-fi, DIY one,” says Davis. Due to their huge workload at the station, it wasn’t feasible for The VBC to take it on, but the Bandwagon was helped out financially by the station, and many of the Bandwagon’s writers are DJs at VBC. Even Puck recently pulled a stint at designing, due to the departure of one of the Bandwagon’s regular designers; a concept he refers to as “cross fertilisation”. It has been an important move for The VBC, and one that has “got our name out on to the street.” Bandwagon has also been integral in promoting new venues, such as the illusive Cool Town. (Davis, however, has a less than rosy relationship with the bar after being kicked out a few weeks ago following a bizarre incident, of which he would only tell me that it involved “a bottle of Galliano and a Russian albino.”)

Another VBC initiative is the ‘VBC Presents’ night at San Fran every Tuesday. Originally organised by Brendan Moran, The VBC got involved and ended up changing the format from a weekly gig to a monthly residency, with the support of San Fran owner Tim Ward. It’s always a great occasion to watch some great bands (for free!), and have a few drinks with your friends, and with drink specials aplenty you’d be mad not to check it out! A whole host of bands have played including Over the Atlantic, Grand Prix, Hot Swiss Mistress, Volcana, The Users, whom The VBC got to reform especially for the monthly residency, and of course The Actualities, who hold the residency for March.

Recently, The VBC celebrated their one year anniversary of broadcasting. It was a day-long affair, with music, live bands, DJs, drinks aplenty and, of course, cake. “The cake is forming the foundation of the station now,” quips Davis. The VBC organisers had a stroke of luck with their food freebies this time, because “there was no-one allergic to nuts,” says Puck. He explains that when The VBC made media packs for the streaming launch in November 2007 bags of nutty, homemade muesli were included. Unfortunately “we forgot to list nuts [on the ingredients label], and someone was allergic to nuts… Luckily she’s a close friend of the station!”

The birthday festivities began with an afternoon matinee performance at The Adelaide in Newtown, with Knife Fight, Heavy Turkey, The Wind Ups and Tank Black. The show was also broadcast live-to-air on Davis’ own show “The Saturday Whimsy.” The fiesta then moved on to
Bodega, where audiences were wowed by 7 bands, streamers, disco lights, and cake. With V providing financial support, they were able to get a whole host of fantastic bands – Cougar Cougar Cougar, The Wrongdoings, Sons of Midas, Thought Creature, Tapemen, Auckland band Golden Axe, and a Berlin trio, Strings of Temporal, who “we found busking on the street!” To top off that night, DJ Doofus spun tracks afterwards at San Fran, with the help of DJ ‘BBwholookslikeaP’ Galaxy.

Currently The VBC is available through streaming and radio frequency, although Davis admits that, due to the low power frequency, “we’re restricted as far as broadcasts go, because we’re stuck in the 5 k radius in town.” Aside from working on moving the transmitter to a higher point in the university, other goals for the station are to “increase our internet presence” with podcasts and VBC TV video webcasts. Students may also be pleasantly surprised to learn that The VBC website (www.vbc.org.nz) can be accessed for FREE on campus. This means you can stream it whilst using any computers and pay NOT A CENT! (It’s the only other free site you can access apart from Gmail.) The VBC are also hoping to broadcast in the Quad and common rooms around various campuses, much like Munt FM does at Massey. “Hopefully people like it,” says Puck, “‘cause we’re not exactly a mainstream station who play all the greatest pop hits from Justin to Britney – although there is one show that does that!”

Students play an extremely key role in The VBC, and if you aren’t already a member get onto it now by emailing thevbc@vbc.org.nz. You can get involved in lots of different ways, be it doing the breakfast news, helping with events, recording ads, accounts, helping with advertising, or even just providing feedback on what you like and don’t like about the station. The VBC also has a policy of supporting local bands: “We’re very keen on playing demos… So if you’ve got something recorded drop it off at the station,” says Davis. The VBC is also searching high and low for a dedicated news team who want to start up a daily news bulletin hour, so if you’re interested, carpe diem! Although a lot of the slots have been filled, The VBC are always keen to hear from you if you want to do your own show. If you are serious though, a gentle reminder from Puck, “a lot of the time we get people who just want to be a DJ and who don’t think about the commitment level of the station… It’s open to people who are keen and who want to help us keep it alive.”

Keep an eye, and an ear, out for The VBC around campus.

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