ONE OF THE great appeals of radio for me is how simple it really is.
In its most stripped down form, it’s a presenter’s voice and a microphone. It really doesn’t matter how shiny, new or pretty the kit is so long as a voice can broadcast and be heard by listeners when a microphone fader is opened and the red light goes on.
Except it actually does matter when the kit is housed in studios which have grown, over the years, extremely tired in a building which is dated and restrictive to creating contemporary, engaging and vibrant radio.
I’ve been a presenter at BBC Three Counties Radio for five years. My trusty 30-year-old Mark 3 desk in studio 1A has been mighty good to me. It’s where I learned my craft.
But, for as long as I have worked at the station, the talk has been of, at very least, a studio refurbishment or, in the best case scenario, a move.
Before my time, various options were looked at but when our current managing editor Laura Moss arrived at the station, she told us from the outset that she was going to seek to get the station moved.
Although the old premises in Luton had served the station extremely well, it was now clear that the time had come to find a new building which was more befitting of a modern-day BBC.
Laura has been very much involved in the ground-breaking development of the Virtualising Local Radio system, which is revolutionising both the way that local radio is transmitted, as well as dramatically reducing the costs of refurbishing the ageing studios across local radio.
The savings which the new ViLoR system generates created an opportunity for BBC Three Counties Radio to make a financially viable move to a brand new premises.
Various destinations were mooted across Beds, Herts and Bucks but one town seemed to quickly become a front-runner. The market town of Dunstable, with excellent links to the M1, seemed very keen to welcome us.
It’s a town which has had a difficult history but is now very much on the up. A vibrant new regeneration scheme is changing the face of the town and having the BBC in residence clearly had a huge appeal.
With the vision being for a modern but not ostentatious site, the unit we now find ourselves in (next to the Grove Theatre, overlooking a beautiful large town centre park) made perfect sense.
Most striking of all, the building has huge floor to ceiling windows which allows cascades of daylight to flood the newsroom. This is one of the biggest differences between the old and new buildings. Where previously, neon ceiling lights, purple walls and blacked out windows gave the newsroom and studios an almost surreal hue, we can now bathe in natural light and actually see the world outside our front door.
It’s fair to say that, from the day we were able to come and see the shell of the building some six months ago, the sense of anticipation has been huge, punctuated by technical delays which set the ‘Go Live’ date back on a couple of occasions.
When I was told two months ago that I would be the first voice on air at the new site, my sense of pride (dotted with apprehension) was massive.
Training, briefing, practising and more training soon followed, intertwined with clandestine visits to the new studios, snuck in to get used to not only a new building but also kit which was new from top to bottom, from the inside out.
Myself and my producer Alice Glossop did all we could to ensure we didn’t fluff our lines. And, in spite of all the preparation, in spite of never usually being nervous on air, someone flicked an adrenaline switch in my head as we edged towards midday on Tuesday.
I was telling myself to ignore the thousands of hours of work, the hundreds of people involved and focus on hitting the right button as we went live. It’s only a button after all.
My head was telling me to stay calm, but my heart was beating ten to the dozen.
It was a ‘once in a career’ moment. The JVS Show came to a close, the final news bulletin from Luton ended with a smile and I had the simple job of hitting a station ident and the first track. Luckily, my button pushing skills were in place. I didn’t take the station off air and Uptown Funk – a track chosen to root the moment firmly in 2015 – fired off without incident.
I got my first link under my belt, my boss nearly knocked me over with a hug – and Dunstable was LIVE!
Finding myself on Tuesday, in effect, at the sharp end of a station which was so united, so excited, so tight and together on the launch day is a memory I will always treasure. We now have a building we are proud of. We love welcoming guests to our new home, we love seeing listeners walk past intrigued, we enjoy them popping in for a chat.
The new building is a worthy window into the BBC, at a station which really cares about what it does and about those who listen to it. As a presenter, I am certain that having a working environment to be proud of will drive us all to continue to make radio we are proud of.
The studios themselves now sit in full view of everyone, just metres from our newsroom desks, as opposed to being hidden, almost apologetically, downstairs and well out of sight.
The positioning of the studios right in the middle of our new building is symbolic. While digital and online content are also a key and growing part of our output, fundamentally BBC Three Counties Radio is a radio station and our radio is at the heart of what we do.
Which brings me back full circle.
When listeners tuned in at 12 noon that Tuesday, they still got the most important thing. The voice they know, speaking into a microphone. Simple really…