It turns out that if you launch a new radio station in 2018, one of the many challenges is finding the best place to hang a neon logo for Instagram. So when I meet them, the three women behind soon-to-launch Foundation FM are standing in an empty room in Peckham Levels, considering the blank white walls.
Becky Richardson, Ami Bennett and Frankie Wells have just two weeks to transform this empty space in a former multi-storey car park into a fully functioning studio and office. And while the neon logo is still to be hung, one key part of their remit is already sorted: their rock-solid roster of DJs, many female. Foundation FM wants to be the station to champion female talent and nurture role models for every girl on the school bus dreaming up perfect mixes.
The founders met professionally. Bennett was a producer on Radio 1 and 1Xtra, Richardson is a national radio plugger and Wells was night producer at Radar Radio. Six months ago, they decided to join forces to create an antidote to sexist attitudes in the industry.
‘For us, radio is still a very male-dominated place,’ says Bennett. ‘This is an opportunity for us to put women at the forefront at every turn. That’s not to say that this is female-only, it’s absolutely not about that. But this [station] will definitely be female-led. I think that’s important because, certainly from my early experiences in the radio industry, sometimes it feels as though the men do all the decision-making and then the women go and get everything done.’
The trio say many of the female DJs on their roster have had similar experiences in the male-dominated industry. ‘That’s why we’ve come together to flip the opportunities on their head,’ says Wells.
So they knuckled down to some serious planning and scoured Instagram for undiscovered DJ and presenting talent. It was during this period that one of their DJs hit upon the station’s right-on mission statement. Bennett explains: ‘Usually there’s only one seat at the table for a female DJ, whereas at Foundation FM every seat at the table is open to anyone, whatever their gender or sexual orientation.’
Online and community-based radio is in a really good place right now, especially in London. A few of the best include Rinse FM, NTS, Balamii, Reprezent and Worldwide FM. The opportunity for an underground DJ or sound to get a global audience is unprecedented.
But Foundation FM is definitely aware of the industry’s dark side. It emerged from the fallout of Radar Radio, the hugely successful internet station that fell silent in April 2018 following allegations of sexual harassment, cultural appropriation and a toxic working environment. Wells, who was night producer at Radar, is reluctant to discuss the scandal, but accepts it was ‘the catalyst’ for Foundation.
‘The timing is too close to deny there is a connection,’ says Richardson. ‘Me and Frankie met that day and we were talking off the back of that. Our ethos, brand identity and morals will be completely different.’
Foundation FM has also played around with traditional radio programming tropes. The classic early morning breakfast slot will be replaced with a ‘Brunch Show’ so late risers don’t miss the best guests. They’ve also introduced a ‘Happy Hour’ session as a fresh spin on the typical ego-trip drivetime show.
The station won’t be solely focused on music and aims to schedule sets dedicated to underground sounds next to chat-led shows. The Receipts Podcast, who combine brutally honest problem-solving with Drake singalongs, have been enlisted for a weekly show. In-demand DJs Tayylor Made, Kacie and Becky Tong are all on board, as are Sistren, whose podcast champions queer women of colour.
But perhaps the most exciting aspect of Foundation FM is the sheer ambition fuelling it. Their merch is being made, the funding is secured and their sights are set on programming a stage at a major London music festival in 2019. They’ve also laid down a zero-tolerance policy on racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.
‘We have to come in quite high from the start,’ explains Richardson. ‘I want to book artists with a national profile: the sort of artists going on 1Xtra and Radio 1. I want to get those artists to pass through our station so they see we have some really amazing DJs here that you won’t want to miss.’
There have already been a few misconceptions to clear up – namely that Foundation FM will only hire female DJs, play female artists and welcome female guests. That’s definitely not the case. In fact, they’ve decided that the very first track to be played on the station will be ‘Ladies’ by male Northampton MC Slowthai because it’s a celebration of women in his life.
‘The reason we’re saying men aren’t excluded is because we know that if we want to change the rhetoric, we need men on our side,’ says Wells. ‘This isn’t about having a battle.’
If you fancy becoming part of Foundation FM, you’ll want to check out the dedicated mix hour that will end each day’s programming. ‘Wherever you are in the world, you can send us a one-hour mix and we will consider putting it on,’ says Bennett. ‘If it’s really good, let’s talk about future opportunities! If you want to do it and it works for us and fits in with what we are striving to achieve, then the door is open. Come on in!’
Foundation FM launches on Mon Nov 5 at foundation.fm
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