Radio is as unrepresentative as most industries: statistics show solo female presenters only make up around 12% of total drive time hours and 13% of total breakfast hours, for example, and women only represent 20% of the solo voices on national radio.
Foundation FM is here to change all that.
The brand new female-led radio station launched last week, on a mission to showcase the hottest emerging talent in the underground music scene. It is steered by a diverse group of women, LGTBQI+ persons and talented creatives, with women at the forefront.
Founders Ami Bennett, Becky Richardson and Frankie Wells come from backgrounds in radio promotions, artist management and radio production working with the likes of Radio 1, 1Xtra, Asian Network and Capital Xtra. With their connections to UK underground culture, nightlife, labels, personalities and collectives, they want their station to provide a platform that enhances the scene and nurtures talent with one big difference: an inclusive focus.
"Literally a week ago there was nothing here - we started from scratch,” says Frankie, motioning around the new Foundation FM studios in Peckham Levels, South London, a few days after the station went live. “There were no lights, the walls were just plaster, we had to paint it all, soundproof it all…Ami built those shelves."
Despite all the hard graft that went into planning and setting up the station, Frankie says coming up with a name has been one of the trickiest aspects to the new venture so far: "We wanted something that really reflected what we were doing, Becky came up with ‘Foundation’ and that made sense because that’s exactly what were doing - building a foundation. The ‘FM' part is actually for 'femme' - we're internet, not FM."
As well as being consciously inclusive, their schedule has been developed with the audience in mind. Foundation FM is changing up the traditional idea of what radio is, to better suit their audience and their routines. The Brunch show, for example is a take on the regular radio breakfast show, only a bit later in the day from 10am-1pm, allowing for greater accessibility for those who don’t work a standard 9-5.
Hour show, which will be from 5pm-7pm, takes into consideration that perhaps many of our audience won’t be actually driving home at that time. The idea is that the ‘Happy Hour’ may simply reflect the mindset of listeners for that time of day; happy to be done at work or school, happy hours to chill after a long day, or even literal ‘Happy Hours’ for a couple of early drinks.
Both Brunch and Happy Hour will have their own presenters; on the Brunch show there will be Kamilla (a Boiler Room and BBC Radio 1Xtra producer) and Ellie Prohan (full-time DJ and host, ex-drive time presenter on The Beat FM) will be conducting the Happy Hour show - two of the many presenters Foundation FM wants to develop as key personalities of the station’s brand.
“Everyone is just so willing to make it a really fun platform,” says Frankie, talking about the range of shows – which includes talk shows – and range of DJs. “We’re trying to be so inclusive and have representation of people we feel aren't represented, they're taking on that challenge but also making it fun at the same time. When you say, 'It’s gonna be female led and about LGBTQ people', how do you avoid being really heavy...but they've really come in and made it really fun and put their own spin on it."
One of the stand-out shows for Frankie is Queer Island Discs fronted by Zooey: he interviews queer icons following the classic Radio 4 Desert Island Discs format.
"It’s one of the best peices of radio I've ever been involved in and I felt really lucky to be a part of it,” says Frankie. “When he opened the show he did it with a proper Radio 4 intro, it was kind of tongue in cheek but worked really well. It was such a good piece of radio."
Talk shows giving young people a voice and platform are a big part of Foundation FM, as well as unlikely features such as tarot reading, plus and live parties and events in the future. "It’s educational - we're all trying to learn from each other,” explains Frankie. “That’s why we brought this collection of people together, they all bring something to the table that we [the founders] might not necessarily have.
Like I’ve never heard of tarot on radio before. Why not do that and open that up, do different things? Then events and parties will just be an extension of us, creating a safe space, having representation in DJs. Our DJs are some of the sickest DJs in London - we want to put them in spaces where they can show off their talent, where they feel safe, and where they're treated equally on a line up. So many female DJs I know are asked if they're the groupies, or doing the warm up when they should be doing a later slot.”
This idea of equality and safe spaces permeates Foundation FM, its founders explicitly laying out an ethos that involves promoting women and a "zero-tolerance policy" on racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia – in part a response to the allegations levelled against the now defunct Radar Radio. This can be complex when it comes to music, especially when it comes to potentially controversial or triggering lyrics.
"We were saying earlier, can we play old WEEKND stuff? He used to HATE women,” Frankie ponders. “So that’s something we're figuring out I guess, it's something we're thinking about and having conversations about with our DJs."
She talks about the importance of DJs being empowered to play whatever genres they want but simultaneously remaining conscious of maintaining balances "So also be mindful of how much non-binary and queer music we’re playing,” she explains. “If we're going to be playing hip-hop we need to be playing just as much queer and non-binary music, and just as many female rappers as male rappers, and just as many female producers. We can't fix everything, but we can have conversations about it.”
"I hope people listen and see something in themselves reflected. I hope that people tune in and hear something they need guidance on or can resonate with, or hear an artist and they're like, 'This is how I feel'. That’s the impact I want to make - on the listener, that's the most important thing,"
Fellow Foundation founder Ami agrees: "It's all amazing women coming together and people who've got something to say but who've not necessarily had the platform to say it on before."
These include Sistren - whose new Monday night show focuses on on healing, unlearning toxic behaviours, and decolonising the mind – and collective Femme Culture, spotlighting interesting women in the industry to the airwaves.
This early on in its life, Ami likens the station to a child – which speaks to the love and care its founders have put into it. "The three of us don't have kids but I imagine it's what it's like to have a baby,” she laughs.
“At all times you're thinking about it and who's looking after it, even at the weekends and we're not on air we have to think about what's coming out, what's been programmed for Monday. Is someone feeding the baby?! Is someone changing the baby?! So it's like we've given birth, although I'd say this week has definitely been the labour part.
“It's really quite emotional."
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