Tucked away inside one of Edinburgh’s premier arts venues, Summerhall, lies the EH-FM studio. As EH-FM celebrates its first birthday, I spoke to Jamie Pettinger, Andrea Montalto and Matt Belcher about the conception of our city’s independent community radio station, and how it’s grown in its first year.
The idea of a community radio was simmering between Andrea and Matt long before it came into fruition. It was only when an unused cupboard, formerly a kind of pop-up LuckyMe studios, was discovered, that the pair were gifted an unlikely studio space. Joining them following a move from Australia, Jamie brought back visions of Sydney and Melbourne’s community radio stations, which provided ties between local music and listeners. “I realised I’d been going to gigs off the back of radio stations playing local bands and artists”, he explains, “it really fosters a culture of people going out to see home grown talent”. Matt reflects on the way in which radio provides a unique access from an artist’s perspective: “in London, it’s a really good access point, where there’s traditionally a lot of gatekeeping”. EH-FM, by its all-encompassing nature, tackles issues of exclusivity around the dance music community.
The station nurtures new talent by principle; “the important thing about us setting this up is to bring new people in, it’s important that they’re in an environment where they’re on the same platform as everyone else” says Matt, “if you take that level of commitment to get involved with something off your own back, you’re going to learn so much quicker because you’re learning off all these people who have been doing it for ten years, and they’re going to learn from you”. The diversity of EH-FM is what makes it such a pivotal feature within Edinburgh a year on from its creation. Ranging from jazz-funk electronica from Le Vangelis, to trap and hip-hop greats from cultur.
The soul of EH-FM comes not from a place of profit, but the desire to see Edinburgh’s music scene flourish. “We don’t give a sh*t whether there’s like 5 people listening or 50 people listening” says Matt, “we turn the figures off, the important thing is that it’s doing the community thing, which arguably wasn’t around as much before it”. The growth of EH-FM is not measured in numbers or metrics, but in the way in which it has developed as a meeting place for the prime of Edinburgh’s artists. “It’s really rewarding for us, as that was our main point, bringing people together” says Andrea. Jamie nods in agreement; “it’s a small enough city, that really everyone should be brought together under one thing. It doesn’t make sense for there to be cliques and gatekeepers and stuff like that. It makes sense for us to be working together”.
As is evident in the name, EH-FM is rooted in its ties to the city which it inhabits, and in the future the trio hope to branch outwards into Edinburgh’s communities. “We’re trying more to get into slightly more Radio 4 style content”, laughs Jamie, “people who are not necessarily from the dance music, or club music scene, people from different communities in Edinburgh who we feel we should be giving a platform to”. The station intends not only to celebrate the diversity of music in Edinburgh, but also provide a hub for the arts and culture which are so deeply embedded in the city.
On providing a platform for the broadcasting of events outside of the confines of Summerhall, Jamie says; “It can be an archive for events that have happened, and that’s something we’re keen to get involved in. We have a presence [in events we want to get involved in] and we’re broadcasting from there, so there’s audio evidence that it happened.” This is the legacy of EH-FM; as a platform which celebrates the city from which it has grown, and the community which has flourished around it.
“If we finish tomorrow, I’d feel very proud that we’d empowered enough people, and given the confidence that they’re good at what they do” Jamie reveals, when asked how he feels EH-FM has succeeded in creating a community within the Edinburgh music scene. “When we started it, we talked about it being a community radio, without really knowing what that meant, like what kind of community we were serving, but as more shows were added, we realised that there was a community being built around the station itself”. EH-FM is a cornerstone for the creative arts of this city, and it’s cyan-hued studio walls have played host to creatives from all walks of life. “We’ve just created the platform, the people who create the content every day are the people making it worth listening to, worth tuning in for”. There’s something to be said for the way in which an engagement with the local music and arts community allows the city of Edinburgh to bloom before you; it is through radio stations like EH-FM that citizens of this city, whether they’ve grown up here or are passing through, to meaningfully connect with the culture in which Edinburgh is so spectacularly rich.
What began as a modest platform for local artists has, in one short year, become the cornerstone of a vibrant community. “We’re just making sure that it has a strong enough internet connection” laughs Matt, but it’s clear that the impact of EH-FM on Edinburgh’s music scene goes well beyond the realm of tech support. The radio has drawn together local talent, from Cowgate’s best DJs, to the city’s artists and writers, all under one neon lit roof. It is imperative that anyone who calls Edinburgh their home should consider EH-FM to be a constant in their engagement with the local community.