17. August 2022

From Adenauerallee Into the Ether From Adenauerallee Into the Ether: bonnFM gives students a voice

bonnFM gives students a voice

We’re in Bonn, and dawn is breaking over the rain-soaked Adenauerallee. A few early-bird commuters are hurrying to work. On the third floor of bonnFM’s editorial office, the lights are already on. At the microphones in the soundproof broadcasting studio: Nicole Meck and Tristan Hoffmann, in charge of the Frühstart (Early Start) breakfast show. The digital clock in the studio says 6:30 am, meaning there’s still half an hour before they go live. Deep in concentration, the pair talk through what’s happening when and make some final corrections. Agree what intros they’re going to use. Reporter Veronika Rachor enters the room. She’s been collecting vox pops from along the Rhine, mainly about Ukraine, the flood of memes following the Oscars awards ceremony—where Will Smith slapped Chris Rock—and “National Take a Walk in the Park” Day. And, of course, what music to play next.

The Frühstart: The Early start morning show with
The Frühstart: The Early start morning show with - Nicole Meck and Tristan Hoffmann in the studio. © Sebastian Eckert
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Welcome to bonnFM, the only regional radio broadcaster where students from the city’s universities decide what topics to send out into the ether and how. The studio clock ticks closer to seven, and you couldn’t hear a pin drop in the sound-proofed room. Both presenters have their headphones on. Walking on Sunshine is playing. “We’re starting a bit earlier,” Nicole calls, raising her hand as a sign. 7 am. She turns the music down and switches on her Neumann microphones. The broadcast begins.

Getting into radio

At bonnFM, students learn the craft of radio and all that goes along with it from scratch. “Newbies start out as reporters,” says bonnFM’s Monika Rathmann. “People usually start with a timetable for work experience, where they learn all there is to know about program formats, broadcasts, the deadlines you need to meet. So everyone will need to have done some reports and collected vox pops by the time they start.” As a reporter, you already get a chance to go live behind the microphone, later as a co-presenter and then as a presenter. The job of “duty editor” is also part of this, which means organizing the broadcasting schedule.

Many people find this a challenge at the start, and Rathmann was no exception. “Naturally, many people are a bit scared of collecting vox pops to begin with, and I wasn’t any different,” she recounts. “Many people put it off to begin with, but, after you’ve done it once, you realize that it’s not that complicated at all—plus it’s great fun too!”

In the studio, Nicole and Tristan engage in some verbal jousting, fit in some punchlines, always with a slight smirk in their voice. But what sounds easy is anything but. “Speaking casually, freely and confidently into the microphone without it sounding like you’re reading something off a card is the other thing that many people find hard,” Rathmann says.

bonnFM began covering topics important to students on 96.8 FM and online in 2014, having been formed out of two previous radio stations. It is linked to a club with some 100 members, including 40 active students. bonnFM can be a springboard to a media career, because it teaches you all you need to know—about press law, processes, social media. Each month, there are beginners’ workshops with a handful of interested people, who are then allocated to the various broadcasting teams. “Even if you say you can’t do anything, you’re still welcome,” Rathmann says with a grin. Besides Frühstart from 7 am to 9 am, there are other slots that need to be filled every day: Audimax, afternoons and drive time. “Nobody can do everything right from day one. We show people the ropes gradually, so they get to try everything out and improve.”

In the spring, the program was supplemented by a project week organized by chief trainer Jana Rogmann. bonnFM alumni and experts engaged in discussions with club members, shared insights and collaborated closely in workshops. “After two years of the coronavirus, with no real meet-ups, it was a real blessing,” Rathmann says.

Back in the studio, the two presenters have nearly got to the end of the first hour. “In terms of the content, I thought it was a bit wild,” Nicole observes critically. Tristan says that the segue didn’t go as smoothly as he’d have wanted. Along the way, the duty editor keeps popping her head round the studio door, praising certain takes, giving constructive suggestions for improvement. Feedback is important, because it’s often the little things that you don’t notice on the radio. Then it’s on to the next take.

Anyone interested in tackling issues from a student’s perspective and making radio shows in Bonn can try it out really easily: simply email ausbildung@bonn.fm.

Live on air!
Live on air! © Sebastian Eckert
Live on air!
Live on air! © Sebastian Eckert
Live on air!
Live on air! © Sebastian Eckert
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