In our Radio Lowdown feature series, we turn our radar onto some of the most progressive and independent internet radio stations on the rise in the UK.
Next up is Edinburgh’s mighty EHFM: A grassroots station that’s been giving creative people in Scotland’s capital an online broadcasting platform since 2018. Station co-founder Jamie Pettinger gave us an insight into their ethos, how EHFM came about and what’s next for the station…
Which came first, EHFM or Edinburgh? How did you guys come to set-up there, and what does that H stand for?
Edinburgh only beat us to the punch by a mere thousand-or-so years, so we are spring chickens in the grand scheme of Scotland’s capital!
The station was set up by myself and three other pals living in Edinburgh. We all felt as if a city our size should really have an independent radio station, where everyday people could get involved and express themselves. We also saw it as a low-pressure way of bringing new voices into the fold – especially in Edinburgh’s clubbing scene, which at the time was overwhelmingly male and white.
Edinburgh has a venue problem. As tourism ramps up, there are increasingly fewer places for people to be able to just do whatever they want, we figured a radio station would at provide a digital space for those who had nowhere else to go.
Oh, and anyone in Edinburgh will know that ‘EH’ is the postcode we rep here. It does confuse people though, which we like. The FM bit is confusing too, cos we’re not actually on FM. Hmm…
EHFM is known for promoting some of Scotland’s up-and-coming, are you currently involved with any projects focused on fostering new artistic talent?
We are involved in this year’s Hidden Door Festival, where we are curating a stage of exciting, young acts from the city including Billy Got Waves, NANI and Dinosaur 94. We’ll also be commissioning some new live sets from electronic artists Proc Fiskal, Sad City and KAVARI as part of our residency.
Hidden Door is a great festival that takes over abandoned spaces in the city – this year it’s happening in the old Royal High School building – and they do a lot to commission new work from local artists. We’re dead chuffed to be working with them!
We also recently finished a project (funded by the wonderful Youth Music) that allowed us to employ three young people from Edinburgh to devise and deliver a ten-part radio series on the city’s music scene. It was fantastic and is absolutely the kind of thing we want to be doing more of. The series really exposed just how much brilliant talent is bubbling up in Edinburgh just now.
How does Edinburgh’s tightly knit scene translate to the digital radio waves? Have you run into any issues trying to broadcast the city or has it been pretty effortless?
We try to be as broad a church as we can! I think we really are a home for the underground clubbing community of the city, but we are always working on legitimately representing other enclaves within Edinburgh.
It’s tough for a community radio station to meaningfully embody an entire city, so you have to ask yourself who you think needs the most amplification, and who you are best positioned to represent.
Any local DJs, producers, artists or events you’ve been particularly impressed by recently that you’d like to shout out?
A few of our presenters have been making great moves recently. Feena, who helps run the station, has just had a track released on Scuffed Recordings, and is without a doubt the toughest DJ going in the city (if not the country) right now. Another presenter of ours, Alliyah Enyo, creates the most beautiful ambient soundscapes, and to top it off is probably one of the most versatile DJs I’ve ever come across. That woman can turn her hand to any style and make it her own.
There also some fantastic club nights being run by EHFM residents: Hand-made are a group of record enthusiasts and DJs, who put on the freshest nights in the city’s legendary sweatbox Sneaky Pete’s (recent guest was Barbara Boeing), as well as curating their Youtube channel of rare gems.
Club Sylkie is a night creating spaces for queer women and their pals, who have already hosted speedy Bass stalwarts LCY and SHERELLE! Rowan, who runs the night, puts an inordinate amount of care into their inclusion policy and thinks really hard about the experience of the clubbers, which is how it should be done in my book!
There’s also a great collective of art school grads called Vomiton, who make these crazy masks and costumes from found material. They work closely with a brilliant local act called Maranta, who make life-affirming electro pop. In their live shows, Vomiton’s bizarre masked characters come on stage and start dancing with the band and with the crowd. It has to be seen to be believed!
There seems to be a really healthy community bond between online radio stations in the UK at the moment. But is there anything you think EHFM has that other internet radio stations don’t?
I think a lot of the stations we are aligned with tend to focus heavily on the music side of things. We’re also trying to give our talk shows some weight by encouraging presenters to pitch shows that feature more chat and interviews.
This is partly because of where we’re based in comparison to other stations, who I feel tend to be in cities with really strong music scenes like Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow. Edinburgh realistically can’t live up to that, but we are a UNESCO City of Literature, so we aim to play to that strength as we continue as a station.
You’re right, there is a really collegiate attitude among the UK’s online stations. Everyone is very open to helping and giving advice, I think possibly because there’s a shared consensus that we’re all making it up as we go along!
Melodic Distraction’s Lupini, who I know you’ve interviewed, has been a great help, and NTS resident Martha has shown us a lot of love, which is really very humbling.
Velocity Press prints dancefloor-driven literature and books about club culture, any interesting books or writing about electronic music that anyone from EHFM can recommend?
I’ve actually been reading one of yours recently! I picked up Bedrooms, Beats and B-Sides late last year and was delighted to see our neighbours LuckyMe featured in its pages. Our studio was actually originally a storeroom for LuckyMe’s back catalogue before we repurposed it. It was mental, there were all sorts of weird props from music videos in there too…
Aside from that, I’ve been reading Kelefa Sanneh’s book Major Labels, which is a fantastic history of the genre components of popular music.
Are there any pressing venue closures or issues within Edinburgh’s scene that you want to draw attention to here? Any fundraising action anyone can go to to support them?
There has been a petition set up to reopen Edinburgh Art College’s venue, The Wee Red Bar, which still lays dormant after the pandemic. It seems as though the university is hesitant to reopen it, but there has been a real rally from the students to change that. Colvin, who has run the venue for years and years, has a show on EHFM and is the best guy. It is an incredibly important venue in the history of the city’s live music and club scenes, so I hope we’ll see it open its doors again before too long!
Edinburgh Council also just voted to essentially ban strip clubs in the city, which will leave many sex workers without a livelihood, and the potential for a far less safe, unregulated marketplace to emerge instead. Women should have the right to decide what their work is, and this vote shows how little the council cares or understands this. If you live in Edinburgh, we’d urge you to get in touch with your local councillor.
Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, has a strong poetic and oral storytelling tradition. Is this a creative field EHFM has ever explored?
It is indeed. We have a number of poets and spoken word artists on our station, and we’d love to do more of it! As I’ve mentioned, it’s important to us that we do these things properly, and to meaningfully expand into the literary side of the city takes a lot of work, money and the right people.
Having said that, if you’re an Edinburgh-based poet reading this and want to get involved, drop us a line!
Is there anyone working at EHFM you feel is doing any particularly inspirational work at the moment?
I’ve got to shout out Rosie Priest, who presents Sounds for the Second Sex on EHFM. Rosie is working very hard right now to expose the exploitative conditions for workers at Edinburgh Fringe.
Our city hosts the world’s biggest arts festival, which is great, but unfortunately it has become a vehicle for some very wealthy production houses to line their pockets, while paying young workers next to nothing, in dangerous environments they are often not adequately trained to work in.
Rosie is really lighting a fire underneath some of these companies, and forcing them to explain themselves.
Are there any new ambitions or ideas EHFM is really trying to pursue?
We’re hoping to tell more stories of the people living in Edinburgh as we go forward. That’s always been a bit of a priority of mine, but these kind of shows tend to require a lot more planning, infrastructure and money to make things happen in a meaningful way. I think we’re slowly getting to a place where we can start creating in-house audio documentaries like this, though!
Another thing we’d love to do in the next few years is move to a more public-facing studio. Funding the kind of activity we do is an issue all internet radio stations across the UK face, but having a premises where we could sell coffee or merch to a passing crowd would be ideal. Not to mention, it’d make us a lot more approachable!
When we chatted to Melodic Distractions last month we discovered that their station started as a written blog and then expanded onto the airwaves. Has EHFM ever considered moving into the editorial side?
It’s something we considered early on, but honestly there are a number of great independent editorial outlets in Edinburgh and Scotland right now that do the job much better than we could, like The Skinny, Front Left, GoldFlakePaint. So we’ve decided to stay in our lane!
Listeners and readers can find EHFM on Youtube and Mixcloud. Do you think internet radio stations have more freedom to create visual cultural content compared to traditional commercial radio?
I think internet radio should be, to a certain extent, a platform for people to ‘fuck around and find out’. It’s a lower-pressure environment. Things don’t need to be as polished as with commercial radio, and there are plenty of opportunities to learn from your mistakes.
Most grassroots stations like ourselves are very open to people who are keen to give something a bash, whether that’s audio or visual content. I don’t think you’d find that kind of ‘carte blanche’ attitude in many commercial stations, which by their very nature are more concerned with their economic bottom line.
What factors do the EHFM team take into consideration when selecting residents and assembling collections of shows? Are there any particular qualities you look for? Or is the decision more driven by gut instinct and personal taste?
We certainly have some questions we ask ourselves when we’re pitched a show:
Are they offering something we don’t already have on the station?
Are they from a background that is underrepresented at the station?
Do they have a solid concept that is broad enough to last for a long time, or is it better off being a limited series?
Does their show have a well-established or original ‘brand’?
There is also an element of using our gut. Feena does a lot of the work in this sphere, so it’s vital she has a great taste and is really good with people – which she is!
We have a community of around 100 presenters and 30 volunteers, and they’re all absolutely great people, so the most important criteria is whether you’re a good person. Ultimately, aside from the broadcasting aspect of the station, we exist to bring those good people together and forge new friendships, creative collaborations and even the odd relationship!