Behind the scenes at Spark FM

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The Guide has teamed up with Spark FM to bring you a weekly chart of tracks to listen out for. Ahead of the chart’s launch next week, Katy Wheeler went along to the Spark studio to sit in on one of its shows.

THERE’S more than just a spark of creativity at this radio station.

In fact, there’s bucket loads of entertainment from daily shows which focus on different musical genres, to a springboard to success for emerging North East artists.

I’ve been tuning in to 107FM for a few months, but this week I was given the chance to go behind the scenes at Sunderland’s community radio station.

Though it is based at Sunderland University’s St Peter’s Campus, Spark isn’t just a student station. It’s making more effort than ever to entrench itself in the wider community and has recently opened a base at Market Square in the heart of the city centre.

I visited its original studio on Tuesday where DJ Calum Hider was manning the state-of-the-art decks.

He said: “People have a misconception that we’re a student station, in fact, we’re an award-winning community radio station.

“We are getting more and more involved in the community. For example, we’ve just teamed up with Passion on Holmeside to run a DJ Idol contest.

“Because we are based at the university people automatically assume we are a student radio station. When we started two-and-a-half years ago we still had the community licence, but it was mostly students who listened in.

“But that’s changed now. We’re much more part of the community, we have a really visible presence too with our new studio in Market Square.

“The amount of people involved in the station who aren’t students has grown and grown, too.”

Spark can mostly be picked up in the Sunderland and Washington areas and is aimed at 14 to 25-year-olds, providing them with cross-platform music on its air waves, website and new magazine.

Its themed shows are Mondays, drum ‘n’ bass; Tuesdays, indie; Wednesdays, sport; Thursdays, rock and punk and Saturdays, urban. Meanwhile, Sundays are strictly about local music and the community with a cultural review show and a local music show.

Is if that wasn’t enough support, the station is always on the lookout for emerging North East acts to invite into the studio for an interview and it plays a local track every half hour between 6am and 6pm.

John Scott, executive producer, said: “We’re often music acts’ first brush with the media. I think we encourage the artists to get better. We’ve widened our area so we play music from acts around the North East.”

As well as being a platform for music artists, burgeoning radio talent is also being fostered at Spark. It’s proved a strong training ground for DJs and radio staff who’ve gone on to work in Capital and Radio 1, including Phil Stocker, who is now the producer for Fearne Cotton’s Radio 1 show.

The station’s fusion of chart-topping tracks and locally-based entertainment is proving popular with more and more people tuning in.

Richie Lee, head of station sound, said: “We surprise ourselves sometimes with how many people listen to us now. Lots of people, like shops in Sunderland, are playing us now.”

l Listen to Spark FM on FM frequency 107 or learn more about the station at www.sparksunderland.com