Turning 18 is an occasion that almost everyone celebrates in their lives and this week something very special at De Montfort University will be doing just that.
Demon FM, the student and community radio station will from the 4th November be marking its 18th birthday and in true Demon FM style, it won’t be passing without a party.
Throughout the week, Demon FM’s sound will be taken back in time, with old imaging, jingles, stabs, a playlist reflecting the past 18 years of hits and messages from special guests.
It’s then expected that hundreds of ex-students, staff and members will join the current Demon FM team on the 9th November for an evening of birthday celebration. Current station manager Neil Kewn, who has been helping to organise the event, said: “There’s going to be lots of old photos, videos, audio from the past 18 years and speeches from volunteers past and present. There’ll be games and an opportunity to take a tour around our current studios.”
In the last 18 years, notable members of Demon FM have gone on to work for the BBC, Capital, Heart, XFM and talkSPORT but to name a few, and it’s hoped they’ll be able to pass on some of their expertise to today’s keen cohort as well as celebrating the ongoing student radio legacy.
Demon FM was once just one student’s dream. In 1995 Rob Martin was set to graduate from De Montfort University with a degree in Media, and he openly admits he had no idea what to do with his life. He decided to apply for the position of Communications Executive at the Students Union.
Rob knew to win the election, he had to come up with something original and so he said if elected, he would set up a student radio station. To his surprise, he won: “People don’t like change. The Student Union and the University weren’t keen on the idea at first and offered no help. I rented an empty shipping cargo container and got it dropped in the student union car park. We begged and borrowed the rest.”
From then on, Rob found himself a local engineer and when students returned from their summer holidays, he set up a team of ten to run the station, now named Demon FM.
For the first 14 years of its existence, the station ran on a Restricted Services License meaning they’d be allowed to broadcast on FM two times a year for 28 days at a time.
Rob was the first person on-air, and played “Don’t Believe The Hype” by Public Enemy as the first song: “It was my little joke, since the radio station had no hype at all. In all likelihood my five friends standing around a tuned in radio in the Union were probably the only listeners at the time.”
Quickly however the station gained momentum and people were begging to get involved. In 1996 another RSL proved successful, and Rob left his position: “We’d started to sound like a real radio station. Setting up Demon FM gave me the confidence to realise anything is possible.”
For its second year of broadcasting, Jonathan Bown took charge: “After a year of constant use the ‘studio’ was getting a bit too rough and ready. The parts were literally begged and borrowed. It was like a sweat box.”
This didn’t however curb student involvement.
“By this time the volunteers had got up to around 100 people so we could broadcast all day and have a regular schedule.” Jonathan added.
The year 2000 saw Demon FM wave goodbye to its portacabin, and take up residency in a building that has since been knocked down and in 2001, Demon FM won national recognition at the annual Student Radio Awards winning Best Student Station.
Station manager at the time, Chris Skinner, said: “Compared to other stations I was really proud that we properly reflected our students – we embraced bhangra, drum and bass, RnB and topical speech covering local issues, as well as the obvious indie and pop nonsense.”
1995 to 2008 saw 26 RSLs in total, leading to more awards. This included winning the Best Specialist Music awards for ‘Future Innovations’ in 2003 and ‘Street Beat’ in 2004, Ali Moore winning the silver award for Best Newcomer in 2006 and a bronze award for Best Student Station in 2007.
In 2003, The Campus Centre was built, and this incorporated the Students Union. Demon FM negotiated a dedicated area for their studio facilities. That room is now used as the Demon Media office on Level One.
Then, in 2007 Demon FM were told that, as part of a move linked to the university’s Media Technology courses, an application had been made for a five-year Community Radio License. This left Demon FM in a tough position.
Communications Executive at the time Bryony Morris said the decision to work together was a tricky one: “To begin with, we felt that all was lost, if the university had already applied for the license then it would mean the end of Demon FM – we could not compete. I was left with a really difficult decision – to work with DMU or fight against them.
“A lot of members disagreed with the decision I made, and I felt heavily criticised for it; however, I felt that I had no choice if we were to survive. I negotiated hard with the university and ensured that control would remain within the students union.”
For Demon FM, the granted community license meant a change in operations from 2009. Broadcasting was now possible around the clock, people that weren’t students could join and brand new studios were built in the Queen’s building, where Demon FM continues to broadcast from today.
Kristina Smith was the first non-DMU student to join the station: “It was great to be treated the same as everyone else. My confidence grew during my time and I realised that not everyone in the world will try to make your life difficult, there are some people out there who really do just want to help you progress and for me, Demon FM members were those people.”
David Murphy (station manager in 2010) remembers the switchover being a difficult process: “It was not an easy task with new equipment and a longer schedule. Many late nights were spent dashing in to ensure playout kept running overnight. So many cuts and bruises (and a few shocks) were worth it to show Leicester what DMU students and the wider community could do working together.”
Halfway through its five-year license, Tom Williams was Demon FM’s next station manager: “Demon FM was a big part of my life and to see how much it developed in that time makes me swell with pride. I’ll never forget being told that Demon had ‘lost its soul’. I made it my aim to get Demon back to where it deserved to be during my time as Vice President Media and Communications at the Students Union in 2012/2013. Hosting the Student Radio Conference this year well and truly put us back on the map.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the team that I worked with during my time. Once a Demon, always a Demon.”
As Demon FM celebrates its 18th birthday it is clear to see how far the station has come in its time. Much like an 18 year old human being, its life has had ups and downs alongside twists and turns, but the main thing? It’s still here, inspiring and teaching a new generation of passionate people.