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Dollars to Pounds: NTS Radio

photographer Laura Coulson

Selim Bulut is a music writer who lives in Manchester. He has the most meticulously organized iTunes folder in the land. He’ll be writing about some of the excellent music coming out of the UK every other week.

For a very, very long time, it had been a dream of Femi Adeyemi’s to set up a radio station. After being made redundant from his day job a few years ago, he realised that he could make that dream a reality. Using a few thousand pounds of his own money—no bank loans, no wealthy backers—Adeyemi set up NTS Radio as an offshoot of the Nuts To Soup blog. Based in Gillet Square in Dalston, NTS made its first broadcast on April 4th, 2011, and in the short time since then it’s become one of the most important voices of independent music and culture in the UK.

The UK has always had a tradition of independent radio—community stations, hospital radio, university radio, and a rich history of highly influential, legally dubious pirate stations—but few are as large, well organised or diverse in programming as NTS. (Even great stations like Rinse FM stick to their niche.) And there’s certainly nothing like it on the major radio stations, which are tied down by numerous legislative restrictions and have their DJs and schedules chosen by committee—only after extensive market research takes place will a show get the go-ahead, with a presenter chosen because they’re deemed to appeal to a particular, conjured-up demographic.

Download: L.I.E.S. NTS Radio Takeover

As an internet station, presenters on NTS can say what they like and play what they like, and the schedules are filled with DJs who are driven by their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for their music. A small monthly fee keeps the airwaves free of advertisements. And crucially, NTS is not an insider’s club: anybody can do a show, so long as they have a good idea.

International readers may be familiar with the station from the guest DJs that often grace the station—mixes from Jamie xx and the L.I.E.S. crew get a lot of coverage across alternative music outlets—but this is only telling a part of the story. NTS is home to over 130 shows, covering music from just about any genre and any era you can imagine, and then some you can’t imagine, plus documentary and talk shows. It also has some truly out-there concepts that simply would not appear on a conventional radio station. The TNS show, for example, sees “DJ Meta” live remixing the station’s archive.

After the station recently celebrated their second birthday, launched a weekly rooftop party and made room in their schedules for a host of new shows and label takeovers, I spoke to NTS founder Femi Adeyemi about NTS' beginnings, his radio inspirations and starting your own station. And why not stick NTS on whilst you’re reading? You might hear something that will change your life.

Download: Morning Marauders NTS Radio 6/10/13

At what point in your life did you know you wanted to set up a radio station? I think it all started when I was about 17 or 18. I'd finished secondary school a year or so earlier. In school I'd been really into hip-hop and jungle. A lot of the guys I went to school with were into garage—I wasn't, thought it was a bit soft. This was the late ’90s, at the time we were all listened to pirate radios playing garage music, and even though I found it a little frustrating and would get bored after a few hours of listening, I'd still go to all the garage raves because that's where all the girls used to be. The music eventually started to grow on me. Next thing I knew, I was playing garage records while my friends MC'd on a pirate station we set up ourselves in Edmonton, in North London. The station had a very short life span—it lasted about a week—but since then I've always had it at the back of my mind that I was going to do it again properly. Or at least get it to last longer than a week. In 2009, when I was sacked from my job, I decided to work towards setting up NTS, decided I had nothing to lose. We launched in 2011.

What stations did you grow up listening to? Kiss FM, Rinse and Déjà Vu, mainly. There was also an American college radio station whose name I can't remember—I was put on to it by a cousin of mine who lived in the States till his late 20s. He had loads of recording from this station, he must have had about 60 to 100 tapes of different shows. They were all so musically diverse, and it opened me up to a lot of new music at the time. I actually think my love for music came from listening to those tapes. This station, whatever it was called, was a big inspiration behind NTS.

What does NTS bring to the community that other stations can't? I think what makes NTS unique is the diversity in programming. We've always tried to highlight the musical diversity and varied tastes of the community where NTS is based. There’s something there for everyone, and if not, you’re bound to find out about something new or something you’ve never heard before. I can’t think of many other stations that have that. I really think rather than a matter of “can't,” it’s a matter of “don’t,” or “won’t.” I think we’re fortunate to be able to do this as we don’t have the restrictions online that most traditional or commercial radio stations have. 

At what point did you realise that NTS had become the real deal? I think that was when we looked at our schedule after the first call out for DJs at the launch of the station. We realised we had over 30 shows, and nearly 50 DJs. I’d set my mind on the fact that we'd probably only get about five to ten DJs for the first four or five months and grow from there. I’d set my mind on getting a part time job, just so I can pay my rent, at least. As soon as I realised we had three or four times the original number I anticipated, running NTS became a full time job. I knew if I put all my energy into it, it would be the real deal, not just for the DJs involved but the listeners too.

What's the biggest thing you've learnt about yourself since you started NTS? That I have the patience of a saint. 

If you were to close your eyes and think to the future, what does NTS look like in 10 years time? Making it to 10 years will be an absolute massive achievement on its own. When we hit those 10 years I'd hope that we'd have achieved our two major achievements we've had from launch: to be one of the largest solely online radio stations and be renowned as the station to go to for quality and the best radio programming.

Finally, what are the logistics of starting a radio station from scratch? I know the definition of "radio" has changed with the internet, but could anybody in any country theoretically do their own version so long as they had an internet connection? For sure, anyone could set up an online radio station. NTS wasn't the first online radio station out there, they probably number in their thousands. I guess it depends on what you want. Our plan from the start was to set up an online radio station in a traditional radio format, and that’s why we set up a live broadcast studio and made sure less than 10 percent of our shows are pre-recorded or podcasts. The technical definition of "radio" may have taken on a different meaning with the internet, but I still think the word or definition of "radio" or radio broadcasting in its rawest form still remains the same. Anyone can set up their own radio station, they could before the internet in the form of pirate radio. The internet now just makes it that little bit easier.

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Dollars to Pounds: NTS Radio