In 1979, Cambridge University Broadcasting Society members Simon Cooper and Ellie Buchanan founded CUR (Cambridge University Radio) at Churchill College. The studios were established in the basement of a nearby graduate house and programmes were presented using tape decks and record players.
The station initially existed mostly for members to develop their presenting skills, with occasional short-duration broadcasts on restricted service licences. Throughout the 80s the broadcasts became less and less frequent and by the end of the decade CUR had almost disappeared.
CUR was revived in 1992 when it was granted a licence to operate induction loop AM transmitters in the nearby New Hall and Churchill colleges. These AM induction loops broadcast a short-range signal throughout selected staircases enabling students living nearby to hear the station on an AM radio. The designated frequency was 945 MW and the station was renamed CUR945. The induction loop systems brought the first stable audience to the station and were to be the sole output of CUR945 for 6 more years.
In 1998, Cambridge University conducted a large-scale upgrade of its computer network. This brought internet connectivity to the CUR945 studios, and an internet stream of the station with accompanying website was established. The station initially broadcast online using RealAudio, which at the time permitted a limited number of listeners on the Cambridge network. CUR945 therefore broadcast simultaneously and on AM to the selected staircases of Churchill College and New Hall.
2001 was notable for a very successful year at the Student Radio Awards. Richard Straffon was awarded a gold in the Best Male category. In 2002 CUR945 underwent its biggest change to date. The industry regulators, the Radio Authority had established a new form of radio licence, the LPAM licence designed for university establishments. The committee, led by Kate Arkless Gray, applied for and were awarded a Long Term AM licence enabling the station to broadcast to radio across the city of Cambridge on AM. The licensed frequency was 1350 kHz, and CUR1350 was born!
The station rapidly built a regular listener base from across Cambridge University. The AM licence also enabled students from APU (later renamed Anglia Ruskin University), Cambridge's second university, to hear the station, and membership of CUR1350 was opened up to APU students. Internet broadcasting was upgraded to a newer Ogg Vorbis stream and the internet broadcast was opened up to a worldwide audience.
By 2003, CUR1350 had been supported by a sustaining service known as SBN which provided programming during hours where no local CUR1350 programming was offered. At that time CUR1350's audience base had grown significantly and the potential for CUR1350 to develop into a 24-hour service was recognised. SBN also began to show early signs of insolvency and so CUR1350 established its own sustaining service, replacing SBN.
In 2004, the importance of the internet in the future of radio broadcasting was becoming apparent and so CUR1350 turned its attention to upgrading the internet broadcasting system once again. A committee member, Andrew Walkingshaw identified the need for a user-friendly way to listen to the station online and designed an online player that would function on almost any machine with just one click.
At the same time, CUR1350 began to look at its audience base for the first time and began to identify programming and musical preferences of Cambridge. The on-air schedule became shaped accordingly to serve general entertainment during the daytime with specialist programming in the evening. The musical output was generally indie-tinted to correspond with the major musical preference in Cambridge.
The accelerating growth of the CUR1350 was later recognised by the Student Radio Awards 2004 where CUR1350 won four awards, a gold for Entertainment Programming for Val Mellon's "Mellon til Midnight", a gold for the user-friendly online player, a silver for Varsity Rugby coverage and a bronze for Best Female, Val Mellon.
By 2005 CUR1350 was entirely self-funding through advertising and sponsorship, and it was necessary to migrate to a business structure in order to keep finances on track and costs under control to make the most of available funds under a not-for-profit structure. A full review of the organisation was conducted which revealed the potential of CUR1350's website to help advertisers reach Cambridge students and also the importance of a coherent brand.
Accordingly, CUR1350's brand was refreshed, keeping elements of the older brand that Cambridge academics recognised whilst making the station look, sound and feel more energetic and more experimental. Musical preferences of Cambridge were reassessed and revealed that Cambridge harboured many specialist music niches, many underserved by other radio services. Specialist programming hours were increased and presenters were given their own minisites to allow listeners to interact with the programmes. Indie still remained the most popular musical genre however pop and world music had been underestimated, leading the music policy to be refreshed to feature a full variety of genres.
On the technical side of the station, the studio underwent massive recabling and installation of new audio processing. This brought CUR1350 to internet listeners for the first time in glorious stereo sound. The online player was relaunched with more interactive features. With new niche targeting programming, high profile branding, increased interactivity and a better sound CUR1350 saw a 60% increase in number of listeners over 2005. CUR1350 later gained a nomination for Station of the Year at the Student Radio Awards 2005.
2006 brought more programmes, new technical features and further progress. More researchers and staff of the universities were tuning into CUR1350, and post-graduate programming was increased accordingly. In February 2006 CUR1350 received local news coverage for a publicity stunt involving attention-grabbing stickers placed around spokes of 2000 bicycles.
In May 2006, a Listen Again facility was launched enabling listeners to catch up on any missed programming and gain recommendations for other similar programmes as they listened. Advertising operations were upsized and packages for local businesses were introduced. For the first time since 1990, local news bulletins were broadcast again containing news of interest to university members featuring interviews and soundbytes from Cambridge students, staff and researchers.
In 2007 CUR1350 began to develop onto more platforms. The CURintheBar project to install feeds of the station to college bars underwent its first successful trial, with two colleges subsequently signing up to the scheme. A new low-bitrate mobile-friendly internet stream was launched and a new mobile browser CUR1350 website is in development. The CUR1350 Committee was upsized in March to meet the increasing workload and to put more staffing behind CUR1350's online services.
In October 2007, nine CUR1350 entries for the national Student Radio Awards were nominated, making CUR1350 the most nominated station in the country. In November 2007 at the Student Radio Award ceremony, CUR1350 had tremendous success turning three of those nominations into awards: Charles Lyons and his team picked up a Bronze award for Weekend Breakfast, Kat Godfrey won the prestigious Gold award for Best Female, and CUR1350 itself scooped the biggest award in student radio: a Gold for Best Student Radio Station, with the entry written, compiled and mastered by the 2005-2008 Station Manager, Michael Brooks. The judges described CUR1350 as having a "consistently strong presentation, professional sound" and being "well-presented all-round".
As 2008 got underway, CUR1350 focussed on further increasing accessibility to the station, by setting its sights on an FM Community Radio licence. With many other radio services in Cambridge networking most of their programming from London, a gap in the market was opening up for live radio from Cambridge for university members.
In March, with the legacy of Best Student Radio Station CUR1350 began building on its previous licence application for the move to FM under a new Station Manager, Martin Steers. Many successful advertising campaigns were conducted for clients through CUR1350, and the Bumps coverage excelled in popularity.
After a long application process spearheaded by Michael Brooks and Martin Steers, CUR1350's FM Community Radio Licence was eventually granted by Ofcom in March 2009.
Preparations got underway for the FM launch. Under new Station Manager Sophie Wawro, behind the scenes audience research and branding meetings carved out the perfect name shape and sound for the new FM station, announced in March 2010 as Cam FM.
On Saturday 2nd October, a new era in student radio for Cambridge began with the launch of Cam FM, the only FM radio station targeting members of Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin.
Since the changeover to FM, Cam FM has gone from strength to strength. Cam FM now boasts over 100 trained members at any one time, and 100+ hours per week of live material broadcast during term time. By 2013, Cam FM had blossomed into one of the largest media organisations in Cambridge, in terms of output and benefit to the student community.
A new studio in Anglia Ruskin in late 2012 also marked a new beginning for Cam FM at Cambridge's most media-savvy University. We now have a membership split between the Universities standing around 50/50 and are the only society in town who are able to show such active cohesion between the two student bodies.
At the time of writing, it truly has been a historic year for Cam FM. Not only did we launch the second studio in Anglia Ruskin, we took on some historic events for the station. December 2012 saw Cam FM's first ever international outside broadcast, live for a week from the University's ski trip in the French alps. In early 2013, Cam FM also made history by providing the first ever broadcast media coverage of the Oxford vs Cambridge Women's Boat Race.
We have also continued to train well over our target of new members, have provided talks from industry professionals, have strengthened links with the student unions of both universities, have appeared at careers' fairs, provided a welfare advice service to the students, massively expanded our social media and marketing strategy, undertaken a comprehensive listener survey, and have refreshed both the station's imaging and website.
It really is a brilliant time for Cam FM.