OUSU has been forced to pull the plug on Oxide Radio just hours after a Cherwell investigation revealed that it has been operating as a pirate station for the last two years .
Oxide stopped broadcasting at 6pm on Wednesday, following the revelation that it was not licensed to play copyrighted music.
The Oxide studio will now remain empty for the rest of term while Oxford University Student Union (OUSU), who run the station, seek the funds to pay off a two-year backlog in fees.
The failure to obtain a licence has meant that artists and composers have not received royalties for any of the songs played by Oxide over the last two years.
The station’s closure on Wednesday came unexpectedly for Oxide’s staff.
Station managers were only informed of the problem on Tuesday, a day before broadcasting stopped.
Oxide’s roster of over 100 DJs were notified by email only ninety minutes before the station closed.
As the station fell silent, Rich Hardiman, the OUSU Vice President responsible for Oxide, admitted that the licensing issue had only come to light in the last week.
He said, “It’s been under active discussion for about 48 hours and on my radar for two or three days longer.”
Hardiman claimed that he received an email from licensing authority PPL a week ago informing him that the station was not paying for the music it used.
However, station staff appear to have been aware of the problem for longer.
‘A fine line legally speaking’
During a discussion about Oxide hosted by cherwell.org’s ‘Aldate’ blog on May 19, nine days before the closure, one person with close links to the station alluded to its legally dubious situation.
Calling themselves Dave, the contributor wrote, “Oxide walks a fine line as it is, legally speaking, since they don’t pay royalties.”
However, Rich Hardiman denied that he should have organised the licence earlier this year.
“I’ve only known about the licence situation being deficient for just under a week,” he said.
“Without wishing to cast the puppy dog eyes, there’s a lot to be done during the year. The problems we’ve had during the year have been dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”
He added that he intends to use the station’s time off-air productively.
“If we can put forward a committee structure that means everything that needs dealing with is dealt with, then that would be great.”
His assurances will provide little comfort to those expecting to present shows this week.
Naomi Berlin, a visiting student who co-presents Oxide’s International Politics Show, said she was disappointed that she would not be able to complete her term at the station.
“Being a part of Oxide has been the highlight of my year. It’s such a shame.”
OUSU failed to inform sponsor
The move also came as a surprise to Shirtworks, the local company who have sponsored the station this year.
Aaron Harden, Shirtworks’ managing director, had not heard about the station’s closure when Cherwell contacted him on Thursday morning.
“Obviously I wasn’t aware they were pirate. I assumed that everything was above board,” he said.
He said that he found working with the student union to be “difficult” at times, but appreciated that OUSU could not be expected to match a business in professionalism.
“I understand they’re busy and this is their first foray into the world of business.”
As an internet-based radio station, Oxide does not require a broadcasting licence from Ofcom.
However, to play copyrighted music, a station generally needs two licenses.
Revenue from a PPL license is distributed among record companies, artists and musicians, while money from a MCPS/PRS license is forwarded to publishers and songwriters.
The MCPS/PRS Alliance say that they entered into discussions with the student union two years ago, but that these did not lead to the acquisition of a license.
Licensing has not been Oxide’s only worry. The Bonn Square studio’s roof has been leaking water near the station’s mixing desk.
However, Rich Hardiman insisted that the room posed no risk to DJs. “The studio’s perfectly safe,” he said.
OUSU President Martin McCluskey said that he had not contributed to this week’s discussions on Oxide.
However, he was confident about the station’s future in the face of its current issues.
“I don’t think it’s insurmountable in terms of the cost of the license,” he said.
Meanwhile, station manager Katie Traxton said she hoped to have the station back on air in time for Freshers’ Week next term.
“At the moment, Oxide is like champagne,” she said.
“It’s on ice and it’ll come back with a bang.”
Student radio in Oxford
A chequered past
1999 Radio Authority (now Ofcom) fines Oxygen FM a record £20,000 for attempting to deceive the regulator. Station managers fabricate two days’ programming in an attempt to convince the authority that they are complying with programming quotas laid down in its licence.
2005 Ownership of Altered Radio, Oxygen’s successor, transfers to OUSU. Balreick Srai, owner of club night promoter Rock Oxford, tries to block the transfer, claiming he owns the station.
2006 OUSU removes Oxide’s £5,700 per year funding in response to financial difficulties. Presenters must pay membership fees to work at the station.
2007 Two presenters court controversy by inviting British National Party leader Nick Griffin to debate on air, pre-empting the Union’s invitations to Griffin and David Irving in Michaelmas. James Macadam and Max Seddon receive death threats via email and in their pigeon holes as a result, and OUSU prevents the interview from taking place.