Cam FM are on the same wavelength as studentsANNA-MARIA WOODROW WITH PERMISSION FOR VARSITY

Anna-Maria Woodrow, head of music at Cambridge’s student radio station, Cam FM, admits that she didn’t listen to a huge amount of radio growing up. In an age where millions of songs are ready to stream at the drop of a hat, that’s perhaps not much of a surprise; when there’s so much choice, it’s perhaps hard for the old-fashioned airwaves to compete. But, in her time as head of music, Anna-Maria has discovered that radio has something to offer that streaming can’t, and that the job of curating a playlist can be really quite hard.

“When there’s so much choice, it’s perhaps hard for the old-fashioned airwaves to compete”

“There’s a spontaneous, ephemeral quality to radio,” she tells me. It’s a spontaneity which she finds strangely comforting; “when I’m looking over all my albums in Spotify, I can get a sense of fatigue; the radio, you can just turn it on and it’s there”. I get what she means: there’s something refreshing about being able to turn on Cam FM at any time of day and be met with curated music, or some friendly voices. What’s more, there’s so much more character to a radio station than some random playlist, as custom-made stings and jingles break up the music as listeners go about their day. But, what does a head of music actually do? Well, it turns out it can be quite a lot of work.

It’s Anna-Maria’s responsibility to manage the ‘playout’: this is the default playlist that goes round when someone isn’t doing a live show on Cam FM from the studio. On one hand, the challenges are the same as if you were wanting to make a really long playlist. Since the playout can sometimes go on for hours at a time between live shows, Anna-Maria needs to have hours upon hours’ worth of songs in her playlist; “I noticed at one point that the songs were looping after about two hours and that wasn’t good,” she confesses. Some considerations, though, are rather more unique to radio: Anna-Maria notes that the playout shapes the “background vibe” of the whole radio station; she has to make sure that this is appealing enough to keep people coming back for more.


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Sticking to a particular musical vibe is familiar ground for Anna-Maria; on her own radio show, Cellar Tapes (Mondays at 11pm), she often sticks to a self-imposed theme such as “animals” or “the sea”. Indeed, one of the great strengths of Cam FM, she points out, is its huge array of specially themed music shows. She’s particularly enthusiastic about Barn Dance, a show specialising in country music which ran last term, and Siphonophonic, which focuses on ambient jazz.

As well as presiding over all the weird and wonderful music across the airwaves, Anna-Maria is also proud of the confidence she’s gained in calling up bigger names for the station: she spoke to anti-folk singer-songwriter Jeffrey Lewis ahead of his performance at the Portland Arms, has spoken to Pom Poko, and organised an interview with the bass player of WARPAINT through the Student Music Network. Such connections have also landed her early access to Young Fathers’ new album. I’m a little jealous.

Anna-Maria encourages everyone to get involved, saying that a music show is an easy gateway into the world of radio. In an age of streaming, is there still a point in tuning in to the FM airwaves to find music? The folks at Cam FM certainly think there is.