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Flashback: Bristol’s Burst FM

18th June 2024

What were you up to 20 years ago?

20 years ago to the day, and almost to the minute as I write, I was presenting my last show on Bristol University’s student radio station. ‘Burst FM’ was then still in its infancy, broadcasting from a converted water closet (yes, really) on the 5th floor of the students’ union building. Tight budgets and plumbing costs meant one of the toilet pans was still in-situ and, freshers being freshers, each new presenter thought they were the first and only one to try it out, live on-air. As it happened, the flush usually did still work, and I have many tapes to prove it…

Burst was a huge part of my university life and I have it to thank for all that’s followed. I’d been intent on a career in radio since developing an unlikely adolescent love of Radio 2. While at school, I began writing material for Terry Wogan‘s breakfast show and sending it in by letter or fax. This continued throughout my time at Bristol University, when my various characters and noms de plume had a daily spot on Wake Up to Wogan at 8.50am. Luckily for my cred, most of my fellow students were either still asleep or ensconced in lectures so they knew little of it.

Very few students knew about Burst, which was mostly an online-only stream at a time when that was a huge limitation to consumption! It’s hard to believe now, but live streaming was of little use to anybody in 2004; smartphones and tablets were still emerging and listening online required effort. Burst’s listening figures were often in single digits at any one time, doubling or trebling at the flick of a switch downstairs in the Union’s Cafe Zuma, where they selectively pumped out Burst to their customers. We occasionally received calls on-air, usually wrong numbers rather than from listeners, but most of the interaction came via that much missed old friend of the millennial… MSN.

The real value of Burst was for those who got involved. A tiny audience was actually a gift while we were all making our mistakes and misjudgements on-air. I had a go at absolutely everything, even running the station for a year. By the time of my final Burst show, I was already working full-time in radio. I’d had two offers from the BBC and accepted one that meant, sadly, I had to leave Bristol the moment my studies were complete. Nobody knew at the time (at either end) but some of my later shows for Burst actually came down the line from a BBC studio far away!

But, 20 years ago today, I returned to that converted blue and orange bog once more for my very last show on Burst. Following “Bye Bye Baby” from The Bay City Rollers (horrendously predictable) and a few choked words, I played out with an old weepy called “Me And The Elephant”, a song about memories we’ll never forget. Very graciously indeed, the song’s singer had also agreed to appear in person on my show. His name?

Terry Wogan.

Today, Burst is a thriving student station which is never far from winning its next award. 2024’s students are lucky enough to learn their craft in a smart studio, albeit no longer with en-suite comedy… and, of course, everybody listens online. Whether it’s the start of a long career, or a brief flirtation with something a little bit different, I bet they’ll look back with a big smile. 20 years on and some 4,500 radio shows down the line, I certainly do.

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About David Sheppard

Playful, imaginative communicator with 20 years' experience in daily live broadcasting, voiceover and audio production. Available for voiceover work from his own studio facility and as a presenter for radio, podcasts and live events.

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