5 May 2017

Girls' Club: The women of 95bFM

1:10 pm on 5 May 2017

We talk to five of the game-changing young women who make the Auckland institution what it is today.


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Photo: Luke McPake

95bFM has come a long way since its start in 1969 as Radio Bosom.

A veritable Auckland institution, the University of Auckland student radio station has spent nearly 50 years discovering, honing and releasing talent into the New Zealand media industry, all the while producing the kind of autonomous, free thinking broadcasting that only a truly independent station could.

Yet, as with all media organisations born in a less enlightened time, a significant part of the station’s journey has seen bFM grow from its all-male origins into a station and community that is as diverse and inclusive as the city to which it broadcasts.

This has not always been an easy task - as recently as 2011, reports told of young female staff members subjected to inappropriate comments by male senior management and a less than welcoming environment. As one female member of b told Duncan Grieve for his seminal Metro expose, ‘it’s a boys’ club, you’ve got to accept that’”.

Talking to the women of bFM today, however, it seems that thankfully times have finally begun to change. Curious, clever and completely committed to what are, for most, volunteer roles, the wide cast of female DJs can hardly contain their enthusiasm for a station and community that, to them, is where they belong.

As news of the station's reappointment of a certain white male veteran to a prime time slot continues to reverberate in heated discussions of bFM's future, we decided to turn our eye to five young women who, in 2017, embody it.  


Pearl Little - Host of the 95bFM Top 10 and News Assistant

Pearl Little

Pearl Little Photo: Luke McPake

How did you come to be at bFM?

I was actually at a party, and I didn't actually know anyone there. I met Hannah who used to work at bFM in one of our English classes at university and she invited me to a flat warming, and it turned out they were all sort of bFM people. I just got talking to some people, said I was interested in news, that I was studying media and politics at university, and they encouraged me to join the news team and actually that night, on a Saturday night I emailed the temporary news director and it just kind of went from there really.

What does your role at bFM involve?

I'm the news and editorial assistant, so I assist the news director Ximena in the day to day running of the news team, rostering. We have quite a large news team, probably about 35 youngish student journalists, so organising all of them. I also have a show. I host The Top Ten which is on Wednesday nights, and it's just the top ten tracks on the playlist that people vote for and other new releases. So I kind of have two responsibilities at bFM.

In the past student radio has been a bit of a boys' club - do you think that’s changing?

I think it actually really has changed. I mean I honestly personally never really felt like, during high school and even at the start of university before I started at bFM, I never really felt like I actually had a true sense of belonging. I sort of felt like I was on the edge of the groups and I'd find people who sort of had similar interests but I never had a massive sense of community or sort of group-ness?

I feel like to be working at bFM has been so incredibly influential. And honestly, just some of the people, especially the women at bFM, the younger women who are still also studying like me, are just some of the most hardworking, dedicated and just nice people I've ever come across. It's been such a good ground for me to not only professionally develop my skills in radio - through interviewing, broadcasting, having a show - but also just my sense of personal growth, it's been so beneficial just because the sense of community is so strong. Everyone is really supportive of each other, especially within the women.

I think student radio was a boys' club, and it was like that in the 90s and maybe the early 2000s, but I think that face is sort of changing. That's the thing you know, there's such a diverse range of people who work behind the scenes and aren't the face of the station, that a lot of people don't see.

What does bFM mean to you in 2017?

It means a lot to me. bFM has always tried to go against the current and to be different and to stand out and I think that's what it still means to me. I think maybe young people and students don't listen to radio as much anymore, you know there's Spotify, they've got their own music, whatever. But I also think young people still go out, they still go to gigs, and that's really where you get that sense of community. So I think it means fostering young artists and young musicians and also young journos and broadcasters. That's what it means to me, it means sort of creating this sense of community and being a training ground really. The amount of training and help and willingness there is at bFM to teach people how to do things.

In every one of my classes I'm that lame person that gets up at the start of the year and is like, "hey, who wants to join bFM? Come on!" It's about fostering what young people can do and what they can bring to the table really.

Ximena Smith - News Director and host of the Wednesday Wire

Ximena Smith

Ximena Smith Photo: Luke McPake

How did you come to be at bFM?

So, I first got into it last year, in January. I was completing my Master’s degree at AUT, a Masters in communication studies, and I'd listened to bFM for ages. I found out about it as a teenager and just loved it since then and refused to listen to any other radio stations because, you know, as we say "other radio stations are shit".

I finally had some time in my schedule to be able to volunteer at bFM, like I've always wanted to do, and just put my hand up for the news team.

I just loved it, it was really, really fun. And then a few months later Anna, the news director, left because she was going travelling and I was coming to the end of my Master’s degree and applied for the job and yeah, became news director.

What does your role at bFM involve?

I do the Wednesday Wire show every week, but generally my job is just kind of managing the team. I'm the one paid staff member on the news team, so I'm there every day from early till a little bit after lunch time just kind of being there as a support person for the team, helping train them, giving them editorial guidance, feedback, tips on interviewing, giving them story ideas or contacts for people. That's kind of the general day to day stuff, but then when I get time I try to do more long-term thinking, like - How do I want to shape the news team? What sort of changes do I want to implement? What types of training resources can I build for these guys? What do they need to be able to get the skills that they need to then go work in the media? Because this is where so many people who work in the media, like really big names, they started at bFM or other student radio.

In the past student radio has been a bit of a boys' club - do you think that’s changing?

I think it is. The news team is probably the most diverse bunch at the station really, which is amazing. That means that we get to air more diverse perspectives, hear about different sorts of experiences and opinions than perhaps we would have otherwise. And just beyond gender metrics, it's also very much diversity in other sorts of ways on the news team as well. Because as media we hold such a powerful position, and if we're telling something from a middle-class white perspective all the time, that's problematic because it sort of suggests that that is the norm and there aren't other experiences that exist.

To be able to bring these other faces and people who've come from different backgrounds to the station, to then do really awesome journalism and do really cool pieces about topics that they're interested in, then that's ultimately the ideal with being in broadcasting.

What does bFM mean to you in 2017?

It's a lot of different things. But I think really something that's been fundamental to bFM since its beginnings, and what everyone at the station loves it for really, is its independence, how it stands out from other media in that way, that it does what it wants to. We get away with stuff that nobody else would and that's what our audience loves. I think freedom and independence are what it's about, and that's why I love working here.

Jess Fu - Host of Totally Wired

Jess Fu

Jess Fu Photo: Luke McPake

How did you come to be at bFM?

I started doing stuff at reception and worked my way up. I did a graveyard [shift] for a while and then I got Totally Wired a few months later. But initially, I wanted to be part of bFM because I was really into the Auckland music scene and, underlying that, I also thought it was important to have more women and people of colour working in the media and that's what I'm pretty passionate about. So that pushed me to do something at bFM.

What does your role at bFM involve?

A lot of work. So I do the all new music show Totally Wired, and for that I have to find two hours of new music and do two features. One is 'Main Centered,' which is about different musicians from different parts of the country and 'Longplayer,' which is where a musician talks about five or so tracks off a recently released EP or album. It's just a lot of work to be dedicated to a three-hour show throughout my week.

It's all me, I don't have a producer or anything. I wish I did but...[laughs]

In the past student radio has been a bit of a boys' club - do you think that’s changing?

Being at bFM, maybe it's more of a girls' club now. I mean, all the women are real tight and supportive of each other and there's maybe a few guys, but when you go there to hang out I feel like there's quite a strong feminine energy.

Who do you look up to at bFM?

I guess Bridge - he's someone that's very supportive of everyone. I also like to see Sarah Thompson, she does the show after me and she's got such a good show. She gets really involved with interacting with listeners. And Ximena the news director, really hard working woman, very intelligent - she was also my tutor. There's so many people that I really admire at bFM. Especially the younger girls around my age, let's say Pearl and Amanda, I know they're very hardworking.

Do you want a career in Broadcasting?

Definitely. I don't really have a certain goal of where I plan to be but I do definitely want to be involved in the media in any way. Hopefully a pretty prominent way [laughs].

What does bFM mean to you in 2017?

I guess it means community, and people whose values or opinions align with yours. Everyone's really supportive and I really like how the women of bFM are real tight and always there for each other. It's a way of connecting to people I guess. 

Jogai Bhatt - Host of the Thursday Wire

Jogai Bhatt

Jogai Bhatt Photo: Luke McPake

How did you come to be at bFM?

I knew that a lot of my friends from my course and people who went to my highschool were kind of doing stuff at bFM and, I don't know, I just found the volunteer page online and I was like 'you know what, why not give it a crack'. I was definitely nervous at first because bFM's one of those institutions where, if you're on the outside looking in, you just see all of these cool, intimidating indie kids. But once you infiltrate those walls, you're like "eh, just a bunch of nerds", who just really like politics and music and things.

I've only been there a few months. Pearl who used to do the Thursday Wire, her timetable clashed with that show and so Ximena just kind of shoulder tapped me and she was like, 'I think you have a very confident voice and you could do well on the radio,' and I was like, 'alright, if you want me to I'm cool with that!' And that's how I got to doing The Wire on Thursdays.

What does your role at bFM involve?

Usually the way that it works is my producer will do two of the stories and I will do two of the stories and one of them includes a political segment. So preparation for that usually just happens on the day. So it's a live interview with Andrew Little and I just do my research on the topics we're going to discuss in the morning and then I hit up his secretary and I'm like 'these are the topics,' and he's like, 'cool,' and then we talk. And the only other story I kind of go out of my way to do will be the one other story I need to do. So this week I did the Equalise My Vocals series that they're doing on the Spinoff for gender equality in the music scene.

Have you got a rapport going with Andrew Little?

Ah, old mate Andy. Me, myself and Andy are such good mates. Hasn't followed me back on Twitter though. I DM him sometimes. No response. All good though, cos when I hit up James Shaw, who's the Green Party leader, always onto it. So you win some you lose some. It's fine, Andrew's a professional guy, it's alright.

In the past student radio has been a bit of a boys' club - do you think that’s changing?

Yeah, I think it has to an extent. Not just in student radio, but all institutions really. I think that the women at bFM are definitely the backbone of the place, for sure. I know our news director Ximena Smith, and her assistant news director Pearl Little, they both do so much. Like, I'm not envious of their jobs. Obviously, because it's all on a volunteer basis, it's hard to keep people committed to doing their shifts, so usually when people volunteer they're like "fuck yeah, two shifts, I'm definitely down for that, I love this place". And then a couple of weeks of that and they're like, "oh, I've got other priorities and I'm only volunteering here". As a result, there's a lot of pressure on Pearl and Ximena every week but they're just amazing about it. 

Do you want a career in broadcasting?

I definitely want to stay with bFM for a long time for the sheer value of loving it so much, loving the station, loving the people. It's kind of interesting in a way because it's all on a volunteer basis, you would think that would be a recipe for disillusionment. But it's not really, because people just love the vibe, and they love what they do and they're so passionate and determined and committed to put out the best stuff.

I mean who wouldn't? Yeah, of course I want a future in broadcasting.

What does bFM mean to you in 2017?

It's about independent sound, it's about fostering local talent, it's about fostering new talent. I think the future of broadcasting definitely depends on these kinds of institutions. It means a lot to me.

Amanda Jane Robinson - Host of the Monday Wire

Amanda Jane Robinson

Amanda Jane Robinson Photo: Luke McPake

How did you come to be at bFM?

I was studying at the university for the last three years and then around this time last year - I've been there almost a year next week - I was wanting to look into doing a little bit of journalism. I was talking to my friend, and he used to work there, and he was like 'just email them.' So I did, and there was a volunteer form on the website, so I filled that out and went along to one of their induction evenings and got started.

What does your role at bFM involve?

So The Wire is a daily news show from 12pm until 1pm every weekday, so it's interviewing people and looking at what's been in the news that week, but also sometimes longer feature stories. If people are here for festivals or releasing new books or anything like that, we talk to them. So interviewing them, podcasting it after the show, and then putting it all together.

What’s your favourite interview you’ve done?

I have a few. Benjamin Law, he's an Australian screenwriter and came over for the Strange But Different Festival and came into the studio and we had a great chat. I interviewed the head of that European Students Association that was going on for a minute. That was a hard one but that was good as well.

What does bFM mean to you in 2017?

It's still an independent organisation, its somewhere - as far as news goes, its really helpful that we get to kind of look at things from a different angle, and sometimes we get to work on things for a longer time than maybe some mainstream newsrooms have the capability of to do.

Who do you look up to at bFM?

Oh my god, everyone. There's a whole of really cool women there. So there's Ximena our news director and she does such a huge job. She organises all of the news volunteers, with the help of her kind of second in charge news assistant Pearl Little who is also incredible. Me and Pearl both went to the same induction night, we started on the very same day and Pearl and Ximena do so much. They're incredible.