Foundation.fm has been on the radio for almost three months, and there couldn’t be a better time for it. Three women came together through a combination of hard work, passion and – in their own words – a lot of serendipity.
In 2016, following the controversy that led to the end of Radar Radio, Frankie Wells was out of a job and in need of some guidance. She met Becky Richardson the very next day, who laid out her plans of wanting to make a community radio station. After thinking about what they really wanted from it, the idea of ‘female-led’ was born. A few days later, Becky pulled in a radio acquaintance of hers, Ami Bennett, after bumping into her at a train station by chance. Becky describes staring at Ami and realising that she was the "missing link" in creating foundation.fm.
Although everything seems to have slipped into place quite naturally in the creation of this radio station, the passion these three women put in is the only way they could have cultivated a raging force for change. "It happened organically, but not without a decent amount of work," Ami says.
"It’s the right time", she says, referring to creating the station. "Thankfully there’s more awareness about women and their lives, not just in the radio industry, but everywhere." In simple terms, these women thought about a place where they'd want to work – then created it themselves.
‘Female-led’ rather than ‘women only’ was a very conscious choice. "When you support women, you need to support all marginalised communities," says Frankie. And, as Becky points out, it’s not just about putting women on air. The whole station needs to be run by women and marginalised communities to make any sort of valuable change. “It’s building something from the ground-up”, Becky explains, "you can’t do it from the top-down."
By cementing their leadership in the very foundation of change it’s easy to see where the team got the name of the radio station from. "You’ve got your Clara Amfos and your Annie Macs, the mainstream presenters that give young women a visible role model," Ami says, "but let’s face it, schedules don’t move around very often in mainstream radio; they only have a finite amount of time."
Ami’s point stands firm in light of recent schedule changes to some major BBC stations. The fact remains that opportunities don’t come around very often to elevate more women into top positions so, as it stands, it’s still often powerful men picking which one or two women get to be on air. By appointing women and marginalised communities to every role – founders, pluggers, presenters, interns, bookkeepers, producers – there's a far wider chance of creating create solid change.
"Let’s face it – stuff just gets done when you’ve got women at the table!" – Ami Bennett
Having three women create and run a station has trickled down from the top; there's a sense of cohesion, communication and community that's apparent even beyond the airwaves. "These first months have been amazing," Ami says. "I think I’m still in disbelief when I listen to the station that it’s actually real sometimes. The shows are sounding great, and we’ve had incredible support. I definitely feel very grateful for everyone who has worked with us, presented a show, or listened to foundation.fm. This is just the very beginning."
Creating tangible change was of course high on the agenda for foundation.fm but so was creating a kind, supportive, and uplifting environment. "Sometimes women have to be competitive against each other for that one space to express themselves," Becky says, quite frustrated. A smile then breaks across her face. "But at foundation, there is no competition." The station is a platform, they explain, to try anything out and hone skills and ideas without any worry that you might be pushed out or sidelined. Every seat at the table is marked for women or minority communities. Becky says: "Here, there is no one woman who has to shout really loud and still get ignored, only for a man to say what she said and be listened to." Plus, says Ami with a wicked grin, "let’s face it – stuff just gets done when you’ve got women at the table!"
From left to right: Becky Richardson, Ami Bennett, Frankie Wells
The three entrepreneurs talk about the support they’ve received on Twitter and Instagram and via email, and from people wanting to get involved. It’s been positive, warming and overwhelming, which reveals just how much a radio station like theirs was desired.
It’s of no surprise, then, that resources have flooded in and doors have opened. The founders credit serendipity a lot. One major act of fate was finding themselves in Peckham Levels. It was their first choice of location, and they were told it would be impossible to get in. After trying constantly to no avail they decided to let Peckham Levels go and were about to sign foundation.fm to a different venue. A few hours before signing away they got contacted to say a space had opened up at the location. And not just that – the space was already built and set up as a mini-studio.
It’s not all down to fate though. The hard work that's gone into establishing a new radio station radiates out of these three remarkable women. That energy is also reflected in foundation.fm's output. The founders still have their own jobs. The station is something they've set up alongside delivering assets to clients, managing brands, and producing other radio shows. It’s hard to know when the founders have time to sleep, especially when seeing their perfectly cultivated brand develop so much in the past months.
"We want to build a network where these people can come and experiment in radio but also learn and talk to each other and grow" – Ami Bennett
Becky tells me how the station is about so much more than just music. "Music connects fashion, arts, culture, everything – but for some reason there are so many amazing female collectives that aren’t known for music that don’t get given a spot in this sort of platform," she says.
Collaborations are certainly one of the most unique and exciting things about foundation.fm. Yes, it’s a radio station, but it goes way beyond music. The collective Sistren takeover every Monday evening to talk topics such as queerness, femininity, being non-binary, race, and more. More recently, the collective Women In Fashion have a Sunday show where they talk about the issues that plague the fashion industry, as well as their solutions to them. Collective and record label femme culture do a takeover with special guests and champion women in the arts.
Aside from radio shows, they’ve also got art exhibitions, club nights, and more. A station like foundation.fm helps move radio on from the box of just music, or just talk, into a collective and intersectional space. Ami says, "We want to build a network where these people can come and experiment in radio but also learn and talk to each other and grow. If they grow into radio then great, but if they grow into DJs or broadcasters or fashion designers or politicians then that’s also great. These are people who have a lot to say and currently nowhere to say it – until now. As much as it’s about making a great radio station (“with great events and sick merch”, Frankie adds) it's about being the springboard – the foundation – for those people."
Inevitably, of course, a man did ask them where men came in all of this (isn’t it annoying being left out, eh men? I’m sure women just can’t imagine what that feels like)! Frankie dispels the what-about-men chat quite quickly. "There are of course men on our schedule. Cutting out a whole audience would be detrimental to us," she says. "It’s just about putting females first for a change, and not being tokenistic about it. Everyone on the schedule is on the schedule through their own merit, not because they are a woman." Frankie takes the lead on talking about intersectionality, adding, "let’s be clear. If you identify as a woman, you are welcome here."
The schedule has certainly put its best foot forward in representing the LGBTQI+ community. There’s the aforementioned Sistren, whose podcast champions queer women of colour, the femme culture collective who "stand for inclusivity amongst all genders, backgrounds and beliefs", and Zooey, who runs a ‘Queer Island Discs’ show with various queer-identifying guests. The founders hope that they are creating a place where young women and LGBTQI+ people can find people to look up to.
"It’s just about putting females first for a change, and not being tokenistic about it. Everyone on the schedule is on the schedule through their own merit, not because they are a woman" – Frankie Wells
The founders mention that through setting up the station they've become more aware of how women talk and describe themselves. Frankie relays a story told by one of the station's female DJs in which people asked her how long she'd been DJing for. She had always prefaced her answer with, "Well, I’ve been DJ-ing properly for…" The idea that you’re not ‘real’ or legitimate in what you do until you’ve proved yourself beyond belief is a very female mentality. "Women are already set up for failure so we don’t want to admit our end goals, just in case we can’t achieve it," Ami says. "We’ve been told so many times there isn’t a space for us in certain industries that we’re afraid to say, ‘This is what I’m doing, or going to do', with confidence."
"Women also say sorry all the time", says Frankie. "I’ll walk into a door and say sorry to it." It’s not just gender, Ami points out, but it’s also about age. "Young people aren’t encouraged to give their opinions, or feel like they even have an opinion, especially young women," she says. "And then, because other young women don’t see young women giving an opinion, it carries on in a cycle."
The three talk about how the DJs and people they’ve chosen were picked specifically because they have something to say, and an opinion others can learn from. Ami cites blogger and author The Slumflower and model and social activist Munroe Bergdorf as people who are encouraging young voices, especially in minority communities, to speak up loudly and boldly. Foundation.fm is “"just another way we can contribute to give people a voice, and help bridge a generational gap," she says.
In further commitment to young people, the three founders ensured their schedule suited their audience. The 10am-10pm programming was a very conscious choice. Radio is full of brilliant breakfast shows but many people – not just young people, though often a lot of them – miss out on these shows. Ami, Becky and Frankie thought it would be a waste to have their breakfast show on at 6am because their target audience would either still be asleep, waking up, or running around and probably wouldn’t put the radio on until they get to the office, uni, or school. The station has mirrored what it believes is the mood and lifestyle of its audience. Take, for example, 'Happy Hour' at 5pm. It’s "the last couple of hours in your office where you need some tunes just to get through,” Becky explains, "or when you’re running out of school."
I ask the founders how they view the radio scene at the moment. "When I first started in local radio," Ami says, "there was only one other woman apart from me on the team. I think local radio still has the traditional features of a male breakfast presenter, and a female travel and weather presenter – there’s still a lot of that almost archaic set up."
When she moved to the BBC, Ami found less gender disparity and credits BBC Radio 2 with "leading the way."
"I'm so pleased about the programming decisions Radio 2 have been making," she continues. "They could have backed away from three women fronting three flagship daytime shows, but they didn’t. They’re going for it and I love it. I feel lucky to have worked there, and it’s really good to see it happening at such a high level."
So what’s next for foundation.fm? "It’s this first, then it’s world domination," they tell me, laughing. They add that they haven’t set huge mass goals because over the course of 2019 they just want to use the station as a way to begin to fix some of the problems in the radio industry as well as the live music scene.
Foundation.fm is producing funny, exciting, and diverse content in an environment that seeks to help its talent with bookings, contacts, and other projects to create a supportive full circle. If the first few months are anything to go by, it’s certainly working.