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Homegrown radio station launches second record label and social enterprise

The world of community radio is a challenging one, but Noods is going from strength to strength.

Photo: Aphra Evans

Edition 29

Jack Machin and Leon Patrick were housemates in a large flat-share in Stokes Croft, and quickly bonded over their shared love of music. Sunday evenings were spent in the living room, excitedly playing tracks for each other and their housemates. In 2015, they decided to turn their pastime into a public platform – and the idea for Noods Radio was born. 

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Since then, the homegrown radio station has thrived. Running out of a modest, makeshift studio in Mickey Zoggs cafe in Stokes Croft, Noods now boasts some 280 resident artists from around the world. Noods has two record labels – Noods Radio Label and the more recently launched Dummy Hand, which will see its first release on April 15th – while their community interest company (CIC) Noods Levels aims to help young people break into the music industry.

Down the road from the station, co-founders Jack and Leon, along with Operations Manager Izzy Cross, sit down in Portland Square to tell me their journey so far, and what their hopes for the future are.

Humble beginnings 

“When we started out, we didn’t even have decks!” says Patrick, recalling the beginnings of Noods Radio. “We just had Jack’s massive computer, which we’d plug into my laptop, and play music like that.”

“Then when other people came on board, we’d just run with a laptop and plug it into whatever equipment they had,” Jack adds, laughing. A tattoo reading “Noods” adorns his right leg.

Jack and Leon were starting clueless, in the days before streaming platforms like YouTube existed.

After being without a studio for a year, Noods finally took up residence in the attic of the now closed Surrey Vaults pub, which was run by friends of theirs. The venue proved a great boost, allowing them to connect with the bands and musicians who’d come to play gigs, and the wider community around the pub.

When the pub shut down, Jack and Leon led a nomadic existence. Noods found a home in Crofters Rights for a time before the room was turned into a toilet, then spent the next few months shuffling between various dingy rooms in Hamilton House. In the end, the team landed where it started, buying the former Surrey Vaults with a friend and renaming it Mickey Zoggs.

Community spirit

Initially the duo set up Noods radio as a way to unify the disparate elements of Bristol’s music scene under one roof, and showcase emerging talent. But as the station has grown, so has their social purpose. Noods Levels was set up as a CIC last year with the aim of creating jobs and opportunities for young people in the music industry, equipping them with the skills and networks they need to succeed, and overcoming barriers to access.

Unpaid internships are a key barrier, says Leon: “So a lot of what we do is create paid jobs, both within the station and beyond, where they can learn on the job and build on their CV.” 

“Often it’s said that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” says Izzy. “But instead of seeing this as negative, we want to flip that on its head and create communities and networks that people otherwise wouldn’t have access to.” 

“It’s about showing people that there are opportunities here in Bristol, and stop the idea that you have to go to London to make it,” she continues.

Izzy herself came up through Noods as a volunteer: “So now I’m asking – how can we make it easier for the next generation?” 

She is currently spearheading CrossTalk, an event which offers advice and guidance for creatives through workshops, designed in partnership with Access Creative College and partly funded by Bristol City Council’s Cultural Investment Programme. She hopes it will offer direct access to industry professionals for young creatives and help them on the path to sustainable career progression.

It’s an aspiration evidenced by a government report from March, which highlights the social benefits of community radio, including training and volunteer opportunities as well as cohesion and advocacy for community action.

Calling all ‘luvers’

Noods has gone from underground and online-only to Ofcom registered on digital DAB radio, so anyone can tune in. But the challenge now is to make the station financially viable. The station has a few pots of funding in the city, but they don’t want to be reliant on this – they give the example of Berlin Community Radio, which collapsed in 2019 once funding ran out. Instead, they’re trying to make sure the core elements are funded through subscriptions and crowdfunding.

When the pandemic struck, the team launched ‘Noods Luvers’, a crowdfunding effort to keep the station going. The whole Noods community, residents and audience alike, came together and raised money. Ultimately, Noods has come out of it stronger than ever, and its place as the hub of homegrown DJ talent is set to continue and grow.

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