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X marks the frequency: Radio X
It had been – no pun intended – in the air for a while, and now it has finally happened: Brussels has a dedicated English-language radio station. Radio X has a simple mission: “to convey through high quality and entertaining radio shows the goings-on of life in and around Brussels, helping you get the most from your city experience through a truly local radio station in the English language”.
The station broadcasts 24/7, and live weekday programming kicks off with the sacrosanct breakfast show featuring the morning news – local, national and international – views, traffic and travel, eclectic music and more. The array of shows includes spoken-word programmes such as A Way With Words, Big Picture Science and the self-explanatory Acoustic Cafe.
The team consists of seasoned radio industry professionals, with talented former BBC and independent local radio presenters alongside a handful of newbies from the Brussels area. The station is the brainchild of 40-year-old Paul Heath, an expat from the English Midlands, whose passion for local radio is the real motor of the project. We caught up with the man currently making waves among the Brussels airwaves.
Hi Paul. So what is your background?
I still recall, at the age of 10, saying to my mum in the car, fiddling with the radio in our Ford Fiesta, “I want to be on the radio. I want to be a radio host.”
How, then, to get into radio in the late 80s in the UK? It was either through sheer luck; or your demo tape hit the spot and you were also going to be very cheap; or you had worked the old-school route by having volunteered while offering yourself up on a plate to the people who would make it possible for you to sit behind a microphone – or not!
I started hearing the line, “go get some experience on the radio, then get back in touch”. Catch 22. How do you get experience if you need experience in the first place? The answer for some is to turn to volunteer broadcasting at your local hospital station. A couple of years later, after doing the hospital rounds, the BBC break I had been yearning for arrived.
From there my career took off. I worked at my regional BBC station, Radio Stoke, doing what I loved. A few years later, I was poached and went to the ‘other side’... to independent radio. It was quite a strange feeling to start with as every BBC-ism I had learnt was thrown out of the window and I rapidly had to retrain myself to be less BBC and more independent local radio host.
After working for several of the UK’s finest radio networks, I went into consultancy and helped a few radio jocks and stations improve, and helped several community-based radio stations start up and blossom. Between my latter years in radio and the recent launch of Radio X, I cut my teeth in sales, marketing and distribution and launched an audio-related business in the UK.
Is Radio X what you do full-time?
I spend the majority of my time on this exciting prospect, yes, but I am also developing some ideas that will complement the Radio X brand in the near future.
Did you use existing expat radios as the example to follow or avoid?
Wherever I go, I listen to the radio, even if it’s in a language I don’t understand! When I was 16, I went to the US for the first time and promptly asked the concierge if he would record his local radio station for me on to a cassette. It’s a healthy obsession. What I did it for was to listen to how radio was made in different countries – this was well before internet radio. That passion of making shows and programmes has never left me. Radio is such a creative form of media, and if done well it stirs the imagination and really can paint pictures in your mind. So, yes, I’ve listened to what makes good radio, I’ve listened to other expat radio stations across the globe, and I’ve listened to some fairly average and sometimes poor radio content too in my time.
Radio X isn’t aiming at playing the latest top 20 chart hits over and over; neither is it aiming to just play music that fills the gap. While music is very important to our sound and feel, we want our spoken word to be the primary focus. We spend a lot of time each month making and reporting on events and people that make engaging radio in the English language, and we always launch them as a podcast too so you can listen again any time you like from our website. And, if we’re not doing what you want, tell us. We’re a people’s station, and one that listens. Only the other week were we asked if we could do a blues show – we thought it was a great idea and would fit in nicely on Sunday evenings. So, we made it happen!
What is the expat-to-Belgian ratio among your listeners?
That’s a tough question. We get pages of statistics, and also get a real feel for the audience through listener interaction – we see names when people engage with us on the phone, via email or through social media. That tends to give us a clue, and based on that, we truly know we are attracting interest from French and Dutch speakers in Belgium too. Conservatively, two or possibly three in 10 would probably be a fair reflection.
Do you have plans to purchase an FM frequency?
The plan is to achieve a traditional FM type radio frequency, yes, in addition to maintaining the online presence we have now. You can stream us live on your computer and also on your smartphone, taking us anywhere, any time by using the free TuneIn radio app – just search for Radio X Brussels once you’ve downloaded it.
The way we, as a society listen, to radio is changing according to reports from around the globe. Online listening and accessibility have increased beyond expectation in the last few years, and with the popularity of smartphones and apps, many of us are discarding our traditional radios and listening via the web or smartphone.
You have Belgian advertisers who have English-language ads on Radio X – do they make them themselves, or do you help?
We have our own in-house scriptwriters and creative department who produce the advert. We set about understanding what the client wants to convey, then write a script which then gets approved by the client before voicing. The last stages are recording and producing, and once signed off, the ads get scheduled on our system. The whole process can take as little as 48 hours. It’s easy for the client and a very professional operation at our end with some very talented people behind the scenes.