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Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

The sound of your station – masterclass


Chris Nicoll – Head of Production at Capital FM and Capital XTRA gives his top tips to upcoming producers on how to get the best for their on-air station sound.

Chris looked at key points for radio imaging producers along the following subjects:

Define Your Brand
Set the Rules
Fashion V Function
Be Creative
Limited Resource

Define the Brand

It’s important that you just don’t just make something and stick it on. You need to think carefully about what you’re wanting to achieve and how you will do this through your production work.

You need to ask yourself questions about every single piece you’re creating so it fits with the brand, style – especially the large scale brands like Capital.

It’s not just about the target audience – that’s stuff you already know – There’s ways that you can help define the brand:

1. Come up with a phrase – what is it?
For Capital – the production team make sure their work is “Big, bold, brash, exciting, super slick”. That’s how they define the Capital on air production brand. They do bold through the big voiceover and it’s on air presence, as well as the access to artists in the studio or Summertime Ball/Jingle Bell Ball events. The production guys can whatever they want with artists (Within reason) and then record and save for future use. It’s also about using the on air content – eg.
Samuel L Jackson – Selfie song or the Simon Cowell – Pitbull Rap. Taking the content from the shows and use this within imaging and station sound. In terms of ‘super slick’ – it’s about accessing the use of sound effects and asking can we strip back – is it key?

2. How will you achieve it?
Is the message clear, what are you trying to say, have you said it. clarity of message is important outside of all the bells and whistles. It’s making use of all the cool artist content to bring it to life but then is everything clear and concise. Ycan use all the crazy tools and fx – but if you do it on a word you need to hear – then you’ll loose the message for the audience.

Set The Rules

You need to set some production guidelines or else you get a haphazard station -sound. Chris quoted his recent work with Roundhouse Radio and how they wouldn’t change the logo or else people wouldn’t know the venue. Setting rules help listeners identify the brand and know what’s going on. When Capital XTRA launched – this was about creating new rules and having to draw a line on the old ‘Choice’ sound to try something new and grow with new techniques

You need to set rules around:

Language – not formal – Capital XTRA would say you gotta see it (not you’ve got to see it) – more causal, reflects listener lifestyle – for example.

Music – make the production stand out – Capital XTRA production music is cooler and aggressive than the playlist. eg. Dubstep and Drum and bass is used – a producers dream to work with. Capital XTRA rules around music use is that the production music genre needs to be hotter than the playlist.

FX – all made in-house / bespoke – we edit and chop what we’ve got, don’t buy in. that’s how Chris learnt – when he had no budget at ZM (first job) so learnt from scratch, if a unique brand – you don’t want to use what other people are using. Computer Music is a good magazine for loops and effects which you can use. We discussed a Baking analogy – everyone has the same ingredients but jamie oliver / mary berry / paul hollywood will bake a better cake than you can. It’s how you use the tools.

Station Voices – Capital XTRA is Dance and Urban – so they use a urban voice (presenter abrantee) and Dance is a female producer. They don’t use artist drops – as the artists played would like to think they’ve not “sold out” yet to do voiceovers. There needs to be rules around keeping the voiceover based on what the message is. We use the voices in a functional way – eg. Abrantee for a urban club night in a promo and Jo for something more functional e.g. ticket competition

Production Techniques – people still listen on clock radios, small speakers so you need to ensure the message is clear away from the whizz and bangs. Capital XTRA lifts production techniques from the music it plays – eg. chopped up beats is trendy at the moment so we use that in the production. Match the style of the music.

Use Templates and Workparts – There’s a list in the studios of all the rules and do’s and don’ts, phrases and work parts for producers to check against and cross reference – even what settings to use. Everything is saved in a drive – eg. key phrases have already been recorded. Makes workflow easy and everyone is using the same parts and ensures across the production team that it will always sound the same.

Fashion Vs Function

There’s a difference with production between:

Function – serves a purpose, not that cool

Fashion – sounds cool, minimal purpose

You need to ask yourself about your production – does it need to be fashionable, functional or both? Ask yourself what to use and when? Ideally it’s best when you can use both. Chris creates a clock based on each show element and work out what I need – eg. The news is functional at the top of the hour so make sure what comes out of the news is something fashionable to balance it out. into breaks are functional as the jock has done all the work. During the music flow we want it to be cool and upbeat- so we use fashionable production -.Branded Intros, they sound big.


We looked at the idea of having more rules helps garner being more creative. You can find some exciting things when you try and push the rules. Creating rules doesn’t inhibit, it gives you something to bend.

The best ideas can come from the biggest restrictions.

There’s ways of being creative and this could be:

  • Word association – if it’s a piece of a production about a gig – use crowd noises for example
  • Song Lyrics – is there something quirky or different that you can use? re-make a song?
  • Brainstorms – find different angles – at Capital – we brainstorm about what artist audio we have, what can we use and use interview audio from that.

Limited Resource

Finally – it was discussed what do you do with limited resource to make cool stuff?

In terms of Sound design – Chris encouraged to make your own. Some ideas start from messing around on a keyboard, recording it and then edit it. How about getting some white noise, couple of beeps and you can mess around and make your own stuff. Maybe speak to the university music department – work with them or Chris even started by using his own voice to create the ‘whooshes’. Sounds and music can come from all sources. Use beatport, iTunes, sound cloud, music libraries – get tracks and play with them. if you ask people on sound cloud, they could be very happy to use their stuff.

Also check out YouTube how to’s – when Dubstep started Chris watch youtube tutorials to get an idea of how the sound is created to help with production. Finally -Reach out – email people, other producers – “what do you think” – ask for advice, feedback. You can now use sound cloud to easily share your sounds.- ask for where I can improve.


In Summary – the session looked the following key points to create great on air radio production and imaging:

Define the brand
Set the Rules
Check Fashion vs function
Be creative – push the rules!
Limited resource is no excuse

Look out for more articles and case studies from the Student Radio Conference coming soon.

Jonathan Jacob is a Solutions Manager at Global Radio with varied experience across commercial radio S&P, events, marketing and PR. He was listed in the inaugural Radio Academy 30 under 30, is a Student Radio Awards judge and sits on the Events Committee for The Radio Academy. Views are personal.