Radio Heads: The story of Trinity FM

“We like to party, and sometimes we party with mics in front of us.” James McGovern climbs to the top of House 6 to discover more about Trinity’s favourite student-run radio station


In a relatively small space on the top floor of House 6, there lives a vibrant organism called Trinity FM (TFM). Apart from the microphones and sound panel in the centre of the room, there is surprisingly little equipment in the TFM studio. In a closet you’ll find the mixer system that streams TFM over the internet 45 hours a week (3 to 12 every weekday). Beside it is the transmitter that broadcasts the station on 97.3 FM one week per month. Decorating the closet is graffiti probably written by TFM committees of times past and looking down on the mics from the wall are the station’s two knitted mascots, TF Emily and Theo FM.

When you talk to anyone from TFM you can’t help but feel the strong sense of community. When asked to describe how strong TFM’s bond is, chairperson Clare Martin simply said: “we were considering getting tattoos.” The fact that the TFM crew actually put together a wedding for their mascots should be fairly illustrative in itself. Though Martin has seen the personnel and their composition change over the years (she began as culture editor in first year and was treasurer for second and third), the feeling that the place is more “a shared gaff” than a studio has remained.

The life and soul of TFM

In Martin’s second year, only four of the 15 crew members were female; fast forward two years and that number has doubled to eight female crew members. This was no accident. Martin praises the work of former secretary Amy McGrath in particular. She and others turned International Women’s Week into one of the station’s biggest successes of the year; an extra 20 hours of content were added, DUGES did a special, and a number of female TXFM presenters made appearances. Despite the many changes that have come to pass Martin maintains that “the spirit of TFM had always been good”.

This spirit is what makes former TFM presenter and recent Trinity graduate, Louie Carroll, fondly reflect on his time with TFM; he says, ‘‘without sounding too dramatic, TFM was my college experience.” Carroll co-presented “Film Buffs” for three years and believes most of his college memories are tied to the station. Many others at TFM feel the same. Carroll feels his “life in college revolved around the top floors of House 6.”

The presenters themselves are “very different people”, according to Martin. The result is a tapestry of shows that are “weird but wonderful”. Listening in at any given time you are likely to agree with Martin that TFM is the “sort of environment where you can experiment”. During one hour you may hear discussion of the 18th-century French monarchy accompanied by classical pieces on “The Yearly Show” before hearing drunken tales on “Reckless Thought”.

The Programmes

Nick Johnson’s “Plastic Soul” music programme is the station’s longest-running and can be heard from 10pm to midnight on a Thursday. It has been around long before the lifetime of the current committee and will undoubtedly outlive it. Carroll’s “Film Buffs” was done in line with the style of the BBC’s Kermode and Mayo or the successful “Filmspotting” podcast. Carroll also “sporadically” presented “The Rocky Show” in his years at TFM. As the title might suggest, it largely consisted of discussions about Rocky movies. Not to be doubted is his testimony that “we ran out of talking points with that after about the tenth show I’d say”. Yet such is the freedom afforded to the station and, more times than not, this freedom is the perfect breeding ground for new and original ideas.

Martin is excited about the new program “Around the Globe”, a comedic current affairs show presented by first years Celine and Jessica. One of TFM’s most experimental-sounding shows of last year’s catalogue was “Bathtime with Hugh and Nick”, a show presented from the point of view of being in a bathtub.

The TFM website is characterised by experimentation. There you can see how many others are listening at a particular time. There is even the option of chatting to the presenters by clicking the heart icon and signing in. Martin guesses the average show will have around eight listeners but when the line-up for Trinity Ball was announced last year thousands were listening.

While the low listenership lends itself to the more experimental shows already mentioned, Carroll thinks “regardless of listenership, sitting in front of the mic makes you talk different and you naturally start to ‘present’.” Both he and Martin would be enthusiastic about working in radio in future and credit their TFM experiences as helpful in that regard. They testify to the skills they have picked up at the station, including the ability to improvise when material runs thin and a knack for public speaking.

Being a native of Seattle, Martin was pleasantly surprised to find out how easy it was to get a show on TFM. In the U.S., she notes, the demand for radio slots is so high that there is serious competition for places. In Trinity, however, the station picks shows on a first come, first served basis. Students pitch their show name and idea to the committee during Freshers’ week, or other points throughout the year, and the committee lets them know if they have attained a slot. This gives Trinity students “a lot of freedom” in terms of what kind of shows they want to run. Of course there is also a member of committee always on hand in the studio to provide help and oversight.

Except during broadcast weeks, TFM is only regulated by itself. It is thus a comfortable, informal atmosphere that allows for maximum experimentation. For Martin, this is part of “the beauty of it”, the very fact that it is so “unprofessional”, in all the positive senses of the word. When asked to express his feelings toward TFM, station manager Brian Carty commented “We like to party, and sometimes we party with mics on in front of us.” Or as Carroll puts it “It’s college radio, it’s there so you can discover new things and mess around.” That does not mean the TFM crew are not fully committed to their task, but it does mean that making their way to House 6 after a lecture “doesn’t feel like an obligation”, according to Martin.

Despite there being a powerful bond between those already at TFM, there is always a welcome for new presenters. Carroll comments “so many new people that pass through the door to present shows end up becoming good friends.” As a final piece of advice he suggests “hang around in the green room after your show for a bit, you might end up meeting some of your best friends there.”