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Radio X Targets Expats

English-language station provides news and info for Belgium

The Radio X on-air studio and lounge area are located at the Thon Hotel in Brussels.

BRUSSELS — Webcaster Radio X is the country’s first and only commercial English-language radio station, aimed at serving, informing and entertaining the international English-speaking expatriate community.

Broadcasting since September 2012, the station estimates a potential audience of more 260,000 in Belgium alone.

“The first few months were a little clunky, but, we ‘soft launched’ with no promotion or heavyweight advertising, to ensure we could iron out the wrinkles without ‘upsetting’ or ‘turning off’ eager and enthusiastic listeners,” said Paul Heath, managing director of Studio5 AVB Limited, the station’s owner.

“From December 2012 onward, we really started to feel good about what we’d created earlier in the year, and, looking back now over nearly 12 months, we’ve come a long way.”

Heath says that, with Brussels being the “capital” of Europe, and along with other surrounding cities, the large number of English-speakers — mainly working for one of the many international organizations such as the European Commission, European Parliament, NATO — were very much underserved by radio until Radio X arrived.

“With the official languages of Belgium being French, Dutch or German, the process of gathering local news, traffic reports for the roads, rails and skies in English was extremely difficult and clumsy,” he said.

“We also offer information on city life, cultural and welfare information as well as news and events for those who don’t perhaps speak the language fully or confidently. Radio X, therefore works as that gap filler — to help you feel more connected to the place they work and live.

While the main Radio X on-air studio is located just south of Brussels, the station also has a “City Studio” and a “Radio X Lounge,” which are both located side-by-side in the Expatrium gallery of the Thon hotel in the heart of the city.

Radio X reporter Alison Turner carries out an interview on the streets of Brussels. “As regards equipment, we had to be creative with our available budget and for our live broadcast needs we decided on an Alice Air 2000 desk, Quadral Aurum Altan VIII speakers for studio monitoring, Audio-Technica AT2020 mics along with new computers for the studio’s media and streaming needs,” said Heath.

“We were very fortunate to have engineer Jay Eames directly on tap, from the very start of the project. With a ‘lock stock’ purchase of a complete studio — the Alice Air 2000, with split mixer and complete studio furniture, monitors, cabling and so on, we only needed a few computers and some other odds and ends to get us up and running” said Heath.

The Radio X City Studio features an Allen&Heath XB-142 console, and is, just like the on-air configuration, equipped with AT2020 mics and Quadral Aurum Altan VIII monitors, explained Heath.

He is well aware that not having all of the station’s studios in the same location may be counterproductive but, he says, both locations needed very little work and the station’s partner in the center of the town (the Expatrium) is very supportive and accommodating.

“With our city space, we were very aware of ensuring that the look and feel of the place was welcoming and at the same time suitable for multiple uses. Ready for business interviews on one-hand and live ‘panel’ type shows to being able to take in a four-piece band and have a live set recorded,” he adds that the “Radio X Lounge” can be patched through to the “City Studio” or be used as a stand alone recording room.

Radio X offers a mix of self-produced programs and syndicated radio content, always keeping in mind its original objective — to inform, enlighten and entertain an audience who doesn’t speak the local language.

“Weekdays start with an early breakfast show, a flagship breakfast show, mid-morning, lunchtime and then onto a home-time show. On weeknights at 6 p.m., we always feature something of special interest for an hour,” said Heath. “Weekday evenings, except Friday, are automated, with Fridays being for many, the beginning of the weekend. Radio X’s weekend starts with a lazy breakfast show, and we like to put live music and specialist music shows here at the weekends too.”

Being the only radio station in the country that commercially operates in the English language, Heath and senior presenter Lee Middleton faced the challenge of finding the right employees. “The tight-knit team are a credit to the station, and without the caliber of the on-air presenters and our roving reporters across the city, the station wouldn’t continue to be on the up and up,” they say.

Looking forward, Heath is confident — while at present Radio X is an on-line station only, the station is fully committed to securing an FM licence for Brussels as soon as possible. At the same time however, it is intent on embracing the increasing trend and use of smartphone technology radio listening and online listening.

“We already run Radio X as if it were already a commercial FM station, and we have a growing number of advertisers — it’s a niche product with a niche audience,” Heath said.

Marc Maes reports on the industry for Radio World from Antwerp, Belgium.