UFM was created out of the ashes of Contact 89FM.
After the Waikato Student Union became a voluntary organisation in 1996, $100,000 was cut from the student media budget and Contact was sold to Joe Dennehy in April 1998. It began broadcasting as UFM (standing for University FM) on 18 June 1998. UFM remained, for a time, on campus in the old Contact studio at the Cowshed and retained many of the same staff. However, it was intended that the new radio station would become profitable, and this would eventually entail moving away from the student radio format. Scott Newth, who had been associated with Contact since 1985, continued as the Programme Director on UFM and the Breakfast Show was originally hosted by Greg Page and Dean Ballinger.
In 1999, UFM moved into a new premises in what was referred to as the 'Hallensteins Building', or 'The Ugliest Building in Hamilton'. Eric, the computerised voice who hosted the mid-dawn shows, was thrown off the balcony and Mark Tupuhi was hired to fill his place, in what would become one of the most notorious periods in UFM's relatively short life. Towards the end of 1999, the music scheduling and programme automation software was removed and the station was run manually for several months, with music played off CD and vinyl, and advertising played from cartridges.
During this time UFM remained a part of the b.net (formerly the Student Radio Network) and remained heavily involved with the Hamilton Music Community as well as promoting several key specialist programmes, including a NZ Music show, Arts Show, and Hip-Hop, dub and reggae, hardcore, and electronic music shows. The station continued to play 30-40% NZ content, mainly from Hamilton. The station also featured numerous live-to-air performances by local acts and was a focal point for submissions to the NZ on Air Indie Hit Disc series through an association with Airwigg Records, run by Scott Newth. Bands such as Grok, Trucker, Scooter, Inchworm, Dead Pan Rangers, Mobile Stud Unit, Handsome Geoffrey, Trinket, Tweeter, Rumpus Room and Southern Tribe all appeared on the NZ on Air funded discs during this time. The station also continued with the Battle of the Bands and organised the Hamilton Street Art Festival which involved 100's of artists making temporary chalk drawings in Garden Place.
Constant battles with management led to changes in staff conditions throughout the station, which lead to the resignation of several staff. In December 1999 both Scott Newth and Greg Page ended their associations with UFM.
Penny Cantlon became the new Programme Director at the end of 1999 and further changes to the format were introduced from 2000 onwards, with a major overhauling of the playlist and stricter on-air conditions for announcers. Mark Tupuhi took over Greg Page's position on the Breakfast Show and co-hosted with Dean Ballinger; however, this partnership was soon ended, and a female announcer from a commercial radio background was brought in to prepare the show in the build-up to the Radio Survey period.
While the station continued to broadcast specialty shows, the increasingly rock format attracted much criticism from former Contact listeners. There were many hangovers from Contact, including the annual hosting of the Battle of the Bands and regular live-to-airs.
However, it was becoming apparent that UFM was caught somewhere between the past and the future. Staff were conscious of trying to retain the spirit of student radio, while management wished to move forward and completely dissociate the station from its past. In autumn 2000, Joe Dennehy announced that his former business partner from the Rock 93 FM, Grant Hislop, would be entering into a partnership with 89FM Ltd. Grant was, at this time, an A&R for Warner Music in Auckland, and it was decided that he would steer the direction of the station's format.
Martin Walters and Nathan Muller officially took over the Breakfast Show around this time, after an auditioning period had been endured. Shortly after this, core announcers were taken for a weekend away in Waitomo with Joe and Grant, where the issue of rebranding and renaming the station was introduced to them. In between tossing around ideas for a new station name and sound, a lot of drinking took place. While most of the announcers were keen to see electronic music stay on UFM's playlist, Grant talked mostly about his love of Knightshade and Blackjack, while Joe stated that he wanted to rename the station 'The Pig'. Staff returned from this weekend with high hopes for the future of UFM, in spite of Joe and Grant's comments, and many failed to realise that the Waitomo weekend had signalled the beginning of the end of UFM and the voicing of an ethos which would eventually lead to the creation of The Generator.
In December 2000, on the day that the staff Christmas Party was planned to be held, staff were advised that they would no longer be paid their full wages. If announcers wished to retain their positions, then they would in future be paid a salary of $4160 gross per year and would be expected to apply for the Unemployment Benefit in order to supplement their pay. Surprisingly, no staff quit at this time. Only the Programme Director was kept on at full pay. The Christmas Party was also cancelled.
At the beginning of 2001, UFM shifted premises again, this time to a smaller building upstairs in Victoria Street, above what is now The $2 Shop. There were no separating walls or individual offices in this new site, aside from a small room which acted as a production studio. The actual on-air studio was merely a desk situated at the far end of what was now a large open plan office space. Soon after this move, the Programme Director was made redundant. Staff were advised that programming and airchecks would now be overseen by Grant Hislop, with weekly programming meetings to be held by on-air staff and song choices approved by Grant. Another of Joe's cohorts from his time at The Rock, Martin Dempster, agreed to enter into the business partnership.
The station was almost entirely run by unpaid (or minimally paid) volunteers for much of 2001. Blackjack made its way onto the playlist. In July 2001, Joe Dennehy announced that UFM would be rebranded at the end of August as The Generator. A party was arranged and Goodshirt were invited to play, as Grant had only recently signed them to Warner (in spite of his best instincts - he had initially turned them away but took interest again after EMI drew up a deal). At 9pm that evening, the station IDs changed from UFM to The Generator and the UFM era was ended in an evening.
Many of the staff were laid off the following week - and the mid-dawn position (occupied by Dan Duran) was retaken by the computer, whom, despite not actually being the physical machine Eric, was still occasionally referred to as Eric).
Band Experiments controversy
In 2000, Click Sound announced they would be hosting a battle of the bands-type competition, entitled The Band Experiments. Seeing this as a direct threat to their own Battle Of the Bands, UFM management decided that any band who entered the Band Experiments would not be allowed to take part in the Battle Of the Bands, which was happening around the same time. This lead to the farcical situation where bands were entering both anyway, but using a fake band name for one of the competitions. After much criticism from the bands, gig-goers, Clinton, and many of UFM's own staff, the decision was rescinded.
- Scott Newth PD (1998-1999)
- Justin Harris (1998-1999)
- Greg Page (1998-1999)
- Aaron Watkinson (1998-1999)
- Debbie Cowan (1998-2000)
- Jane Pierard (1998-2000)
- Dean Ballinger (1998-2001)
- Martin Walters (1998-2001)
- Mark Tupuhi (1999-2000)
- Penny Cantlon PD (1999-2001)
- Roz Case (1999-2001)
- Nathan Muller (1999-2001)
- Nigel Stewart (1999-2001)
- Marc Tetzlaff (1999-2001)
- Dannii Vallely (1999-2001)
- Bennett Rowe (1999-2001)
- Slaveboy (Martin MacDonald) (2000-2001)
- Thom Burton (2000-2000)
- Damian Van Der Heijden (2000-2000)
- Tariqa Howe (2000-2001)
- Spud (Martin) (2000-2001)
- Dan Duran (2001-2001)
This is an incomplete list. Feel free to add to it.
- City Musicians Switch Titles in Bid to Win Battle of the Ban, Waikato Times, 6 June 2000, P3
- Radio Station Backs Down on Plans to Blacklist Bands, Waikato Times, 14 June 2000, P14