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70th Annual IBS College Radio Conference Hits NYC

70+ Years of College Radio Conferences for IBS

It seems that most folks have short-term memory when it comes to college radio, as there’s much nostalgia for the supposed college radio “heyday” in the 1980s. Many would be surprised (and even shocked) to know that student radio has a tradition going back for more than 70 years.

In fact, some of the earliest college radio stations began more than 80 years ago in the 1920s. As early as 1926, a group known as the College and University Association of Broadcasting stations boasted at least 28 station members. By 1940, another group of pioneering students were starting up campus-only stations and these efforts were what initially sparked the formation of the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System.

Beginning today, the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS) will celebrate more than 70 years in the college radio game, as it presents its 70th annual conference in New York City. Students from college, high school, and community radio stations (along with their professors, teachers, and advisers) will converge at the Hotel Pennsylvania for several days worth of sessions about the business and art of radio.

It’s a far cry from IBS’s first gathering in 1941, when, according to a New York Times blurb (12/28/1941, “People Seem to Like it”), representatives from 30 college radio stations met in New York City to “exchange notes on the tastes and habits of campus listeners.”

Last year I was lucky enough to attend the IBS conference in NYC. Although I can’t make it this time around, I will still be covering it over on Spinning Indie, where I will be hosting live Twitter feeds from the conference, as well as recaps of various sessions courtesy guest blogger (and college radio DJ) Amber Wilmot.

To get the low down on this year’s festivities, I chatted with IBS’s Chairman of the Board Len Mailloux, IBS President Norm Prusslin, and conference planning coordinator Michael Nevradakis about what they have in store for this year’s conference and for their thoughts on how college radio has changed since IBS’s beginnings in 1940.

Jennifer Waits: When did IBS begin and how many stations were involved?

Len Mailloux: It started in 1940 by George Abraham and David Borst, two classmates at Brown University who co-founded both the nation’s first student-run college radio station and IBS.

Jennifer: Are any of the original IBS stations still active? Which ones?

Len: I can say that many of our members have been with us for a decade or more and many have been part of IBS for much longer than that, several decades is some cases.

Panel at the 2009 IBS Conference in NYC

Jennifer: How many college radio stations are members of IBS now? How many high school radio stations?

Len: We have just over 800 members total. Most are college stations. We have seen a growing number of high school stations in the last few years because of the growth and relative in-expense of internet broadcasting.

Jennifer: What do you think the most significant changes have been to college radio in the past 70 years?

Len: I think the advent of web streaming on the net is probably the biggest single thing, at least in recent years. This has allowed many schools who could not get a full-fledged FCC license to take their voice to the entire world.

Jennifer: Tell me a bit about what you have in store for this year’s conference. Is there a specific focus?

Len: We have a tour of the Clear Channel stations and the Clear Channel Transmitter Center atop the Empire State Building. We’re offering two sessions on Back Pack Journalism where the students will shoot on the street, edit and post at the conference. We’re also running WIBS from the conference. This is an internet station that broadcasts through the IBS/Backbone Student Radio Network which has about 40 colleges as members. The live station from New York will stream through Apple iTunes, iPhones, Shoutcast and a number of other formats reaching a world audience.

Hunkering down at the 2009 IBS Conference in NYC

Jennifer: How has the conference changed in recent years?

Len: We have added Fall conferences in Boston and Chicago for the last seven years and are planning a Los Angeles conference this December. We’re trying to make it easier for our members to interact with us and with media professionals who can help them develop.

Michael Nevradakis: I began attending the IBS national conference in 2003, when I was a freshman at Stony Brook University…Since then, I’ve attended every year.  Beginning in 2004, when I was elected Program Director of WUSB-FM (Stony Brook University’s campus station), I’ve also had the opportunity to be on at least one panel at each year’s conference.

The conference has grown tremendously in the past few years in terms of the amount of sessions, panels and workshops that are offered, as well as in the amount, quality and diversity of the speakers and panelists who participate.  Sessions have been continuously added on new issues facing radio, media and broadcasting over the past several years, such as sessions focusing on mobile apps, social networking, web 2.0 applications, HD radio and many others.

Tours, which used to be an irregular part of the conference schedule, are now a mainstay year after year, including tours to the broadcast facilities atop the Empire State Building, the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio), and this year’s exciting new addition, a backpack journalism excursion on the streets of New York City.

For the last few years, conference attendees have also had the opportunity to webcast live from the conference on WIBS, and in recent years we’ve also begun to offer tickets to concerts and live shows taking place in New York City as giveaway items.

An additional change is that the IBS Student Radio Network has grown significantly over the past few years.  Beginning in 2009, we’ve added a special Thursday night meeting, prior to the start of the actual conference, for IBS-SRN member stations, that is also open to stations who are interested in joining the network.

One unfortunate change, however, is that fewer delegates are attending the conference from outside the Northeast region, likely due in part to the harsh reality that school budgets have been repeatedly slashed in recent years, making travel and lodging expenses to an event like the national conference unfeasible for many of those schools.

Jennifer: What brings people back year after year?

Michael: A lot of students really love the opportunity to come to New York City and to enjoy all that the city has to offer.  Aside from attending the conference, students really look forward to the chance to catch a live show and to explore Manhattan.

More importantly, IBS is a well-respected organization, with excellent and experienced personnel who have a passion for college radio and who truly care about and advocate for the member stations.

As far as the conference itself, I would say that the tremendous diversity of session topics, as well as the large number of panelists and speakers, many of whom are significant names in the radio, broadcasting, journalism or the music industry, is a major draw.  Indeed, I’ve gotten to know students who attended the IBS conference every year, who have since graduated and gone on to begin careers in radio or other media industries, who still come back each year as panelists, sharing their expertise with the current generation of students.

Jennifer: Who typically attends the annual conference in NYC?

Len: We have a large attendance from the Northeast but have schools from around the country join us each year. This year, I know that the University of Hawaii will attend, among others.

Jennifer: Anything different about this year’s conference? Are you doing something significant/celebratory for the 70th anniversary?

Len: We are offering the IBS Collegiate Broadcast Awards for the first time this year and plan to offer them from now on. This will honor stations for outstanding programming, public service, sports, promos and more.

Jennifer: Anything else?

Norm Prusslin: IBS conventions have served as the true yearly guideposts for the state of the college and school radio/web community. Over the years, whether in DC, Chicago, Philadelphia or the past many years in the big apple NYC, the IBS conferences have brought together some of the biggest names in the broadcast industry (ie Howard Stern and Don Imus) and music industry (members of the Allman Bros, Public Enemy, The Band, NRBQ, Joe Jackson, David Bromberg, Ellis Paul and The Turtles to name a few) to meet with college and school radio station staff. The IBS convention and conference shows the talent, skill and professionalism to be found in the upcoming generation of broadcasters.

Michael: It’s truly been a privilege to have had the opportunity to be associated with the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System.  The opportunity to help organize the past three national conferences has been truly exciting and rewarding, but what has been most meaningful for me has been the opportunity to give back to an organization which has done so much for a medium I am passionate about: college radio.  IBS is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, quite a remarkable achievement.  I wish IBS many more years of success in representing and advocating for college radio!

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