I was excited to hear a few months back about the work going on at Youngstown State University to launch Rookery Radio, a brand new online-only radio station. It’s easy for me to get fixated on sad news about station shutdowns, so it’s nice to see that there are campuses where new radio ventures are embraced.
Campus radio existed at Youngstown State in the past, with a campus-only station (WUGS) broadcasting until 1996. By 1998 efforts were underway to explore reviving student radio and an online-only station, the wYre, came online briefly in 2004 and was followed by some podcasting efforts under the same name. Fast-forward to 2011 and Rookery Radio has arrived on the scene, launching in an off-campus location in an attempt to bridge the school with the local community.
To get a behind-the-scenes look at the launch of Rookery Radio at Youngstown State (in Youngstown, Ohio), I caught up with the station’s adviser Adam Earnheardt. Adam is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and has a background in both college radio and commercial radio.
He shares with me how last month’s station launch came to be and talks about his students’ plans for the station. Although they are happy to be online, they are also taking a close look at opportunities over LPFM.
Jennifer Waits: Can you tell me a bit about radio at Youngstown State? Has there ever been a student radio station? If so, when did it exist and what happened to it?
Adam Earnheardt: Student radio died before my time at Youngstown, I think about 10 or 15 years ago. My understanding is that there were several iterations of student radio delivered on campus primarily through carrier current. But when funding dried up, so did the radio station. Since then, two or three groups of students attempted to revive it, but there was never really any money or administrative support behind those groups.
Jennifer: When did discussions/planning begin for Rookery Radio and what was that spark that got it all started? Who was the driving force behind it?
Adam: I think the Dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts, Bryan Depoy, was the spark. I started talking about student radio when I arrived at YSU in 2005. I was just shocked, I guess, that students didn’t have this outlet. This is not suggest the lack a media presence on campus – quite the contrary. We have a student newspaper, and students are producing television content. But when Dean Depoy approached me about ideas that would “benefit all students” he jumped at the radio idea. He was incredibly receptive to the idea – and because of his unwavering support, it grew wings.
Jennifer: Has the plan always been for this new station to be Internet-only? Are you investigating LPFM in light of the recently signed Local Community Radio Act?
Adam: Yes, the plan has always been to be internet-only – with the potential to jump on an HD channel at a local station. But without students radio, my students had no idea about the Local Community Radio Act, let alone much interest. But now that they know, they’re fired up and ready to pursue at LPFM license (5 Rookery Radio students attended the National College Media Convention in Louisville in October 2010). Honestly though, I feel this is the right way to do it. We have most of the right pieces in place to go FM, we just need some fine-tuning (no pun intended).
Jennifer: How are you funding the station? I know that last fall you competed for a Pepsi Refresh Project Grant. What other methods of fund raising are you pursuing? Is the school helping out?
Adam: Funding is coming in from a variety of places, including my local community supporters. And although our pursuit of the Pepsi Refresh grant fell through – it gave us incredible publicity. So when folks found out we didn’t fair too well, they wanted to help. Some gave us small donations, and a few gave thousands of dollars. It was amazing to see the outpouring of support. Also, in the spring, our students raffled two Elton John tickets. It just so happened that Elton John played Youngstown and the concert sold out in 15 minutes. We had two tickets donated, so th students chose to raffle them off and made $1700. They used that money to purchase t-shirts, pens, bumper stickers and other promotional items.
Jennifer: I see that there’s a public FM station (WYSU) on campus that was a charter member of NPR. Has that station ever been a resource for students?
Adam: WYSU has been a fantastic resource for students, and an ally of Rookery Radio. They offered us advice on equipment, how to handle underwriting, and have indirectly trained some of our student jocks. But that’s the limit of the relationship. In short, they play classical music most of the day. It’s a college-based radio station, but they’ll be the first to admit – they’re not
college radio. However, some of our students are currently working in both places. Our student webmaster, for example, works upwards of 20 hours a week for WYSU and devotes the rest of his “free time” to Rookery.
Jennifer: What is the goal of Rookery Radio programming-wise? Is there a philosophy in place about the type of music you will play/types of programs that will air?
Adam: Rookery has two primary missions. First and foremost is student skill development. We want students to learn about the radio industry – as much as they can by volunteering at an internet-only station. Our philosophy on programming is pretty wide open. I’ve compared it to a biology lab or a chemistry lab – you think you know what should happen when you mix contents together – and you hope it doesn’t blow up in your face. 99% of the time what you get is something really cool – something beautiful.
Secondly, we want to be a vehicle to promote the continued revitalization of the heart of the rust belt – Youngstown and Warren, Ohio – the Mahoning Valley. We are not housed on campus, and that was done on purpose. We are actually in downtown Youngstown, in the heart of the city, at the Youngstown Business Incubator. The offered us space, utilities, and technical advice to get us up and running. In return, we hope to someday showcase the companies that get their start at the YBI – and to promote local business and community organizations.
Jennifer: How many students are involved with Rookery Radio?
Adam: About 40 right now. We have an exec board with 7 students including a station manager, marketing director, webmaster, etc.
Jennifer: Will you have the ability to play physical music (vinyl, CDs, tapes, etc.)?
Adam: We’re set up to play CDs and mp3s, but we hope to add vinyl when we make our move to the first floor of the YBI. Right now we’re on the fourth floor, but they want us to be on the first floor, in a window studio looking on one of Youngstown’s main streets.
Jennifer: How did you end up working on this project? Do you have a background in college radio?
Adam: I worked for several radio staiton during my college years including WITR at the Rochester institute of Technology in Rochester, NY, WCUC and WCCB at Clarion University in Clarion, PA and I interned at one of the largest FM station in Pittsburgh, WDVE. After a short stint with WJFK in Washington, DC and WOYL in Oil City, PA after college, I chose a different path – but always missed radio. To be part of this again brings back some great memories.
Jennifer: What are you most excited regarding the station launch?
Adam: I’m most excited for my students. Some of them, all of a sudden, have a passion, a spark, I haven’t seen before. What’s even more interesting is that students involved with the radio station that were marginal students in the classroom are now excelling in their studies (at least in my classes). I show up at the studio now and I get goosebumps some times – I see their excitement and it makes all the work, all the planning, pay off.
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