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Intercollegiate Broadcast System Chicago conference focused on professionalization

Intercollegiate Broadcasting System

This past Saturday I attended the Intercollegiate Broadcast System’s Midwest conference in Chicago, hosted by Columbia College. This was my first IBS conference, despite having advised a Chicago-area college station for the last four years.

This one-day event was billed for high schools in addition to colleges, and the attendance appeared equally split between secondary and post-secondary students and advisors. The majority of sessions were dedicated to on-air work and how students can produce better programming, with sessions dedicated to production, radio drama, sports and morning shows. Social media and internet were also significant components of the conference, both with regard to promoting a station and audience interaction.

There was also a strong emphasis on radio as a career, with many sessions dedicated to creating a good demo reel and how to get into the industry. It was this aspect of the conference I found most curious, since the number of jobs in the radio industry has shrunk significantly over the last sixteen years. I acknowledge that many students in high school and college radio do have their sights set on a career in radio, but I must admit to being surprised at just how much of the conference was given over to these professional ambitions at this moment in radio history.

WCRX logo

Given the balance of stations represented, the sessions seemed tilted towards college and high school stations that mimic commercial formats and approaches to broadcasting, rather than those which hew to a more traditional type of college radio, which embraces underrepresented music, ideas and culture, attempting to be an alternative to commercial radio, rather than a farm league. In part this particular emphasis of IBS Chicago probably stems from the orientation of the host station WCRX at Columbia College.

During the day WCRX is a tightly playlisted Top 20 station during the daypart, where students have 3 –7 minutes per hour to make their mark with voice breaks. As the only surviving 4-year bachelor’s degree radio program, this format fits with the apparent aim to train students for the radio industry; there’s no denying this is the way most commercial radio is operated. And, to be fair. WCRX airs specialty programs of many types on the evenings and weekends. Nevertheless, IBS Chicago seemed primarily aimed at the station and student DJ looking to break into mainstream commercial radio.

My favorite session was “Programming and Hosting a Show from Scratch,” which featured panelists from Chicago’s public radio station, a Sirius/XM radio host, a host and operations manager from a online only station and the host of a nighttime dance music program. Everyone on the panel was thoughtful and gave realistic advice, but I was particularly impressed by the Sirius/XM host Abe Kanan, a Columbia College alum who started a podcast in his bedroom that was discovered by Howard Stern, then picked up for his satellite radio channel. Kanan was blunt is his assessment of the industry, acknowledging that most stations are automated and voicetracked, noting that big owners like Clear Channel are less interested in any individual station than dominating a particular market. He observed that Clear Channel would flip the format of a successful station in order to try and hit a different audience or demographic. But he was also encouraging in his advice to students to figure out their own on-air personalities and to run with it and do their own thing.

Outgoing Chicago Public Radio afternoon host Steve Edwards echoed and balanced Kanan’s advice, telling students “don’t try to be the next Howard Stern, be the next you.” Both Edwards and Kanan stressed how much off-air preparation matters for having a good on-air performance. Edwards summary advice was to be the “best performing you,” on air, and that the authenticity will matter.

There were two elements that I really wished had been covered at the conference: alternative career paths and student station governance. As a college radio advisor I have had the rare privilege of watching four classes of students grow, learn and mature with their experiences in college radio. Only a fraction get into the radio or broadcast industry, and yet many more are able to apply the skills and knowledge they gain in their college experience to their post-graduate careers. I think it would be extremely valuable for college and high school radio students to learn how they can utilize this experience even if they aren’t able to get radio industry jobs, or don’t want them in the first place.

Being at IBS Chicago also reminded me that many school stations are run primarily by professional staff, often veterans of the radio industry. These are stations that serve much more explicitly as training grounds and are more integrated into curriculum than stations which are student-run clubs or extra-curricular activities. My own college radio experience was the latter type, and the station I advise is also in that mold. I didn’t get a sense for the breakdown of how many students in attendance were from which kind of station. Nevertheless, I think that at least one session tackling the challenges that student managers face would be useful and appropriate.

As we have chronicled here at Radio Survivor, college radio is at a bit of a crossroads as we dive into the second decade of the 21st century. Yet, despite the attention paid to internet broadcasting and social media, the IBS Chicago conference otherwise seemed firmly rooted in the 1990s, in somewhat willfull denial of the devastation that industry consolidation wreaked upon commercial radio and the industry as a whole. I don’t know if it’s wishful thinking, or a sort of protective bubble.


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5 Responses to Intercollegiate Broadcast System Chicago conference focused on professionalization

  1. Jerry Drawhorn October 3, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Paul~ Can’t agree more with your assessment. In fact I think that few College Radio people have entered the broadcast industry since the 1970’s. In the late 60’s and early ’70’s with the boom of, first, Free Form, then progressive rock formats there was a demand for intelligent, culturally aware programmers. That went into a steep dive in the 1980’s…even with the emergence of Modern Rock formats. Consolidation, syndication, a return to repetitive Top 40 formats developed by Consultants…and the elimination of the technical requirements to get a FCC License made have a college education largely irrelevant.

    My station, KDVS, even in the heydays of the 1970’s had about 20 individuals (out of 400 DJ’s, News and Public Affairs programmers in that decade) get jobs in broadcasting. In the four decades since (over 1000 staff) there has been three, only one on-air (the other in Promotions and one in Ad Sales).

    But the skills learned in management, publicity, producing live concerts, using a digital computer to produce carts, setting up benefit concerts, doing research for interviews, etc. have been much more beneficial. These are broader skill sets that are applicable to a wide range of professions.

    When I go through the Alumni lists from KDVS the former staff have been amazingly successful in areas that one might think have little direct relationship to radio. Yet putting together program guides, doing posters, using a mixing board, and others skills can be related to their work. Most of academic life doesn’t give students a chance at managing a business, working with their peers, and seeing broader relationships between media and the world. Focussing all ones energies on getting a job in commercial radio is more than likely going to lead to disappointment and remorse that one didn’t approach their programming in other ways.

  2. Fritz Kass October 3, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    From the IBS – Intercollegiate Broadcasting System point of view – both Paul and Jerry are spot on. Thanks for your comments and observations.

    Each of the six coast to coast conferences IBS sponsors/hosts/financially supports ($15,000 total) are different. (Boston – NY City (2) – Chicago (2) – Los Angeles)

    IBS Columbia College Chicago is aimed at IBS’s high school radio members. High School IBS Members are about a third of total IBS membership.

    IBS’s President, Chris Thomas, is the teacher/manager of a Chicago area High School Radio Station.

    Paul is from IBS Member WNUR – Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, Jerry is from IBS Member KDVS – University of California, Davis. Paul is the Advisor of WNUR Four WNUR students also attended IBS Chicago.

    When IBS conducted a survey prior to our Chicago Conference we sent the survey out to 1,712 IBS Members and prior attendees. The question we asked was, “What session/topic would you like to see added to any/all of the next six IBS – Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, Inc., coast-to-coast conferences in the next six months?”

    The overwhelming response was: “Job Search Strategies in the New Media Age”

    Jerry is absolutely correct the overall education mission of IBS is not to train people for the broadcast industry, but instead to give students the opportunity to, quoting Jerry, to learn “skills … in management, publicity, producing live concerts, using a digital computer to produce carts, setting up benefit concerts, doing research for interviews, etc. have been much more beneficial.”

    School/College Radio/TV is a fun way to learn critical skill sets in technology, technique, and communication for a modern organization. Like a chemistry or physics lab, a radio/TV station is a life skill lab.

    Out of the 30 – 40 seminars presented at IBS conferences most of the sessions directly educate on current broadcasting skill sets using industry professionals and faculty broadcasting professionals/staff. Naturally music and formats are covered. Depending on the audience interest some music/format(s) will get more discussion. As every radio person knows it is critical to speak to the audience, keep the audience engaged, and the station/session relevant.

    Making/Keeping customers happy are the key to the success of every organization in business, education, and government.

    The mostly high school audience in Chicago also wanted to know what college and college courses are like. Columbia College is an ideal setting to introduce high school students to the media, radio, TV, journalism, etc., courses that are taught at most of the hundreds of IBS Member schools/colleges.

    Some of the industry professionals at IBS Chicago offered to hire, or provide internships, for Chicago area students. Much to the surprise of the students attending an IBS conference for the first time, all (100%) of these jobs/internships were in sales and the business side of broadcasting. Most of the student interest was on the programming and music side of broadcasting.

    IBS also provides at these conferences a lot of very specific legal/regulatory advice on FCC license renewals, new LPFM opportunities, and of course current copyright fees, or lack there of, for IBS Members.

    IBS will be back in Chicago November 1 – 4, 2012, as a sponsor/exhibitor and radio session provider for the CMA/ACP (College Media Association Advisors/Advisers) and the student press folks. In the CMA conference there are no high school students so the IBS part of the program, twelve sessions, therefore the sessions are not about broadcast formats. Instead they cover critical issues about making your station relevant, FCC Public Files, license renewal, and getting an FCC license.

    See: (

    Over the last few years NO IBS Member FCC license has been sold or transferred. In fact over the last few years over ten- (10) IBS Members have received IBS LPFM licenses. In spite of press to the contrary college radio is gaining more FCC licenses than are losing them.

    High wattage (50,000 watt) expensive to operate stations with limited on campus student support have been sold/transferred but these are not IBS Member stations, or stations like WNUR (Paul) that attend IBS coast to coast conferences.

    Over 2,500 students and faculty will attend the five IBS only conferences in 2012.

    Another 4,000 students, most from student newspapers, will attend the two 2012 CMA conferences where only IBS provides the radio/regulatory sessions/speakers.

    IBS is the sole College Media Association (CMA) electronic media partner:

    CMA says, “Listed below are some selected organizations that serve college student media:

    IBS-Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, Inc.

    IBS represents schools/colleges in radio, television, webcasting and other media related ventures.

    Over 200 industry professionals participate in our IBS International School/College Radio/Webcast in over 100 sessions and 20 tours in March each year. The annual IBS March conference has been consistently conducted for the last 72 years.

    Paul is right some of our speakers have been the same since the 1980s.

    Allen Myers, who spent 37 years at the FCC working with FCC FM NCE stations has been an IBS speaker for over 40 years. Allen is now IBS Vice President for FCC Licensing and Regulatory Matters & IBS Board Member. Allen’s valuable services are provided FREE to IBS Members every day of the year, and to all at IBS and CMA conferences.

    All IBS Board Members, Officers, Staff, and Speakers are volunteers. No one at IBS is paid, part time, full time, or honorarium.

    Thank YOU, Paul and Jerry.

    IBS invites everyone help IBS constantly review and improve the quality of IBS Coast-to-Coast Conferences and Collaborations.

    Very Respectfully,


    Fritz Kass, IBS Passionate Volunteer, CEO/COO

    Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, Inc. (IBS)

    367 Windsor Highway

    New Windsor, NY 12553-7900

    Telephone: 845-565-0003

    Facsimile: 845-565-7446


    24 hour updated IBS websites:

    Facebook: IBSCollegeRadio


    US Court of Appeals (DC Circuit)

    Friday, July 6, 2012

    Case 11-1083

    IBS v. CRB (SoundExchange Intervenor for CRB)

    Court agrees with IBS:

    CRB – Copyright Royalty Board is UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

    $500 minimum fee to SoundExchange is vacated for IBS Members!

    IBS Fall 2012 Coast-to-Coast Conferences:

    October 27, 2012, New York City

    IBS/CUNY Kingsborough Community College Media Conference

    Hosted by WKRB-FM CUNY Kingsborough Community College

    November 17, 2012, Boston, MA

    IBS/Simmons College Radio/Webcasting Conference

    Hosted by Simmons College at FENWAY

    December 1, 2012, West Coast Conference

    IBS/Champs Radio/Webcasting Conference

    Hosted by CHAMPS Charter High School of the Arts, Los Angeles, CA

    Chicago, Boston, and NY City IBS Conferences

    are held at accredited colleges for broadcasting and media.

    Sessions often include Broadcasting Faculty and leading

    broadcasting text book authors.

    Other Conferences where IBS provides Speakers/Support/Exhibit(s):

    College Media Association (CMA)(ACP)

    National Fall College Media Convention (Nov 1 – 4, 2012)

    Chicago, IL

    Spring National College Media Convention (March 14 – 16, 2012)

    New York City


    73nd Annual International IBS School – College Radio – Webcasting Conference

    March 1 – 3, 2013, in New York City at Hotel Pennsylvania

    featuring over 150 speakers and over 1,000 attendees.

    IBS Student Radio Network by Backbone national Affiliates Conference will be Thursday, February 28, 2013, with the IBS NYC International Member Conference, (Fri/Sat/Sun) March 1 – 3, 2013.

    IBS Fall 2013 Coast-to-Coast Conferences:

    September 28, 2013 Chicago, IL

    Columbia College Chicago Radio/Webcast Conference

    Midwest Regional High School and College Radio Conference

    Sponsored by Radio Department of Columbia College Chicago

    IBS Accepts:

    VISA – MasterCard – Discover Card

    24/365 IBS Member Services

    Over 70 years of continuous member service

    Over 70 year old education corporation

    All IBS Board Members, Officers, Staff, and Speakers are all volunteers

    100% of YOUR IBS Dues and Conference fees go back to you in services!

    IBS Members are across the USA, and in Europe and Asia.

    Coast to Coast Conferences (Over 200 sessions/seminars annually)

    Printed, mailed, and e-mailed IBS Color Newsletters during academic year.

    (Send your updated e-mail address(s) to receive your copies)

    FCC liaison helping IBS Members to avoid violations and challenges.

    FCC license renewal assistance, as ALL FCC NCE (Noncomm), LPFM,

    licenses are now being renewed over next two years.

    Allen Myers – IBS VP – IBS Board Member

    Allen was with the FCC 37 years before recently retiring to join IBS.

    Awards for IBS Members:

    Earn an IBS International Education Broadcasting/Webcasting Award!

    Over 120 IBS Trophy AWARDS presented annually!

    Best Faculty/Staff/Adjunct IBS Member Station Advisors

    Apply TODAY!

    IBS Master Handbook – We wrote the book!

    IBS Academic Guide to Starting and Passionately Programming School/College Radio Station

  3. Chris October 3, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    While it is true that it is harder and harder to get a job in radio these days, the fact remains that jobs still exist. Sure they are different than they were a few years ago, but if a student really wants to go into the field of commercial radio then why shouldn’t there be conferences, sessions, etc for them. I think everyone along the way will tell them it is tough out there, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go for it. What if everyone along your route told you that getting a job teaching/advising at a college or university was tough. What is people discouraged you from your passion?

    Maybe there should be a few more sessions on the realities of the field, but I don’t think that just because it is a tough job market in an even tougher field doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be sessions or assistance for those who want to go into it.

    The problem with approaching college radio programming in the more underground, fun way is that it then becomes a blast of a club or activity for those kids involved in it (and yes, as Jerry points out there are many other lessons to be learned from that environment outside of radio ones), but what about those who actually do want to learn broadcasting skills, presentation skills and radio skills that will help them land a job in the field they feel passionate about? I actually would applaud WCRX for how it handles its format. It is a good split between letting them have fun and training them for what to expect in the job market.

  4. Paul Riismandel October 3, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

    @Fritz, thanks for the perspective on the conference, and the reasoning behind the balance of sessions. I admit that I didn’t do a lot of research before signing up for IBS Chicago, hence why I was a bit surprised. IBS is a great organization, and I hope that my comments are taken to be constructive.

    I do not mean to be critical of WCRX and its role as host for the conference. As the home to the only 4-year radio major left in the US, Columbia College is a very appropriate venue, especially given the emphasis on high school stations. I also appreciate the way that WCRX is tightly knit into the curriculum so that students are truly putting into practice the things they’re learning in the classroom.

    @Chris, I’m not advocating for sessions on the “realities of the field,” nor discouraging students from their passion. I’m also not arguing that there shouldn’t be panels covering professionalism, presenting and other on-air and programming skills. Rather I think a few sessions could cover alternate career paths for the skills learned in high school or college radio. Like Jerry Drawhorn mentions, some of those skills are in leadership and organizing, and some of those are in presenting and programming.

    I don’t think there has to be a firm dichotomy between “underground” and “para-professional” college radio with regard to the skills learned, and the professional opportunities. Plenty of less professionalized stations offer students the opportunity to learn presentation skills as part of a news or sports department, for instance, both under the mentorship of faculty and more experienced students. At the same time stations with a more professional bent can offer students the opportunity to embrace the freedom afforded by college radio to create programs that have little chance of being on a commercial station (as I acknowledged that WCRX does).

  5. Chris October 4, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    @Paul: Agreed. I hope my post didn’t come off as an attack on your views or viewpoints as that is certainly not what it was meant to be. That (as I am sure you and everyone on this site is aware) is one of the problems with posting online 🙂

    And I very much agree with both you and Jerry on the fact that these students will more than likely not go into professional broadcasting but they will still have many “take-away” skills from their time in college radio…leadership, management, budgets, etc.

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