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Podcast 39 - College Radio feature image

Podcast #39 – Is College Radio Too Small for Its Own Good?

Is college radio too small for its own good? Or is its smallness a hidden asset?

Those are the questions we take up this week with guest Ken Mills. He’s a radio consultant who works with non-commercial, commercial and college stations. Ken explains why he thinks college radio is hampered by its smallness in a spirited discussion with our college radio correspondent Jennifer Waits, along with hosts Eric Klein and Paul Riismandel.

Then, Eric shares some audio from the antenna raising for the new LPFM station Portland Freeform. He discovered that many of the new station’s volunteers were inspired by their college radio experience, and he shares some of their comments.

We need a new tagline for the show. Please help us come up with one sentence–that we can say in one breath–that describes what we do. Leave us a comment, or tweet us with your suggestion using the hashtag #radiosurvivortagline.

Show Notes


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One Response to Podcast #39 – Is College Radio Too Small for Its Own Good?

  1. aaronread April 6, 2016 at 9:34 am #

    Here’s a little bit of shameless self-promotion. I wrote extensively on these topics back in 2011. Looks like things haven’t changed much since then.

    First, I had some thoughts on the Three Lies College Radio Tells Everyone, Including Itself.

    Next, I wrote a long how-to on how college radio stations can protect themselves from a sale by their parent institution.

    I want to call attention to a point I raise in the summary at the end: “For a frightening number of college radio outlets, the volunteer/staff structure, management structure, funding structure and programming styles have remained essentially unchanged since the 1980’s.” I think this explains a lot about the parts of college radio that have gone wrong: they’re stuck in an operating mentality that predates the communications revolution of the internet. No wonder they have a lot of trouble making a connection with their local communities (both on- and off-campus) of listeners.

    A little earlier I also share one of my favorite aphorisms, and it dovetails nicely with a point Ken raises: many college radio stations operate like a “club” instead of a “business”. I’m using specific meanings for those terms, so hear me out: a “business” has “customers”. So it identifies a customer base, and provides a product/service that the customers “buy” (in radio’s case, they “buy” with their time spent listening). And if the customers want changes to the product/service, or want a different product/service, the business makes changes to accommodate (within reason).

    A “club” is different. A club exists for the benefit of its members. If others outside the club benefit, too, that’s nice but it’s not the priority. A golf course certainly doesn’t mind if property values go up for the houses in the neighborhood around it, but that’s not their customer. The customer is the paying members of the golf course.

    Most college radio stations operate like clubs. They give tremendous authority to their members, often at the expense of the product their customer base is consuming. And their funding is largely internal (e.g. student activity fees) and disconnected from the overall performance of the broadcast product.

    I should emphasize: THERE IS NOTHING “WRONG” WITH BEING A “CLUB”. But it does make you vulnerable to having your FCC license sold because a “club” has absolutely no need for an FCC AM/FM license. All the functions of a “club”-style radio station can be duplicated on a web-only “radio station”. And it doesn’t even take all that much funding and man-hours to do it, either.

    Unfortunately, many colleges don’t care about that. They see the sale of an AM/FM license as a way to raise some quick cash while simultaneously eliminating a major expense. Whether AM, FM or web, a radio station is “expensive” to operate relative to most other non-athletic student activities. Sometimes, the radio station costs more than all other student activities *combined*! So the administration is either uninterested or unwilling to invest the money necessary for a web-only radio station to be an effective student activity.

    I get into just how much money is needed, and for what purposes, in the above URL. But I also want to add that far too many college radio stations just do an absolutely terrible job at raising money. They have this fantastically valuable asset, something virtually no other campus organization has, and they squander it. (another reason the station can be vulnerable to a sale…even if the station thinks they’re not squandering it, the administration probably will think they are!)

    So I wrote another article about how college radio stations can be more effective at selling underwriting spots. I don’t deny it’s not easy, but there ARE tricks you can pull to make it a lot less difficult. Best of all, even the small stations…like LPFM’s…can make use of these tricks to bring in some revenue.


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