Archive for the ‘Broadcast Journalism’ Category

The Supreme Court should strike down a governmental policy allowing college radio stations to be fined for “fleeting expletives,” the Student Press Law Center and College Broadcasters, Inc., argue in a new friend-of-the-court brief.

SPLC and CBI joined forces for the brief in defense of college radio’s role as an often-live “laboratory for experimentation,” where, gasp, sometimes stray curse words are spoken.

The organizations’ problem: For the past decade, the Federal Communication Commission has operated as a “wide-ranging, randomly enforced indecency regime” waging a “crackdown on swear-words in over-the-air broadcasting.”  The resulting fines can reach a half million dollars, threatening student stations’ very existence simply due to a single broadcast’s “blurted curse-words.”

A portion of the brief: “The Commission’s current approach chills college broadcasters into self-censoring their speech so as to leave a broad buffer before reaching the indistinct boundary where indecency may (or may not) lie. This is the hallmark of an unconstitutionally vague regulatory regime.”

SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte: “[T]he risk of a five-figure or six-figure fine that could put a station out of business really discourages students from airing the very type of broadcasts that their audiences most want and that offer the most diversity in programming.”

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the related case, FCC v. Fox TV, in January.

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A New York Times feature on student radio has the media-verse abuzz, providing a glimpse of the evolving “ethos, content, and vibe of collegiate stations.” Amid the gloom-and-doom backdrop of increasing station sales and alleged confusion over college radio’s future, the picture presented is surprisingly (and refreshingly) positive.

Student staffers and station managers are described as passionate and proactive about digitizing and expanding upon their terrestrial base.  They are compiling podcasts and YouTube video reports; interacting with fans on Facebook; and updating station websites.  One station’s communications director: “We call ourselves a radio station.  But we’re really a multimedia content provider.”

The increased multimedia push seems to be part of a larger effort to compete with the online options tapping into college radio’s decades-long ‘undiscovered music’ niche.

As the Times write-up notes, “As mainstream radio in the 1980s and 1990s became more focused on profits, and hence more risk averse, college radio became one of the rare broadcast venues where new sounds could be introduced . . . [Yet, now] the power of these stations has been diluted because music blogs like Pitchfork and social networking sites, which [a former student DJ] calls ‘word of mouth on steroids,’ are offering those same opportunities to discover new music.”

Interestingly, according to the Times report, one of the most pronounced campus radio shifts is an increased desire to understand and cater to its audience.  DePaul University’s faculty station manager: “College students don’t want: You listen to what we tell you.  They want two-way communication.  They want to feel that their voice is being heard.”

College radio expert Jennifer Waits praises the Times for capturing “a bit of that positive college radio vibe, as it highlights the passionate people behind college radio.”

Waits recently interacted with oodles of college radio-heads at New York City’s CMJ Music Marathon and the ACP/CMA National College Media Convention, which partners with College Broadcasters, Inc.  (She was also nice enough to stop by one of my sessions at ACP/CMA to say hi.) :)

A portion of the synopsis she posted on Radio Survivor:

As I learned at CMJ and CBI, the “crisis” isn’t top of mind for most college radio DJs. At the beginning of the “Saving College Radio” panel at CMJ on October 20th, moderator Ken Freedman of WFMU asked the audience how many people were afraid their stations would be sold. Only a few hands were raised. A similar situation occurred during CBI’s “The College Radio Crisis (and How to Survive)” panel that I was on. When asked the same question, only a couple of hands were raised. Although only a small number of DJs expressed their fears publicly, a number of private conversations revealed that many college students are eager to fight for their stations’ futures.

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Roughly 350 student-run radio stations across the U.S. and Canada are taking to the airwaves in solidarity today, in hopes of “raising the profile of what college radio stations are doing across North America.”

The first College Radio Day is part celebration, part publicity/pledge drive, part protest.  As its co-organizers ask, “Isn’t it about time . . . that college radio stations came together for one day and reminded everyone how important we are?  From breaking new artists, producing creative and groundbreaking programming, to being the home of tomorrow’s famous broadcasters, college radio plays an important role in the North American media landscape.”

At some point today– along with possibly running live music, special interviews, and College Radio Day news bulletins– all participating stations are required to air an earnestly educational/call-to-arms keynote address titled, “College Radio in 2011: Its Past, Present & Future.”

Unfortunately, the latter looks especially bleak at the moment.  As a new USA Today report shares, “America’s college radio stations, long credited with giving that first break to little-known musicians and offering a voice for idiosyncratic viewpoints, are at risk of losing their identity to budget-cutters. . . . [A] steady stream of universities nationwide . . . have been selling or transferring their FM licenses to non-student operations, typically in response to tighter budgets and a rapidly changing media industry.”

Amid the changes, organizers and supporters have pegged College Radio Day as “a time to start tuning in and fighting back against the corporate takeover of radio.  It’s time to support creative programming and truly independent content and music you can’t find anywhere else.  It’s time to start giving back to the stations that help break the bands you love.  Come on!  Give it the old college try!  It’s time we all come together.”

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Note: Check out my updated 2012 list

A recent college graduate emailed me last week requesting a list of journalism and media conferences worth attending.  It is a fantastic question.

Below is a list of what I consider to be the most indispensable national-level get-togethers for those who are practicing, teaching, and still learning the craft of journalism.  They focus on a variety of skills and media and cover both the educational and professional sides of the field.  (Click on the images for more information on each.)

SPJ/RTDNA Excellence in Journalism, September 2011, New Orleans

Online News Association Conference, September 2011, Boston

ACP/CMA National College Media Convention, October 2011, Orlando

Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference, February 2012, St. Louis

ACP Midwinter College Journalism Convention, March 2012, Seattle

Click on image above, then scroll down a bit to get background info. (The fall one is still on top of course.)


CMA/CBI Spring College Media Convention, March 2012, NYC

Nothing on it online at the moment. It's held each year in NYC. Focus right now is on fall get-together in Orlando. Soon after that, info should be available at and

International Symposium on Online Journalism, April 2012, Austin

Broadcast Education Association Convention, April 2012, Las Vegas

Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference, June 2012, Boston

National Association of Black Journalists Convention, August 2012

Nothing online yet. The 2011 convention just wrapped.

AEJMC Conference, August 2012, Chicago

Not many details yet. The 2011 conference just wrapped.

I have no doubt my student press and non-broadcast-background biases are showing and that I’ve left off a few worthy gatherings.  So please let me know, politely: What other conferences should be on the list???  

(To be clear upfront, I did not include workshops, boot camps or regional conferences– they deserve separate lists.)

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College Broadcasters, Inc. (CBI) is calling for a moment of silence on college radio stations at exactly 11 a.m. EST this Thursday.  According to CBI, the aim of the synchronized dead air scheme is to “bring awareness of the deep impact that the sale of student radio stations is having on campuses and their surrounding communities.”

In recent years, an increasing number of high-profile terrestrial student radio stations have been sold or operate under the threat or rumor of sale.   The bottom line of the many rationales offered by an array of administrators is money– and universities not having enough of it or wanting more of it and looking for the easiest ways to make it.  The result, as impassioned college radio scholar Jennifer Waits has written, even the most popular, reputable, and venerable student stations are being eyed as “potential purchase targets.”

CBI president Candace Walton: “The recent sale of stations like KUSF at the University of San Francisco, KTRU at Rice University and WNAZ at Trevecca Nazrene University indicates that college broadcasters need to do a better job of explaining their value and purpose to the schools and communities they serve.  This minute of silence is just the first step in a broader effort to make the nation aware of how critical student stations are to localism in broadcasting.”

KUSF’s sudden shutdown/sale right before semester’s start has spurred some of the most dramatic moments in the ongoing battle for college radio’s terrestrial presence.

Below are screenshots of two must-watch related videos– KUSF staff approaching a USF administrator almost immediately after being kicked out of the station and a public forum the next night presided over by USF’s president (also a Jesuit priest).

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Does college radio still deserve a “terrestrial footprint“?

Student stations on or near campuses nationwide continue to provide undergrads with invaluable on-air experience and act as the last bastions of non-mainstream music promotion.  But their relevancy to student listeners and survival prospects on the FM dial are under renewed scrutiny.

According to a Sunday New York Times report, “[A]s colleges across the country look for ways to tighten budgets amid recession-induced shortfalls, some administrators- most recently in the South- have focused on college radio, leading even well-endowed universities to sell off their FM stations.”

Of course, college radio has never been a cash cow or even a break-even financial enterprise.  Repositioning as online-only outlets will certainly save the stations- and by extension their supporting schools- money, but at what cost?

An in-progress map of U.S. student-run, non-commercial radio stations. Click on the screenshot to access the related site.

KTRU, Rice University’s student-run station, recently had its FM signal sold by the school.  In the words of its station manager, “DJing for an Internet radio station is not quite the same thing as DJing over the air.  We don’t have that inherent sense of locality that you would on the air. . . . For the immediate and near future, FM is still the most important form of radio.”

Yet, even some of college radio’s staunchest supporters admit a shift in form and function might be needed to ensure its analog presence does not fall entirely into the Internet abyss.

As an op-ed earlier this week in Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times argued, “[I]f students at other universities want to keep this traditional media, they need to find creative ways to drive traffic to the FM stations. . . . For instance, what if college dining halls were to play college radio stations? . . . Perhaps campus radio stations should broadcast from important on-campus events, when possible. They might seek revenue by allowing student organizations to pay for discounted advertising on the airways. . . . [I]t can amplify the college perspective, providing an important avenue where students can voice concerns or advise others on social issues. Programming does not have to be limited to unconventional music styles.”

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Think “War of the Worlds,” circa 2010.  Inspired by the classic Orson Welles alien invasion broadcast, students at Boston University’s WTBU Radio are staging a similarly apocalyptic multimedia serial set in present day.

The threatening creatures in the five-part WTBU narrative are not extraterrestrials, but zombies- “complete with flesh wounds, protruding bones, maggots, and rotting skin.”  The broadcast’s title: “The Undead End.”

As the station explains, “The story will be told mainly through news reports on WTBU Radio and will gradually evolve to form a grand narrative that chronicles the road to the zombie apocalypse. What makes ‘Undead End’ different, however, is its focus on audience interaction and participation in order to create an immersive storytelling experience.”

WTBU’s Performance Department is spearheading the “Undead” production.  The core radio reports are being complemented by a slew of cross-media tie-ins and multimedia extras, including video of a zombie attack (an open casting call was held) and a full-blown faux news site.  As the performance team confirms, “We also plan on supplementing the story by including articles that will be published in the BU paper [The Daily Free Press] and the WTBU blog, as well as videos to be posted online.”

The opening broadcast premiered last week.  New episodes will air each Thursday evening for the rest of the month.  Will Bostonians- and the rest of humanity- survive this “zombie apocalypse”? As the production’s tagline warns:

Prepare yourself for the Undead End.

A screenshot of the online outlet detailing related "Undead" news.

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