As technology continues to evolve, the shiny new toys of the digital world continue to roll out and entice the masses.
For student media producers, the temptation to try out every new platform can be overwhelming, but there are still tried and true mediums worth keeping in mind.
One is the radio.
The original broadcast medium has a long and storied history, and it is consistently used by most Americans. According to Pew Research Center data, since 2010 at least 83% of Americans 12 years or older listen to terrestrial radio each week.
Even so, it often gets overlooked. Students may not regularly tune in, and podcasts are essentially modern-day radio. However, there are valuable skills one can learn through working in the world of radio.
These can include learning how to speak clearly, manage an interview, have an on-air presence, provide live coverage of events, produce quality audio, and tell compelling stories, among others.
Granted, these skills can be learned in various ways, such as with video or television broadcasting. But the ubiquitous nature of radio gives it special appeal, and it doesn’t require the same types of equipment, which can be a cost barrier.
Also, research from 2022 indicates that, unlike other media industries, employment at radio stations is remaining steady, mirroring trends from 2004-2020, and radio employees report feeling more connected with the communities they cover, which is a nice benefit considering one-in-five U.S. adults get their local news from radio stations and half of U.S. adults get any news via radio.
Furthermore, listening to the radio is a passive activity. It can be done while doing other things, like doing the dishes or driving.
Now I know what you’re thinking: I can do the same thing with podcasts.
This is true, but podcasts can’t provide live, in-the-moment coverage of a news event.
For all these reasons and more, I pushed to bring a radio station back to Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas, which is where I work as an assistant professor of media.
Of course, we didn’t erect a 100-foot radio tower.
We just used Live365, which according to its “About Us” page is an “internet radio and broadcasting space” whose “end-to-end broadcast platform enables individuals and organizations alike by giving them a voice to reach audiences through easy-to-use tools and services, as well as licensing coverage and monetization options.”
It’s incredibly easy to use, and the monthly cost is manageable, even for those of us operating with little to no money in our media budgets.
We pay $60 per month, which is the base package called “Broadcast 1.” Each package is differentiated by the number of total listening hours (TLH) and media storage capacity.
For any of the packages, you can run your own ads or let the Live365 ads go through, and you can get a cut of the profits from the Live365 ads.
Also, you can go live from anywhere that you have an Internet connection, and you can create your own custom playlists and programming schedules that can include the podcasts students are producing or allow “AutoDJ” to just do the heavy lifting for you by randomly selecting music in your library to be played at any given time.
Of course, that is the one caveat here. Though the subscription provides music licenses, it doesn’t provide the actual music. You have to bring that to the table, and then the licenses allow you to play it without getting into legal trouble.
In a day and age where streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music dominate how people get their music, this could be a hurdle, but it can be overcome. If you don’t have the budget to buy each song from a service like iTunes, you can always hit up a local thrift store.
There you can buy cheap CDs. Then you just have to rip the tracks to your computer and upload it into your Live365 account.
If you already have music, you can have a station up and running in less than 15 minutes, but even if you have to go rummage through boxes at a garage sale, it isn’t difficult.
As long as your school’s Internet filter doesn’t block the site and prevent people from listening, you can expand your student media offerings in a unique way.
That’s the point of this. I’m not advertising for Live365. I am advocating for radio as one of the arrows in your student media program’s quiver.
The career opportunities seem to be strong, but even if they don’t go into the profession, students will be served well by gaining experience with the medium.
Radio is powerful. It connects people with a shared experience focused on stories, and it can transport the listener to the center of the action without being overly intrusive to the environment it is covering.
Such capabilities are needed to build strong communities, which is needed for civic engagement and our democracy.
After all, as the Radio Advertising Bureau wrote, “Radio doesn’t just reach the community; it is woven into the fabric of community. Radio stations bring consumers together and motivates them to act.”
If your student media program isn’t already doing some form of radio, think about the impact it could have. The results could be striking.