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Campus View: Summertime Blues

Is there a cure for summer break downtime at college radio stations?

The author is president of College Broadcasters Inc. Campus View appears regularly

When I was a student staff member at WNUR(FM) at Northwestern University in Chicago, I never gave any thought to what they did over the summer. I went home and, in those pre-internet days, I couldn’t listen or do a show remotely even if I wanted to. The station just magically seemed to reappear when I returned to campus in September.

Of course, it’s not that simple. The twin technologies of streaming and automation make it easier for a college station to stay on the air — and retain their far-flung student listeners — throughout the summer. And recent challenges to college radio license renewals — based on the requirement for licensees to broadcast at least 12 hours a day — and the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum staffing and public file requirements make it vital that college stations maintain their operations year-round with as little disruption as possible. This can be quite difficult for student-run operations on campuses which clear out when classes end.

There are a number of ways college stations overcome these hurdles. Of course, automation and voice-tracking is part of the solution. Some stations lengthen individual shifts to compensate for missing DJs. A few even have hosts prerecord entire shows to use throughout the summer.

Community members also help fill the gap. Some student-only stations allow community members to host shows in the summer. Others, such as WTUL(FM) at Tulane University in New Orleans, allow a limited number of nonaffiliates to do shows year-round but, in summer, become predominately nonstudent hosted.

This has positive and negative impacts, according to Tulane Student Media Adviser Tel Francois Bailliet. On the plus side, says Bailliet, “It keeps us on the air [without automation] and it keeps us tied to the local community.” A down side is that “There isn’t much station spirit in the summer.” The on-air sound is also impacted. “The programming skews a little more ‘retro’ sometimes,” according to Bailliet, “and less cutting-edge indie.”

WBSU(FM), at SUNY Brockport, in Brockport, N.Y., has one of the most creative solutions to the summer dilemma. They hire four student DJs who each do five shifts a week, providing live coverage 6 a.m.–8 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m.–8 p.m. weekends. Voice-tracking and automation, along with a few local “sub-jocks,” round out the schedule.

Each of the four jocks also has an off-air role (program director, PR, music, production), edits at least one playlist per week, records one promo and one events calendar per week and runs two off-campus PR events during the summer at a local festival or fair.

WBSU Adviser Warren Kozireski feels this is not only beneficial to the station, but also for the summer student staffers. “It provides those students with a real feel for what their professional life will be like after college — even if it is for just 3 1/2 months.” says Kozireski. “Or they find out they don’t like it and move on to other things.”

How often do they move on to other things? Fortunately, according to Kozireski, only about one summer DJ a decade changes their major.

So, at least in Brockport, the industry’s upcoming talent aren’t just fair weather friends of radio.