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Go West, Young Broadcaster!

At CBI conference, terrestrial radio is still relevant to hopeful students

Taylor Jones, KWVA(FM) music director, describes the logistics of live sessions.

Shannon Phelps, general manager of KXSU(FM), shows off a banner that reflects Seattle University’s new LPFM call letters. The week before Halloween, College Broadcasters Inc. held its annual National Student Electronic Media Convention in Seattle.

Student broadcasters from college and high school radio and television stations spent a few days connecting with peers and learning from media experts.

CBI’s largest solo event to date, the conference drew approximately 400 attendees from around country and attracted some 70 vendors and guest speakers.

Sessions ranged from roundtable discussions to “how-to” panels delving into aspects of broadcasting. Topics included social media, live performances, fundraising, news reporting, sports, FCC regulations, and audio and video tips.

In many cases, students presented practical advice on how to do a particular aspect of TV or radio broadcasting. The conference was capped by the annual CBI National Student Production Awards, which was preceded by a keynote presentation given by Seattle broadcast personality John Curley.

Curley gave an inspirational speech about his own circuitous career trajectory. He encouraged aspiring broadcasters to find a mentor and to use “reverse goaling” in order to get to that perfect job —by that, he means that one should imagine one’s dream job and then plot out different jobs that will be stepping stones to reach that goal eventually.

This was my third CBI conference; as a California resident, I was happy that CBI came to the West Coast for the first time. According to CBI Secretary Jamie Lynn Gilbert, West Coast attendance was up considerably compared with the 2013 conference in San Antonio.

In addition to reporting on the conference, I spoke on two panels. I shared tidbits from my college station visits — I’ve been to more than 80 stations — in a panel about the diversity of college radio, and talked about college radio history on another panel.

A peek at some of the CBI session topics. Before the conference kicked off, I spent my first day in Seattle touring stations, including public radio station KEXP(FM), streaming college station Rainy Dawg at the University of Washington, streaming college station UWave Radio at University of Washington-Bothell and streaming community station Hollow Earth Radio (which will soon be on low-power FM). The following day, I squeezed in a trip to KXSU(FM), formerly KSUB, at Seattle University.

One of the resounding themes of the conference was that terrestrial radio is still relevant to student broadcasters. A session led by Mark Maben of WSOU(FM) and Ross Reynolds of KUOW(FM) focused on the staying power of over-the-air radio and also on the current renaissance in audio, with increased attention on podcasts. While Internet radio is important, they pointed out that much of that listening is moving to mobile devices.

A view into the exhibitor space at the CBI eventLPFMS HIGHLIGHTED

I was amazed to visit three stations in Seattle that had recently received low-power FM construction permits, two of which are at colleges (UWave and KXSU).

The recent LPFM application window was definitely embraced by Seattle nonprofits; it was exciting to see some of these forthcoming stations in person.

CBI acknowledged the LPFM opportunity and held two sessions with these stations in mind. In an interesting bit of serendipity, at an LPFM roundtable discussion, participants represented stations in various stages in the process. Students from Humboldt State University in California are already on the air with KRFH(LP), while KXSU (Seattle University) and Aggie Radio (Utah State University) have their construction permits, and Rice University and Loyola University-Maryland were still awaiting word from the FCC (both in mutually exclusive groups, competing with other applicants for their frequencies).

Saturday morning, another session, “Low-Power FM for College Broadcasters,” went into the nitty gritty details of how KXSU navigated the application process. It was exciting to hear about these stations, and it’s a reminder that terrestrial radio is still relevant to young people.

While touring KXSU, I asked General Manager Shannon Phelps why they wanted an LPFM.

She told me that it was the “next step to legitimize our station” and said that she expected that the station would become even more popular. She acknowledged that young people don’t listen to radio as much but said that terrestrial radio draws people in, telling me that “the idea of being on the radio is still really appealing … [and] empowering.”

Matches at a CBI swag swap.SWAG SWAP, SHOW AND TELL

Another highlight was the number of sessions devoted to live music.

I saw panels during which students from WKNC(FM) of North Carolina State University in Raleigh and KWVA(FM) of the University of Oregon in Eugene talked about how they produce live music series for their stations. They walked the audience through the trials and tribulations of filming musicians and offered tips on how to create and promote videos of in-studio performances.

You can view past sessions on WKNC’s “the Lounge” YouTube channel ( and on KWVA’s YouTube channel.

College Radio Day President Anthony Saia is station manager of KUOI(FM) at the University of Idaho. An annual tradition at CBI is the Swag Swap, in which stations bring promotional items to give away or trade. This year’s swap was in a large, dimly lit room during cocktail hour. While sipping on a variety of beverages, attendees buzzed about the room collecting prized items. T-shirts, tote bags, temporary tattoos, stickers, coasters, drink cozies and buttons were most common. I also spotted some LPs, mouse pads, pens and match boxes.

Another session, the “Radio Show and Tell,” was a less frenetic setting for stations to share their work.

While some students modeled T-shirts (and a hand-knit sweater, made by a listener and adorned with the station call letters), others played snippets of airchecks and production. We heard a variety of material, including sports play-by-play and color commentary, witty station IDs and news stories. It was a nice opportunity to hear the sounds of so many different stations.


One of the most feel-good moments of the convention for me was a panel about radio camps and classes for kids and teens.

Both WLOY (Loyola University-Maryland) and WGMU (George Mason University) outlined programs that they run for aspiring broadcasters. While neither has an FCC license, both are heard online and via other distribution channels; and WLOY airs a low-power AM signal.

WGMU hosts summer camps for teenagers during which they teach many aspects of radio and production.

Radio promotional items collected at CBI and during radio station tours. WLOY has several shows that air kid-produced content, does a summer radio boot camp for kids, and has also built small radio studios in local elementary schools.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the CBI conference had a number of sessions geared toward high school radio stations.

One roundtable discussion also talked about the best ways to recruit high school students to one’s station. Having met a number of college radio volunteers who started in college radio while in high school, it’s clear that the radio bug is still attracting some of the youngest listeners.

As the conference wrapped up and I returned to drought-plagued California, I left with warm feelings for both the Seattle noncommercial radio scene and for my college radio colleagues from all over the country. The next CBI event will be held in Minneapolis in October 2015, followed by Philadelphia in 2016. I’m plotting my station visits already.

Jennifer Waits is co-founder of Radio Survivor and a research associate on the Library of Congress’ Radio Preservation Task Force. She says she obsessively tours radio stations, which she chronicles on her blog Spinning Indie. A college radio DJ since the 1980s, she’s volunteered at four stations and has hosted a music show at KFJC(FM) since 1999.