The moment I picked up the guitar I felt uncoordinated. My fingers behaved as if they were made out of wood and refused to make the chords described in the instruction book. Up to this point, I’m not sure I had ever felt physically awkward — but there’s a first time for everything, damn it.
After several sessions over a week, I put the guitar down and admitted defeat. I desperately wanted to be involved in making music, but what could I do?
That night, I couldn’t fall asleep, so I turned on the radio. After a few minutes, it hit me. I could do that! I was 15 years old.
That week, I called several radio stations and finally found a station at Georgetown University, WGTB(FM), where the GM said I was welcome to visit.
For the first month, I sorted the mail and took out the trash. Before I was 16, someone didn’t show up for an air shift and I discovered something I was passionate about.
You may have a similar story about your entry into the business. Unfortunately, it probably took place prior to 1996, when the country had thousands of sole proprietors and also had hundreds of non-commercial radio stations staffed by volunteers.
How does a 15-year-old kid — or even a college student — become passionate about radio today? I know this still happens in a few cool places because of organizations like CBI (College Broadcasters Inc). And I would be remiss if I didn’t credit low-power, carrier current and streaming stations, which certainly play a role in offering opportunities for training.
Still, I’d like suggest a few ways in which we as an industry can provide greater opportunities.
With the launch of HD Radio, the larger broadcast groups often have a full complement of HD channels in the major markets.
Although many of these HD channels are now over three years old, the vast majority are automated brand extensions of a main channel. If the main channel is rock, the HD channels are often alternative and classic. If the main channel is country, the HD channels are classic and young.
So far what we’ve seen is a collective yawn from the listening public. The rest of this article could be about the radically new formats we could try, but I’d like to suggest something even more revolutionary.
Take one channel in each market and “lease” it for $1 to a university or high school. Make the leasing process competitive to assure that the institution that obtains the channel will provide at least one full-time professional with experience to mentor the students.
Hang onto the commercial inventory and if by chance your new college station eventually generates a rating, you may actually generate a few bucks. Maybe you allow the college to sell some of the inventory and split the money. Find a corporate sponsor for the channel. Every hour could begin with “Faber College Radio is brought to you by a generous grant from the Blutarsky Bank. Blutarsky … serving St. Louis since 1962.” Run announcements with the sponsor on your main channel to promote the new HD service.
Here’s an alternative for larger companies to consider. AM radio stations that have ceased to be profit centers can be gifted to educational or community institutions.
Gifting a station certainly has a tax advantage. It may make sense to keep the land where the towers reside and give the institution enough time to see if housing the towers on their grounds is possible.
One caveat in gifting a radio station: Make sure the institution is somehow “disincentivised” to re-sell the station in the years to come. Too often, short-sighted boards of directors realize they can make a quick buck by re-selling their stations.
Think it can’t happen? Take my old stomping ground, WGTB. Georgetown sold it to the University of the District of Columbia at the drop of a hat for just about nothing. When the market was ripe, UDC re-sold it to C-SPAN for millions.
For those who have been around the block a few times, please consider being a mentor to young people who are trying to find their way. If we don’t remember where we came from and encourage the talent of tomorrow, who will?