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College Radio Forges Regional Bonds

Gatherings were recently held in Arkansas, Virginia and California

On Feb. 25, the Arkansas College Radio Association officially launched during a meeting at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. One of a handful of regional college radio organizations in the United States, ArkCRA grew out of college radio station KHDX(FM)’s desire to collaborate with nearby college radio stations. This brand new organization, created by students, is just the latest in a long history of networking among college radio participants.

Program for “College Radio: Then, Now and Next” symposium

Since college radio’s earliest days, there have been numerous attempts to organize. One of the first groups, the College and University Association of Broadcasting Stations, was focused on evangelizing the importance of educational radio. A 1926 piece in the New York Times reported 28 member stations from coast to coast who were interested in “…safeguarding and extending technical and educational features” of radio.

The Intercollegiate Broadcasting System formed in 1940, initially as a consortium of campus-based carrier current radio stations, with attendees from 30 college radio stations convening at IBS’ first convention in 1941. Still going strong today, IBS held its 77th annual conference for student broadcasters in 2017.

Lucas Coberly at KXUA

Other national organizations that regularly host conferences related to student broadcasting include College Broadcasters Inc., Broadcast Educational Association and, until recently, CMJ. Some of these groups have also done regional events. IBS, which has traditionally held its annual conference in New York City, branched out with its first West Coast conference in San Francisco in 1977. Hosted by KALX(FM), the event drew approximately 350 delegates from 70 to 80 stations. In recent years, IBS has put on smaller confabs across the U.S. and CMJ produced a “College Day on Tour” in Portland, Ore., in 2015.

Under-the-radar local college radio collaborations and gatherings have always occurred, from the sharing of programming to playful sports competitions. For decades, college radio stations affiliated with University of California schools have regularly met up under the auspices of the University of California Radio Network, one of the most established regional college radio organizations.

Today, UCRN (which includes a few non-University of California schools) participants communicate through calls and twice-yearly conferences organized by member stations. The most recent event in April was held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Hosted by college radio station KXLU, the conference included station tours, a “swag swap” of promotional items and panel discussions ranging from “Intersectional Feminism in the DIY Scene” to “Fundraising 101.” Approximately 100 college radio participants from all over California caravanned to L.A. for the event, which concluded with a night-time concert at a local DIY music venue.

Music on the shelves at KHDX(FM)

KXLU relished the chance host its first UCRN conference and KXLU adviser Lydia Ammossow was thrilled with the day, saying, “…it was one of the best days of our lives at KXLU, to welcome our college radio brethren to our home and celebrate the engaging, eclectic, and magical world of college radio we are all so privileged to be a part of.”

Ammossow has been attending UCRN events for five years and explained, “UCRN is unique in that it specifically brings California-based college radio stations together and that it offers two conferences per year [in the spring and fall] that rotate amongst the various participating radio stations. Panel presentations cover a diverse range of relevant topics and the whole day is an excellent opportunity for networking, sharing ideas, cultivating creativity and creative solutions to common conundrums, and building community.”


Jacob Turner, right, chats with KHDX Faculty Advisor Maureen McClung at KHDX.

Another recent college radio event, the “College Radio: Then, Now and Next” symposium, was hosted at University of Virginia in Charlottesville by WTJU(FM) in March. Although not necessarily designed as a regional college radio conference, it attracted participants from eight Virginia-based college radio stations.

I was an invited speaker, and at one point I remarked that this may be the first meeting of the Virginia College Radio Association. By the end of the day, Lizzie Fulham, general manager of College of William & Mary station WCWM(FM), had set up a Facebook group for college radio stations in Virginia.

Fulham was inspired by the WTJU symposium.

“It was so incredible to meet other college radio students,” said Fulham. “It was especially fun to talk to other directors who were experiencing some of the problems I had been experiencing. Sometimes, it gets a little bit frustrating to run WCWM, because no one understands the type of work I am doing or the amount of work I am doing — I found that many of the other managers had similar thoughts and could relate.”

Nathan Moore, WTJU’s general manager, organized the symposium. He reflected on the day’s accomplishments, saying, “the symposium was a nice way to get some face-to-face contact with stations around Virginia. And this way, whatever activities this nascent network engages in can grow more organically from these relationships and the needs of our stations.”

During the symposium, students made tentative plans for a college radio meet-up at the upcoming MACROCK music festival in Harrisonburg, Va. Coincidentally, MACROCK was initially launched in 1996 by college radio station WXJM(FM) at the Mid-Atlantic College Radio Conference, focusing on bringing together independent artists, radio stations, record labels and fans. It was fitting that decades later, another group of college radio station participants congregated at the festival.


Some of the attendees at the “College Radio: Then, Now and Next” symposium.

While the WTJU event led to the creation an informal Virginia college radio network on social media (which has already led to increased communication across stations), students in Arkansas opted to launch a more formal organization. At the February gathering at Hendrix College, college radio participants from four stations developed goals, wrote a constitution and elected officers for the Arkansas College Radio Association, which now has seven participating stations.

ArkCRA founder and President Jacob Turner told me over email that he was inspired in part by my own Arkansas college radio tours in October 2016.

Turner wrote, “I had a chance to read the radio station visits you made to KXUA and others as well as our very own KHDX, and after both that and the Grassroots Radio Conference (which the KHDX staff thoroughly enjoyed and were inspired by) I brought up the idea of collaborating with other college radio stations in Arkansas at one of our KHDX staff meetings. After getting votes of support from the other staff members and faculty advisor, I sent out an email and survey to all of the four-year colleges in Arkansas, as well as any two-year colleges with radio station licenses, explaining the idea and trying to gauge interest. After getting positive responses from stations across the state, we went ahead with planning a meeting for formally forming the ArkCRA!”

According to the ArkCRA constitution, “The purpose of the Arkansas College Radio Association is to assist with the formation, development, and operations of college radio stations in the state of Arkansas, whether online or through terrestrial broadcasting, to develop and maintain an accessible collection of resources for college radio stations in the state of Arkansas, to facilitate cross-station collaboration, including but not limited to syndicated radio and news broadcasts, events and festivals, and event coverage, and to conduct outreach to community members interested in college radio in the state of Arkansas.”

Stickers, flyers, and program information at entrance to “College Radio: Then, Now and Next” symposium.

 Turner continued, “We want to really focus on not just building up our stations, but really building connections and bridges between groups as diverse as the colleges we are all a part of. In addition, I think an organization like ours really sends a message to the world that ‘college age people care about radio and we’re not just going to let it fall by the wayside.’ We hope to really get into the swing of things and not just have our own meetings and conferences, but work with other groups to co-sponsor events for young people across our state.”

Several members of ArkCRA have already visited other college and community radio stations in Arkansas and beyond. Lucas Coberly, who I first met while visiting his station KXUA(FM) at University of Arkansas, is now actively contacting other stations for tours and has been to stations in Boston and Philadelphia.

Now the media-technical coordinator for ArkCRA, Coberly shared that, “Our biggest purpose, in my view, is creating a support network for radio stations, existing and upcoming, at universities and colleges within Arkansas.”

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

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