Students Design Fictional Radio Stations, Operate A Real One In Cutting-Edge Courses

Fusion FM on-air lightIt may be just the DJ’s voice you hear on the radio, but it’s also what happens behind the scenes – from sales and marketing, to programming, promotions and engineering – that makes the radio industry a dynamic and exciting field to enter, says Texas A&M University Professor Billy McKim, whose radio program offers cutting-edge broadcast education.

Housed in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications (ALEC), the radio program is open to all majors and provides a level of real-world experience that, says McKim, is invaluable to help students break into the competitive broadcast industry.

“Almost all the students I remain in contact with have emphasized the value of the practical skills and knowledge they developed in the radio courses,” says McKim, himself a veteran of the radio industry. “They know how to conduct research, use data to make informed decisions, and develop solutions to problems.”

Radio students make their final presentations

McKim’s radio students made their final presentations to their classmates and a panel of radio experts.

The program has grown from its roots of 10 students in fall 2010 – “we had a mic in a closet and one PC,” McKim laughs – to 46 students this fall, a production lab, 20 computers, a recording studio and an on-air studio with a live radio station.

In an unprecedented move this year, the program partnered with local radio company Bryan Broadcasting to allow students the opportunity to operate a working HD radio station (95.1-2) dubbed “Fusion” for its eclectic mix of rock music. Students enrolled in radio courses can serve in a variety of roles at Fusion including production, on-air talent and programming. And the students are free to use the studio’s state-of-the art equipment to record the demos needed to apply for radio jobs.

McKim’s radio program offers three courses, beginning with the introductory course that teaches basic concepts of programming and production, a secondary course that covers operations and management, and an upper-level course that teaches market research, including auditorium testing, public opinion and media consumption.

Throughout his introductory course, McKim requires students to complete a group project in which they design a fictional radio station from scratch. They’re assigned a city, conduct market research, choose a format (genre of music to play), design a website and logo, decide on ad rates and more. They present their station concepts to the class as well as a panel of radio professionals, which this semester included representatives from major Texas radio markets such as Dallas.

Tucker “Frito” Young, program director and morning personality on local Top 40 radio station Candy 95, attends the presentations and gives the students feedback – for better or worse – providing them with valuable insider knowledge and critiques.

Professor Billy McKim

Of his radio students, Professor McKim says, “Seeing them grow into confident, skilled professionals is an amazing process to watch.”

“We have a growing number of employees at Bryan Broadcasting who are graduates of the radio program here at Texas A&M,” Young points out. “The education they’re receiving from Billy’s classes is incredible – I wish I would have had that type of training when I entered the industry.”

Ali Ellul, a junior ag communications and journalism major, says she enrolled in the introductory radio course because she’s interested in pursuing a career in broadcasting. “It may not necessarily be radio I pursue, but there’s something to be said for starting in radio as a foundation,” she notes.

Her group’s final project resulted in a conceptual radio station called WJAM-FM 100.1, a station with an urban format, playing a variety of rap and hip-hop music, based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

To expand their horizons beyond Texas, McKim doesn’t allow these fictional stations to be in the Lone Star State and Ellul said she appreciated that. “I’ve learned so much about different cities in the United States than I ever thought I would,” she explains. “And learning about all that goes into operating a radio station has been really fascinating; it’s so much more complicated than the average person probably thinks it is.”

In addition to learning valuable skills on campus, the radio students are given opportunities to attend industry conferences around the country, including the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas and the Texas Association of Broadcasters convention in Austin. “Getting students involved in professional organizations has provided them with invaluable professional development and networking opportunities,” notes McKim, adding such opportunities have even led to a few job offers.

In all, 11 groups presented their final projects this semester to the largest panel of experts so far. McKim says he hopes to see the program continue to grow. “I’m working to expand our current model to include a music scheduling certificate program,” he explains. “I also plan to offer this program to professionals working in the radio industry who want to earn the certificate. We would be the first university program in the country to offer such a program.”

Watching his students move from radio novices to broadcasting professionals is what McKim says is most rewarding about his job. “I usually meet them during their sophomore year. Seeing them grow into confident, skilled professionals is an amazing process to watch.”

For more information about the radio program, visit ALEC online.

Read more about the Fusion radio station here.

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Media contact: Lesley Henton, 979-845-5591, lshenton@tamu.edu

 


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