You'd never know it by the weather...but the calendar doesn't lie. Commencement was this past Sunday so it's "officially" summer on the HWS campus. For many of us in academia, that means something of a breather.
Not for WEOS, no sir.
We've got the daunting task of getting WITH 90.1FM Ithaca on the air, basically from scratch. I meet on Thursday with my engineer to get a handle on what, exactly, the hell we are doing. I could fill a thousand blog posts on that aspect...and perhaps I will if I have the time...but I just wanted to pass on a little nugget: Programming a radio station is simultaneously very easy and incredibly hard.
This has been brought into stark relief for me, since WITH will - by necessity for reasons arcane and complex - be required to have a somewhat different program schedule than WEOS. Eventually...within a year or two...we'll expand WITH's coverage into Geneva and the surrounding towns with our 90.3 application in Auburn. The upshot here is that between the three stations, we'll effectively have thorough coverage of the central Finger Lakes region to have two completely separate program networks...and I'll have ironclad reasons for putting different programming on each.
But how different? Aye, there's the rub. I could make an all news-talk service on one, and more of a arts-culture-music service on the other. In fact, ultimately that's likely what we'll do. But there are many needs to consider here. First and foremost are that we are a college-owned station, and thus have to provide a measure of service to our parent college. Since we are part of the Division of Student Affairs, that measure of service mostly is in the form of students having access to opportunities at the station. Unfortunately for everyone, that's usually seen as being limited to just a student being a DJ and more-or-less playing whatever music they want. That rarely works well from a general listenership standpoint, and it completely overlooks both the opportunity and the need for student help in many other aspects of "running a radio station" (newscasters, sportscasters, engineers, music directors, etc)...but I don't deny that it's generally very fun for the students to do, and that is a very important part of being a Student Activity.
So the upshot is, where are the students heard, and how much?
Then there's the issue of sports, another big part of our service to our parent college. Most of our listenership hates Hobart & William Smith sports...and that's not surprising; we're primarily a public radio outlet, the most "sports" that usually entails is an hour a week from Only a Game with Bill Littlefield. But sports has TREMENDOUS appeal to a small but enthusiastic crowd, and it's both wrong and stupid to disregard their feelings. There is also significant student appeal to having the games on the air, and it provides excellent training opportunities for student sportscasters (we have a pro that does play-by-play for some games for us, but we ALWAYS try and get a student to do color commentary with him...and there's a lot more games than the pro can cover by himself). This is truly an aspect where you cannot make everybody happy...so it's a constant balancing act.
But those are the easy issues, really. There are distinct interested parties involved who provide immediate feedback...both positive and negative...on the choices we make as a station. That's easy; we make a decision, we live with the results, we learn for the next time. Simple.
It's the REST of the schedule that's a bear, because we're mostly operating in a vacuum. Oh sure, I could just toss a show here or there and see how it goes. Or I can put a show on the air because I like it personally, or because I know the guy who produces it and I want to do him a favor. And yes, sometimes that is a deciding factor when trying to pick between multiple qualified options. The upshot here is that really you can put together a broadcast schedule with a minimum of thought and at least you won't have dead air.
But really, does any responsible program director do that? Of course not. You agonize over every choice. You make one little shift, and invariably it reshuffles half your daily lineup. You debate internally. You debate externally. You solicit opinions from others. You get unsolicited opinions from others. Actually a lot more opinions are of the unsolicited type.
And invariably you know that there's probably a really cool show out there that would fit perfectly at a given slot if you just knew about it. But at the same time, you're often bombarded with people begging you to air their program. Well, okay, maybe not "bombarded" given what a small operation WEOS is. But I get quite a few e-mails, mailings and phone calls.
For the record? I hate getting phone calls. Put together a good website with several shows I can download and listen to at my leisure. Email me about it and then leave me the hell alone. It usually takes weeks before I have the time to review your show, if I have the time at all, and I'll get to it when I'm damn well good and ready. If I think it's good for my station, even if I don't like it myself, I'll air it - you don't have to convince me. If I don't think it's good for my station, nothing you say is going to change my mind. (unless the "you" is "my boss" :-)
What really drives me bonkers here is that it FEELS like I should be able to just toss something together that's relatively simple to "get things going" and then tweak it from there. But these forced-changes are just significant enough that no matter what I do, I'm going to have to have a pretty different schedule on WITH than on WEOS. And once I get to that point, invariably I start thinking of other things that I really ought to tweak. And so the dominoes start falling all over again.
sigh Yeah, I think it's time to bring in some professional help. No, not THAT kind of "professional help", you dork. I just mean a programming consultant. I don't necessarily have to do whatever he/she tells me (something I think far too many commercial radio PD's did back in the late 1990's) but it would be nice to have a little guidance from someone who's got a successful track record in this arena.