Monday, December 19, 2011

It's Not Selling Out - It's Buying In: Underwriting for College Radio

I've mentioned before that I'm a big believer in that the only way a "college radio" station can be sure to prevent a sale of its FCC license (by its parent institution) is to be fiscally self-sufficient.   It's hard for an administration to claim they're saving money via a sale when you're not costing them any money in the first place.  And, by definition, if you're bringing money in the door, it means you've got support and ties to both the campus and local communities; things no administration discards lightly.

So, how does a station become fiscally self-sufficient?

There are two main, traditional avenues:  fundraising and underwriting.   Fundraising is about asking listeners to simply donate money to the station because they want to support it.   Underwriting is about asking businesses (and other organizations) to donate money in exchange for something of benefit to the business - usually an on-air mention.

I won't get into fundraising here, except to say that David Caban has put together a fabulous on-line guide for how to do on-line fundraising for WRUW in Cleveland.   It's specifically for WRUW but can easily be adapted.  In fact, it's definitely worth shamelessly copying it for your station.   I'll also mention that if you've never done it at your station, make sure you get buy-in from your campus' Alumni Relation Office, since they are also responsible for fundraising and usually take that responsibility very seriously.

Instead, I'll focus on underwriting, because while fundraising typically has so-so effectiveness for small stations in small markets...underwriting can actually work for almost any station.  Why the difference?  Read on to take a new look at "selling out"...

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Protecting Your College Radio Station from a Sale

The past 18 months have not been kind to college radio. Their budgets battered by the Great Recession, we've seen colleges and universities experiencing a sea change in their attitudes towards their radio licenses.  Instead of being viewed as something that would never be sold, some are electing to sell with little to no public warning to the students or station staff, and sometimes even when a station was in good fiscal health and was a source of prestige for the college.

As of this writing, we've seen:  KUSF (University of San Francisco), KTRU (Rice University), WRVU (Vanderbilt Student Communications, at Vanderbilt University), WNAZ (Trevecca Nazarene University), WDUQ (Duquesne University), WLIU (Long Island University), and KCMP (St. Olaf College) just to name a few.   And that doesn't include several colleges who LMA'd (Local Management Agreement) their college station to another entity, effectively removing students or local involvement from the station in the process.

For years, many colleges have long looked at their student radio stations as, generally, something they'd simply rather not deal with: out of sight, out of mind.  That's understandable; it costs a lot to have a station, and it benefits a relatively small (if not tiny) percentage of the student body.  Compared to other student activities, college radio tends to be fiendishly expensive.  And unlike most other activities, a licensed station has the potential to incur substantial fiscal penalty (i.e. FCC fines) and the ability to potentially embarrass the college on a very public stage.

Regardless, for decades, most colleges kept their radio stations.  Now they're selling them.  What's changed?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Cross Country in 21,000 Images!

The Beast!   (pic is near Thousand Palms, CA)
In August of 2011, my wife and I moved from Canandaigua NY (the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, near Rochester) to Santa Barbara CA.  We loaded everything into a 24-ft long Penske truck, put the Toyota on a trailer towed behind, and set off on a 3,072 mile journey that would entail five days of driving through a 100+ degree heat wave.

On a lark, I rigged up our laptop and a webcam on the dashboard of the truck, set to take a snapshot every 10 seconds.  Then I assembled all the pics into videos - one for each day - and added subtitles about where we were at most given points.

The end result is kinda interesting, especially in a time-lapse photography sense.  Check 'em out!

Day 1 - Canandaigua, NY to Effingham, IL: Winter, Winter, Winter and Construction
Day 2 - Effingham, IL to Lewisville (Dallas) TX: Why the Hell Didn't We Go Through Memphis?
Day 3 - Lewisville, TX to Van Horn, TX: It's Flat, and Empty, but the Steak is Delicious
Day 4 - Van Horn, TX to Glendale (Phoenix) AZ: Is it the Heat that Makes Pretty Sunsets?
Day 5 - Glendale, AZ to Santa Barbara, CA: Crossin' the Mojave

Map showing daily start/end points of the trip.
We spent a day in Lewisville resting and visiting my wife's parents, too.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Damn Good Fundraising Video

"Here & Now" host Robin Young
busking in Harvard Square T Stop
Public radio is, by and large, considered to be a "very serious" media outlet.  It's an image that most public radio outlets, and NPR et al, work hard to maintain.  It works very well for them; means people trust the content they hear.

But it ALSO means that when public radio decides to poke fun at itself, it can work really, really well.

Case in point: today a buddy of mine at WBUR posted this hilarious fundraising video to Youtube:
A WBUR Film - A Cautionary Tale.

In it, WBUR GM Charles Kravetz finds the numbers aren't adding up, so he dispatches Bob Oakes, David Boeri, Robin Young and Meghna Chakrabarti...all are well-known reporters or hosts...out to the streets to scrounge up some cash.  Oakes takes a "will report news for change" on the sidewalk approach, Chakrabarti runs the WBUR parking lot, Boeri sells some "quality merchandise" out of his coat, and poor Robin Young busks guitar...intentionally the middle of the Harvard Square subway stop (one of the busiest in the system). And some random listener recognized her, came over with a grin, and said "Robin, don't quit your day job," while dropping a dollar in the guitar case.   Ouch.

The whole thing is sheer genius!  It highlights some of their strongest local talent (well, Robin's national but she's certainly well-known locally, too) and does so in a way that takes well-known voices and makes them more accessible as people.   All while poking fun at the system in a way that both makes you laugh and makes you feel just a little sorry for them.

Even if nobody actually donates directly because of this video.  I feel pretty confident that this video is part of an overall amalgamation of reasons while someone...probably a lot of someones...will end up donating.

If your station hasn't done a video like this...why not?  You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Engaging Your Audience - Holiday Greeting Line and Listener Calendar Contests

Today I've got two ways you can engage your audience; get them to be more active participants in your station and, both directly and by example, increase your fundraising totals as engaged listeners are more likely to be donating listeners.
  1. On-Air Holiday "Shout Outs" or Greetings.
  2. Listener Calendar Contests.
More, after the break...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

EAS and Anonymous

The timing is undoubtedly due to the publicity given the National EAS Test earlier this month, but now the hacker group Anonymous is claiming that they plan to "take over" radio stations via EAS, by exploiting the lack of security inherent to the system.   The attitude seems to be half showing solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movements, half trying to call attention to a glaring security hole.

FEMA is responding that the system is secure enough, thank you very much.

Who's correct?  Read on...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Out of Bounds with Tish Pearlman

Just a little reminder to my readers that in my spare time I also serve as "syndication lackey" for the weekly arts-and-culture public radio show: Out of Bounds with Tish Pearlman and if you're interested in carrying the show on your station, it's available for free via the Public Radio Exchange here:

On a related note, you may also be interested in reading my articles about:

More about the show, after the jump...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Play Ball! Remote Tech Options for Sportscasts

While I'm specifically talking about radio remote broadcasting options for sports, most of this info can be used for any remote broadcast.  And I do recommend that for most college radio stations: don't stay hiding in the studio - get out and do a weekly live broadcast from the student center for a few's totally worth it.

Note: this is a written version of a presentation I often give at the annual fall CBI Conference.

This article is going to cover several topics surrounding remote broadcasts both on- and off-campus.  Read on, after the jump...

Friday, November 11, 2011

EAS: Politics vs. Engineering

Was the November 9th National EAS Test a qualified success or a total failure?

Like most things in life, it kinda depends on your point of view.

First, the system itself did indeed fail during the test.  The final tally will take weeks, but there are tons of anecdotal reports that most stations did receive the data tones, but did not receive proper audio.   Early reports indicate that a loop of the audio (including the data tones) played over itself, delayed by several seconds.   The second airing of the data tones caused many stations' EAS encoders/decoders (aka "endecs") to stop outright and mute the test audio until the "End of Message" (EOM) data tones were sent at the end of the test, 30 seconds later.   Other endecs just played the whole thing, looped audio playing over the main audio like a bizarre version of "row-row-row your boat".   Given the widespread nature of this effect, the thinking is that it must've happened at the national level (FEMA) somehow.

The TV side of things, including satellite TV, may have had a similar issue in play, just with different effects: namely a Lady Gaga video playing across DirecTV, for example.

There's also reports that some stations didn't get anything at all due to equipment failures at the state and local levels.  Fortunately these seem relatively uncommon.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Three Lies of College Radio

Especially the Lies.

Bashir: What I want to know is, out of all the stories you told me, which ones were true and which ones weren't?

Garak: My dear doctor...they're all true.
Bashir: Even the lies?
Garak: Especially the lies.

(I admit it, I'm an incurable Trekkie)

Much like my hairline, I'm going to go a little bald with this post:  I think it's time that college radio stations stop lying to themselves.  How so?  Let me give you three statements I often hear about college radio that are simply just no longer true, if they ever were:

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Power of FM over AM

Wow. This article from the Boston Globe really brings it home.

We've all known for a few years now that AM Radio, as a medium, was slipping badly. Traditional cornerstones of AM formats...sports and talk...were losing market share, and several major AM signals were electing to simulcast on an FM station and seeing positive results. At the same time, we're also seeing a lot of traditional AM formats bypassing AM altogether and starting on FM, also with positive results.

One place near and dear to my heart where this has been playing out is Boston, where many, many years of market dominance by WEEI 850AM (sports) and WBZ 1030AM (news) are radically shifting. WBZ still has a killer signal; one of the best AM signals in the USA, actually...famous for being heard in 38 states...and able to hurl almost 100,000 watts across an AM-friendly saltwater path right into Boston. Even so, WBZ has seen increasing competition from local (and national) NPR powerhouse WBUR and, more recently, WGBH's flip to mostly-NPR-news, too.

But it's WEEI that's the most eye-opening. After two years of losing substantial market share to upstart SportsHub 98.5 (aka WBZ-FM) despite WEEI having the Red Sox games...Entercom finally killed off Mike 93.7FM and simulcast WEEI on the 93.7 signal.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Little Things - Showing Appreciation for Your Staff

One of the trophies
It's amazing how much the littlest things can have such a big impact on student volunteers. Two years now at WHWS I've given our student volunteers...the ones who have done more than "just" been an on-air DJ...little trophies. I've meant to get around to holding real "superlative" contests where all the students can vote on fake titles for each trophy, but never really did. Still, I just make up silly titles, run them past a few folks for input, and order up the trophies from an online custom trophy maker. I won't name it because you can Google it and find a dozen that'll work.

The trophies aren't terribly fancy; they just have a little plastic microphone or a clear plastic "star" with a mic logo. They cost about $3 or $4 each, and the name plate is fully customized. You can use real titles but I thought "Ambulance Chaser (Newscaster)" and "Master of All She Surveys (Program Director)" added the appropriate level of cheekiness and so far all the recipients have agreed.

What's really remarkable is the impact they have. To a one, all the recipients (and there's about 15 to 20 each year) have LOVED the trophies and thanked us profusely. Perhaps they're just all really good actors, but I prefer to believe that little gestures of appreciation can go a long way.

One of the trophies, as
modeled by WHWS PD
Vienna Farlow
It also helps a great deal because, at a volunteer radio station, the primary driving factor for most of your station's volunteers is ego. They're feeding their ego by "ruling the airwaves", and little recognitions of that feed it even more. This is a good thing! It confirms that they should remain involved and sets an example for others.

It doesn't have to be big, although big is certainly good...going for an MTV "Woodie" award is something that your station and its volunteers can be proud of, but it's also a nice line on a resume for your graduating seniors, too! But even little things like trophies, certificates of recognition, custom t-shirts/hats, and like, are all good...and can be done quickly and cheaply!