How campus radio stations work

Campus radio stations have one target audience: college students. As a result, college radio is tailored to their interests. The problem is, college students’ interests vary so widely; some may be news junkies, while others might like witty talk shows, and still others may just want to listen to music. How do the stations designate which time slots go to entertainment, and which time slots go to news? Essentially – how do campus radio stations balance it all in a way that best appeals to college students?
The simple answer is: they’re actually not too concerned with balance. In a series of email interviews, I found that show schedules are not necessarily based off of what college students want to listen to at a certain hour. Allie Prescott, the programming director at Georgetown University’s radio station (WGTB), explains how she “[does] not give shows certain time slots based on whether they are talk- or music-based.” Instead, WGTB uses an incentive system that gives DJ’s their top time slot choices as their reward. Prescott states, “We hope that our DJs will work for ‘returning DJ status’, which is just a way of saying that the DJ has completed their requirements and deserves to definitely have a place on the schedule the following semester.” At WGTB, the quality of DJs is the deciding factor for show scheduling.
At Catholic University’s radio station (WCUA), scheduling is based off of the specific genre for the day. General manager Ross Spohn explains, “We depend on having an automated main mix when live shows are not on the air. This year we are organizing mix genre by day. For example, Mondays would be rock music … We try to schedule around that.”
It seems that the college students’ interests are not the primary factor for show scheduling, but the stations involve the students’ interests in other ways. Both Prescott and Spohn talk about how their stations post flyers around campus and get involved with popular on-campus events. Spohn also brings up plans of “trying to have someone on-air playing party music from 9pm-2am to get [their] station listened to at parties.” Additionally, WTGB relies on DJs’ self-promotion; Prescott states, “We encourage them to do this via multiple social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, and that seems to be working well for a lot of DJs.” WTBG’s reliance on social media illustrates a key point: while radio has become less popular in favor of other forms of media, campus radio stations are embracing the competition to bolster their listenership.
Both Prescott and Spohn realize that Internet and television have surpassed radio in popularity. Yet, Spohn explains that the rise in popularity of the Internet actually helps WCUA: “With us streaming internet, we can reach listeners throughout the country. It allows … anyone with an internet connection anywhere to listen.” Prescott also notes how WGTB utilizes the Internet to boost listenership, but she also brings up a crucial distinction between television and radio. She states, “I don’t think we try to compete with television – I think people watch TV and listen to college radio for different reasons … On television, you have mainstream, mass media, which is rarely, if ever, broadcasted on college radio.”
Yet, listenership for campus radio stations remains fairly low in proportion to the size of the student population. Both Prescott and Spohn observe that listenership varies based on the day and time. For WGTB, most shows pull in about 7-15 listeners, while Spohn says that “some shows, especially the ones that have big interviews, attract 150+ listeners, [while] others only have 5-10.”
To a generation that is surrounded by new media, radio is outdated. However, college radio does an admirable deed in trying to keep the medium alive – by using new media to appeal to college students, they just might keep radio around a little longer.

How often do you listen to WMUC (UMD’s radio station)? Give your response in the poll.

2 thoughts on “How campus radio stations work

  1. I enjoyed reading your post and I definitely learned a lot about how college radio stations choose their content. Your information was obviously accurate and reliable as it came from representatives of two college radio stations. Overall, I think you did a really good job.

  2. I also enjoyed reading your post. I found the content to be very interesting and I learned a lot about college radio that I did not know before. The most interesting to me were the quotes on how the stations what content to play. I wish there was more information about who, where, and why students listen to college radio, but other than that, great job! -Kayla Sortor

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