A Reflection on Opportunities in College Radio

by Gianna Scheunaman

How often do college students get the chance to travel out to New York City for free three years in a row? I am sure that question can be answered easily given that college students are typically limited on finances and travel time. Being enrolled full-time requires a good chunk of time to balance out classwork and attendance, on top of getting involved, socializing with friends, balancing jobs and still managing self-care. College is an extremely busy time, and looking back, I really am fortunate to share that I did get to travel to NYC for free three years in a row. However, this would not have been possible if I did not go into the Media Studies department at NCC, which provided me with the opportunity at WONC. Additionally, broadcast majors are required to enroll in radio production and programming courses, so I was able to create, edit and produce audio content as early as my sophomore year. To be honest, radio production was one of my favorite classes throughout my four years of college because of how much growth and passion I had every Tuesday, Thursday and countless nights I got to hang out with friends at the radio station.

Getting involved in student organizations was the key to meeting new people and growing in college. College radio stations mix student involvement and professional experience perfectly because there is a community within a single space, much like a residence hall floor, and is fully equipped with editing tools, private studios, state-of-the-art equipment, facilities, software, and plenty of third-party professional connections. My radio production course really introduced me to everything more in detail, so the work I was putting into the class was extremely fulfilling for my professional growth and personality. In fact, I began to look forward to sharing my work with others, no matter how cheesy or out-of-the-box I got with assignments. I had a great time with my friends working on these cheesy and out-of-the-box assignments, and it is definitely better to reflect back on having creative work and hilarious inside jokes rather than being strictly business.

Once the fall trimester of my sophomore year was coming to a close, I remember other staffers at the station emphasizing the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System Conferences as an opportunity to network with other radio professionals across the country, attend amazing conferences and, of course, go to New York for free. I could not pass up that opportunity, so I spent even more hours organizing my radio production assignments into a portfolio for submission. As a sophomore, I really did not know if I would get nominated or not, since I was a younger member of the radio station, but to my surprise, I did. I was so excited when I found out I had been nominated for not only one of my assignments, but also for managing the station’s Facebook page for promotions and fundraisers.

Wow, New York City. I had always wanted to go and that was finally happening. I remember when my other few friends and I began planning out what we wanted to see and do in our free time. I also remember attending some pretty remarkable conferences that consisted of plenty of personal experiences, questions, and tips moving forward. Part of me felt out of place during my first year because I was only a sophomore, but I remained positive and grateful to have been there at the time I was. Plus, roaming around Times Square, seeing my first Broadway show, eating amazing food and learning how to manage NYC’s subway system were all little ventures I look back as I close out my senior year.

I had such a great time that it was my goal to go back during my junior year. I remember once I finished my radio courses sophomore year that I was more on my own in terms of creating content to submit. Of course, I was still able to utilize on-air broadcasts from previous jock shifts and had been hard at work on my specialty show, Feel Good Friday, for the end of my sophomore year and leading into my junior year. This was great because I remember that I had submitted well over 25 pieces to the IBS board to go for my second year. Fortunately, I received another nomination as planned and was offered the opportunity to travel out to NYC again. My junior year was interesting because I also became the navigator of the group since I was returning for my second year in a row, unlike my friends who were able to go with my second year.

Since I knew more about what to expect, I planned out what conferences were the most important for my professional growth. My second year was different since I began to pursue other opportunities across campus and wanted to focus more on promoting my own brand and interests through independent outlets such as social media and podcasts. Radio essentially gave me my public speaking and creativity wings, so now I needed to turn my focus on what direction I was flying in with them. There was definitely more of a balance between work and play, so I was able to venture off around Manhattan to some pretty neat lunch and coffee spots when I was not at conferences. Even though the conferences were helpful, I also remembered this trip because I was essentially the backbone of the group. I was not certain if the group would be able to manage the public transit system or planning out general things, such as meals and attractions if I was not there, so I really appreciated the overall feedback from the group that went during my second year. I was determined to close out my senior year with my third and final trip out to NYC, and I got to do exactly that.

Fast forward to January 2020 and I discovered this year that there were only two nominations, and neither of those was mine. However, I was extended the invitation to return to NYC for my third year to essentially lead the group around. Oddly enough, I knew this trip was going to be the most memorable one since this was when COVID-19 cases began to surge. In a way, I remember the last trip as one where I really revisited my favorite spots over the last two years and crossed off a decent amount of places I had yearned to go for that did not fit into the schedule for the last two trips. I think my final year was more reflective of all that I had done to earn my invite on the final trip. At first, I felt like I did not deserve to go since I was not nominated or managing the station. However, it occurred to me that even though I did not get nominated or manage the station, I did actively participate over the last three and a half years and still made an effort to submit content every year to earn the nomination(s), so my perception of being in NYC for my third and final year changed a bit after I returned from the trip.

By the time senior year started, I knew I had a knack for people management through my other on-campus roles, but the radio station gave me my independence and confidence to do those things. I have been a part of the station at some of the highest and lowest points in my college career and I like to think that this last trip was the closure I needed on my undergrad broadcasting career, and ironically as a whole once COVID-19 got really bad days after the group and I returned from NYC. The last trip really gave me a sense of ownership of my future choices, whether that may be within the professional realm of building my brand, networking and taking in advice at superb conferences like IBS, or simply just for the little things to make myself and others happy. I will always look back on radio fondly and highly encourage anybody to give it a try at least once, especially those entering or going to college currently. For older age groups, I think it is possible to take advantage of resources to craft content on your own time, and luckily, social media is such an important aspect of everyday life and information consumption.

Overall, I composed a small, but detailed list of lessons I have learned throughout my three years of travel out to IBS in NYC, and working in radio as a whole, that hopefully other radio station members and professionals can reap:

  • Invest Your Time Wisely: Narrow down your priorities to what will benefit you most in the long run. I chose the conferences, attractions, and itineraries that I did over the last three years solely because I felt that they were the most beneficial to my personal path in life. Am I aspiring to pursue a career in broadcasting? Not as much as I originally planned, which is perfectly okay. Did I learn a ton of things about myself through my involvement at the radio station and IBS conferences I attended? Absolutely. I learned some pretty valuable things that will carry me far in life as I begin to expand my network and professional skills. Radio has essentially revamped and enhanced my personality and demeanor in the best ways possible. I still have the utmost confidence that these experiences will benefit me when it comes to finding the perfect career and potentially a side hustle or two.
  • Radio Is Not Dying Anytime Soon: I get so worked up when people say journalism is dying, but I do accept and respect that others will stand by this opinion if that is how they feel. I can say that it is such a pivotal time for radio, print and television with so many things going on every single day. In fact, I find it extremely daunting to choose an outlet to consume information more than I used to for the sake of well-researched and valuable content that only benefits my knowledge of current events. Radio is the perfect platform for people that prefer personality, news, sports, whatever it may be, while getting the facts in-the-moment. Additionally, it is a bit easier to access audio content since it does not require you to visually see anything.
  • Never Take Offered Opportunities For Granted: On a broad spectrum, offered opportunities are definitely once-in-a-lifetime. Sure, under certain circumstances, I do believe that the right things come into our lives if they are meant to be in the future. I could have easily declined the invitation to attend IBS one or all of the years I got to go, but I chose not to because I knew each year would be significantly different and there would be no chance of me fitting in all of the things I wanted to learn, see and do in one or even two or three years. There is still plenty I have not seen or attended to in NYC in just three weekends, so if the opportunity arose to fly out again, I would most likely never get that same experience again and no way for free.

If I could go back in time and radio again, I absolutely would. The flexibility of being a broadcasting student or not is also what makes radio in college so wonderful. The choice is yours in terms of how little or heavily you get involved. Plus, there are so many industries and career pathways that you can apply your radio skills and experiences to, such as marketing, public relations, business management, music, theatre, entrepreneurship, engineering, you name it. For non-college readers, community resources, such as radio station volunteer spots and/or digital software, such as Adobe, are wonderful alternatives to launch your career or side hustle in the broadcasting world. Who knows? Maybe a trip to NYC will be on the horizon for you, as well!