A nationally recognized and award-winning radio station calls Kent State its home – but no, it is not Black Squirrel Radio.
The university’s other station, 89.7 WKSU, has been broadcasting for more than 50 years and shows no signs of any middle-age rust. The station, with all of its accolades and awards, may be the university’s best kept secret. Which is why it comes as a surprise to many of the station’s employees that more students do not reach out to WKSU for specific radio and news production training.
“WKSU is a great opportunity for students to get real-world experiences using state of the art digital facilities,” Bob Burford, director of public relations for the station, said. “Students can learn editing, recording, audio and production, and I don’t know why more students do not want to take advantage.”
WKSU currently employs 15 students in everything from public relations to news to design.
Mike Watson, senior visual communication design major, has worked at the station for almost two years as a graphic designer for the WKSU site.
“It’s great hands-on work with a Web site in a consistent work environment doing real-world stuff,” Watson said. “It’s convenient, on-campus and looks great on a resume.”
Watson said other students may not be taking advantage because WKSU isn’t exactly the type of radio station they are tuning into.
WKSU is a community-oriented station, with its primary focus on news, classical and folk music. The station is a National Public Radio affiliate, with its own newsroom and news broadcasts.
Burford admits this is why more students do not tune in, and this seems just fine with him.
“Students are not the focus of WKSU,” Burford said. “It is not our job to sell this to them. We are not a college station, we are a news station.”
The target audience for WKSU, according to Burford, is listeners ages 40 to 65 and older. By keeping the focus on NPR, classical and folk music, WKSU has what Burford calls an “affinity of appeal,” meaning all of the components of the station’s line-up speaks to the same audience, and fits their lifestyle.
While tuning into WKSU is not exactly on the agenda of many students, the Kent community and much of Ohio has definitely caught on.
The station started in 1950 with a 10-watt signal and was student-produced. In the ’70s, WKSU joined NPR and began playing classical music. The ’80s and ’90s marked further expansion for the station, including new antennas and towers added in parts of Ohio.
Currently, WKSU can be heard in more than 20 counties in Northeast Ohio and Western Pennslvania. Plus, according to Burford, it has the largest FM signal in the state of Ohio.
The growth does not stop there: WKSU seems to have a firm grasp on the future of radio. It is here where Burford says students should want to become more active.
“We are definitely positioned for the future,” Burford said. “People’s relationship with radio is changing, and we are ready.”
Folk music host Jim Blum agrees. He said WKSU has its foot in the door as far as technology growth and students with an interest in radio are crazy not to want to be involved.
WKSU online boasts four different channels, and in a business where “content is king,” according to Burford, WKSU seems to be a step ahead. WKSU 1 is the current on-air channel. WKSU 2 is all news, featuring NPR, BBC, and WKSU news programming. WKSU 3 is all music, while the fourth channel, folkalley.com, is a 24-hour stream of folk music.
Burford also said WKSU soon will be utilizing digital channels as well as digital sideband radios. Digital sidebands may soon be the car radio of the future, allowing the listener to hear several different forms of programming on one station, much like the WKSU Web site. Burford also said the station is open to talking to satellite providers and will explore on-demand features. “Your Way Home,” the station’s regional nightly news magazine, is already being Podcast and other programs are soon to follow.
With all of these technical achievements, Burford feels confident that students can learn the ins and outs of radio production at WKSU.
“Students don’t get the proper training and coaching at Black Squirrel Radio and at WZIP (the University of Akron’s radio station),” Burford said. “Here they can get what they need to set them up for the future.”
Contact off-campus entertainment reporter Ben Plassard at [email protected]