If any sentence best expresses the sweeping changes that have overtaken campus radio within the last 20 years, it’s this one.
The observation was made by a recent Yale graduate who helped his university develop its online-only campus radio station while he was a student.
In one sense, this almost seems inconceivable to me, a broadcast-film-communication major who cut his teeth on campus radio while a graduate student at the University of Alabama in the early to mid-1980s. It underscores one of the great realities of this new order: that no technology is sacrosanct no matter how seemingly ubiquitous or indispensable.
A generation ago, who would have imagined that a radio station could be perceived in any way other than as a jock sitting in a cramped studio amid mikes, mixing consoles and spinning turntables and broadcasting over a FCC-prescribed segment of bandwidth?
This stereotype has been all but shattered. As the New York Times’s Kyle Spencer reported last Sunday in a fascinating account of the evolution of campus radio, stations are transforming themselves into “multimedia platforms they believe that students with unprecedented tech appetites actually want, and it’s changing the ethos, content and vibe of collegiate stations.”
Campus radio, like so many other media in these tumultuous times, is busily engaged in stitching together platforms or, as the case may be, stacking one atop another. But why shouldn’t they? If, as the article relates, students are coming to campus with smartphones, iPods and tablets on which they can listen to music via a multitude of apps, shouldn’t these stations be evolving to meet these changing needs?
What does this possibly have to do with Cooperative Extension, an entity that in historical, temperamental and philosophical terms has little in common with campus radio?
The less engaged Cooperative Extension is with Smartphones, Ipods, and tablets, the more these technologies will be tied up in other uses. Here’s another way of looking at it: Each of these technologies represents a potential diversion away from time that otherwise could be invested in Cooperative Extension-related subject matter and programming.
To their immense credit, many of those associated with campus radio have taken this critical lesson to heart. They understand that within this new communications environment, “luring listeners and keeping them entertained is a matter of survival” — small wonder why they transforming their stations into multimedia platforms.
The times are calling on us to acquire a platforms mindset too. We must learn how to conceive and build platforms that work in tandem with others or, when the need arises, to build them on top of obsolete ones.
We must take other lessons to heart too, especially the critical understanding that these new platforms will create new challenges as well as opportunities. They will alter our organizational “ethos, content and vibe” much as they have campus radio stations and in ways we can now scarcely imagine.
We not only have to be prepared for that new reality but also comfortable with it.
We must also learn how to improvise as we never have before in our history — when the need arises, altering and even dismantling and rebuilding platforms to better conform with emerging technological needs.
Likewise, we must learn how to conceive and design apps to meet our users’ rapidly evolving technological needs.
We’ll also learn how to tailor these platforms to reach niche audiences, whether these happen to be defined by special needs or interests.
One of our great challenges in the future will be learning how to balance the demands of our traditional stakeholders and clients with those who are reached, whether intentionally or unintentionally, through these new outreach platforms. Extension programs have been traditionally rooted in communities and states. Over time, though, these rapid changes will lead require a considerable rethinking of what defines local.
Another lesson that already has been driven home to collegiate radio will also be driven home to us with a vengeance: Like techno-savvy college students, our clients no longer will be dictated to.
Why? Because technology has liberated them.