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Media Experts Say HBCU Radio Stations Are Underused


Historically Black colleges and universities must continue to invest financial and personnel resources into campus radio stations, because the stations are powerful outlets that present a wide range of opportunities for the institutions, said a panel of media experts Wednesday during a forum on campus media at the 2008 National HBCU Week.

Addressing a group of HBCU presidents, faculty and staff, Loretta Rucker, executive director of the African-American Public Radio Consortium (AAPRC), said, “The biggest kept secret among [Black colleges] is a network of African-American stations that could be providing all the things to our community mainstream stations are not.”

The AAPRC was created in 2000 to provide the financial means to better serve Black listeners. The consortium is currently composed of 20 member stations, most of which are located at HBCUs.

According to information provided at the forum, HBCU radio stations reach half of all Black public radio listeners across the nation. Texas Southern University’s radio station, 90.0 FM KTSU, reaches 300,000 people a week, Rucker said. “How do we galvanize [our resources] to put our stories on national public radio?”

There are roughly 60 Black college radio stations scattered across the nation. Wendy Williams, general manager of WCLK FM, a public radio station licensed to Clark Atlanta University, is in charge of one of most successful. With a 10-person staff and a six-figure budget, Williams is forging a strong bond between the institution, CAU, and the city of Atlanta.

“I think that we play an extremely important role in the community. We’ve been in that community for 35 years. Clark Atlanta students graduate and live in the community. Their radio dials are set to 91.9 WCLK FM,” Williams said.

Campus radio stations are not a new phenomenon. For years, colleges and universities have provided training outlets for their students to learn the fundamentals of sales, promotions, programming, producing and news writing for radio. HBCUs must advance the mission of the campus station, and, consider a public radio format, Rucker suggested. “Let’s stop thinking it’s just campus radio. It’s really about serving the public,” she said.

Another advantage of campus radio, said Dr. Roderick Paige, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, is the station’s unique ability to advance an institution’s educational agenda.

“These stations are powerful leadership tools that can help the university define what [in terms of issues] is important to the university. The public is going to have some type of opinion. HBCUs should participate in cultivating it,” Paige said, adding “if you don’t participate in that shaping of the point of view, you’ll get shaped.”

According to AAPRC, there are approximately 1.5 million listeners of Black public radio stations nationwide. Another 1.5 million listen to general audience public radio.

In the future, public radio will need more people of color in programming, management and behind the microphone, said Bruce Theriault, senior vice president for radio for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a consulting firm for nonprofit organizations, suggesting HBCUs could fill those voids.

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