As part of The Big Green and Spartanedge’s series on “The State of State’s Media,” TBG Editor in Chief Emily Lawler sat down with Impact 89 FM Station Manger Jeremy Whiting. Read on or take a listen for Whiting’s words on how Impact is evolving, student tax dollars at use and what he thought of the first editorial in this series.
Q. So my first question is that Impact’s the Michigan Association of Broadcasters College Radio Station of the year for like, a million years running?
A. Ah, something like that, I think its ten years now we’ve won it.
Q. So you guys have a huge variety of programming, lots of different DJs, you get tax dollars but everybody likes you… what’s your secret?
A. I don’t know if there’s one secret to probably a large amount of people liking us, but definitely I think our organizational structure has something to do with it. We bring in a lot of student volunteers, we look for diverse programming, we take a lot of listener feedback into what we play, I think all that plays into it.
Q. And so as far as student tax dollars go, you guys get three dollars?
A. That’s right. Each semester every student on campus pays a three-dollar tax for the radio station. Now that’s part of the big larger grouping that you know is taken out for ASMSU and The State News and some of the other things like that. But ours is only three dollars, it’s never raised more than three dollars, and it’s refundable too so if students feel like they would rather not support us that’s fine too, they can always come and get a refund.
Q. So do a lot of students generally come to your office to get refunds?
A. Not too often, actually. Probably about each semester out of the thousands and thousands of students on campus probably only about, I’d say anywhere from 10 to 25 students actually come in to get the refund.
Q. So one of the things we’re examining in our series of editorials here is that The State News has a non-competition policy. Do you guys have anything that’s comparable?
A. Not really. For us there aren’t any other student radio stations on campus besides us. There’s WKAR, which is an NPR affiliate, which does something completely different than us. But a lot of times you’ll see people on the air that are doing stuff for maybe TV stations in the area or other radio stations in the area, but it’s not discouraged by any means for what we’re doing.
Q. So how is your institution not crumbling? The State News is terrified of letting anyone write for more than one publication and say it’s gonna drive competition through the roof, we’re going to turn into the next media battleground!
A. First off the station at least in my mind I know we’re not a news organization so that maybe makes the rules for us a little different, you know, so I can’t really speak to how State News does that. But for us, because we don’t cover news because we don’t have a lot of people going out and reporting, we do have some but that’s not our primary focus. You know our focus you know for that sort of thing. We do have some talk shows in the evening from 7 to 8 p.m., our Exposure series, so that could kind of be considered like that.
For the most part we’re playing music. We’re doing a little bit of talk programming, we see it as a launch pad for bigger and better things at the Impact, you know we think it’s great, it’s recognized statewide and even nationally as a great program but we find it kind of as a launching board. But I guess maybe it’s just a different philosophy and we haven’t run into any problems with it really. Our staffing issues haven’t really come up, we’ve been pretty consistent you know, at least the years that I’ve been there.
Q. And you don’t pay regular DJs but you pay directors?
A. That’s right. So our staff’s structured any MSU student who comes in who wants to be a DJ, awesome, great! You don’t have to have any training, prior experience, we take you through everything show you what to do. And all those DJs are volunteers. So everyone you hear on air 24/7, they’re volunteer DJs, they’re just doing it for the fun of it.
Now we do have a small staff of directors, about 10 directors, and they oversee each individual department. So we have a music director that sifts through the hundreds of CDs we get in each week and listens to them and figures which ones of these should be recommended for airplay. So that’s a huge job, that’s more more above and beyond the call of duty, so they get paid a little. Someone who’s doing the promotions for the station gets paid some, I get paid a little to oversee all the operations 24/7. So those positions are paid slightly, but you know it’s not even that much. But it’s a decent amount to help us as we’re going through school. But for the most part we have I think 45 air shifts throughout a week and they’re all volunteer.
Q. And what would you consider your relationship to other campus media? I will say that I did call in and they told me they were huge Big Green fans, to Exposure.
A. Ha ok, must have been Emily Fox, our exposure director and Exposure host. Um, you know, to be truthful it depends on the staff at the time not only of the radio station but also the other forms of media. We’ve had other articles we’ve participated in with The Big Green and stuff, which has been great. State News we’ve had great articles too, where we’ve talked with them.
We used to have a yearly softball game, kind of like a fun rivalry which is some years and is not other years depending on how riled up our staffs get and our schedules and stuff. So some staffs kind of get competitive with the others, some kinda don’t care. Right now we seem to be in the situation where we’re just kind of friendly with everyone and I like that. But I think there’s also something to be said for having some competition and trying to outdo each other, so it’s good to kind of see it swing both ways sometimes.
Q. So in the journalism school right now and I’m sure elsewhere, there’s a lot of talk about traditional media being kind of re-worked. And I’ll give the example of the local radio station The Edge which kind of went off the air, came back with no DJs or very few DJs, barebones, and what’s keeping Impact alive aside from tax dollars? What innovative programs are you coming up with?
A. I think a lot of it is, the heart of it is the students. Without the students so committed to the station we’d be in the same spot as the edge. Anyone can play music on the air, that’s not a big deal. In The Edge’s case they have a cool playlist, I enjoy listening to it, but they don’t have any DJs, you’re not getting that local connection besides the ads you hear on the air. So I think that’s something the DJs are able to offer.
You heard them this last weekend talking about the final four how we’re in it somehow, it’s great but you don’t get that local content just by listening to basically an iTunes playlist. Anyone can do that, so I think where we’re unique is that we offer some music selection, I think people have an idea that ‘I love listening to my iPod I’ll just play what I want,’ but your iPod runs out after a while, you know? So we do have a whole music review staff that sifts through all the new music and recommends things you might like, you know ‘if you like this, this might be cool.’ We have talk programming that’s relevant for the area. So I think that’s something that sets us apart.
Q. Well that was my last question, but is there anything else you want to go over?
A. No, well I liked your editorial, it’s good to see some bounce-back of that stuff, I’m not sure, it’s a weird dilemma that people are in. I can see The State News’s side and I can see The Big Green’s side and other forms of campus media because it is hard with one dominant publication and they have a non-compete clause, but so many others out there too that are good quality publications I can see both sides.
It’s interesting how it will all shake out I think with you know, online media and other, broadcast media dipping into the waters that print has traditionally been a part of. The line is very very grey and shady and it’s hard to figure out sometimes what makes one publication a competitor and one not at all what you’re doing. I think things are converging, they’re really starting to get that way, and it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out pretty soon.