Not every university campus in Canada is fortunate enough to have a campus radio station, but there are about 50 that do. For those campuses, are the strategic and educational value of campus radio fully recognized by administration and professors? Although the level of university involvement differs from one campus to another, I’m going to suggest the answer is generally, “no.”
Campus radio offers several benefits both strategically and pedagogically: it is a strategic advantage when appealing to new immigrants and international students. It is a key medium for universities to reach out to and interact with their communities. It is an excellent tool to improve multimedia class projects. And, finally, it is key to fostering that coveted “campus identity” so sought after in these competitive times.
Campus radio stations play independent, Canadian, and often local music – this is something university music departments could easily take better advantage of. Beyond that, the stations are important sources of cultural content. At the University of Ottawa’s CHUO 89.1 FM, for example, most weekend content is “third-language” (neither French nor English). So, the radio station reaches diverse ethnic, linguistic, and cultural communities that may not have another media outlet in their language reflecting their concerns. It’s not surprising that these radio shows often become long-standing points of pride and engagement for their communities. Universities that want to promote themselves to international and immigrant students with promises of a supportive local community can point to these shows as examples of the vibrant, supportive, multicultural campus life.
What’s more, an hour dedicated to university news is a good way to keep students and the wider community informed of developments at the university. The radio format allows people to call in and address questions directly, perhaps even talking to senior administrators on occasion. A weekly or monthly program gives the community an accessible, predictable way to engage with the university. Radio is more personal than an online inquiry and less intimidating than attending a formal board meeting. An hour on campus radio doesn’t replace other communications tools, but it certainly complements them.
Universities like Ryerson that use their campus radio as a locus of training for broadcasting programs know the educational value of campus radio. But there’s room to imagine how campus radio might serve other not-so-obviously connected programs. If a professor wants to offer a podcast option for projects, why not leverage physical resources and expertise by directing students to the campus radio station? The sheer novelty of being in a radio recording booth will excite and engage students. While students will have differing levels of expertise with technology, campus radio stations offer all students professional equipment and training if they want it.
Finally, in an increasingly connected and globalized world, universities don’t just compete with other institutions in the region, but they also compete across Canada and even beyond. This is pushing universities to be more imaginative in how they sell themselves to prospective students. It’s no longer just about the programs, but the entire university experience. Just as the natural environment and sports teams contribute to this experience, so does radio. It speaks to a wide range of students, from the young urban woman who was in a rock band back home and would still love to be a part of a music scene to a mature rural student who may have received his local news from radio. Campus radio is a strategic asset for reaching out to thousands of potential students across Canada. It is a wonderful part of university life, and universities can only benefit by using it better.
Benjamin Miller is a student at the University of Ottawa and host of “The Policy Brief” on CHUO 89.1 FM. He has been actively involved in campus radio since 2010.