As he monitored the control board, Tip Lynch, a senior integrated media major, put in perspective the significance of Columbus State University's first radio station going on the air this week.
"This is by far the biggest opportunity that we've gotten since I've been here," said Lynch, 21, a 2012 Glenwood School graduate from Cusseta.
He aspires to a career in radio or TV, and he figures the station will help him reach that goal while attracting more communication majors to CSU.
"People will come in here and look at this and see instantly that this is top-notch stuff," he said.
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Cougar Radio, WCUG 88.5-FM, debuted just after midnight Wednesday, thanks to Christian station The Truth moving to a new frequency, 107.7-FM, and a contribution from an anonymous local donor.
"The CSU Department of Communication is growing in number of majors and in classroom and community opportunities for students to gain practical experience in many areas of the industry," Danna Gibson, the department's chairwoman, said in a news release. "We are excited to launch the station and provide opportunities for communication students to learn all aspects of running a radio station. We are grateful for this gift that will enhance not only our communication studies, public relations and integrated media concentrations but also will open opportunities for all CSU students."
Gibson told the Ledger-Enquirer that the donor and dollar amount won't be disclosed until the station's grand opening, to be scheduled during the fall semester, but she said the contribution is "several hundred thousand."
The department has grown from approximately 170 students four years ago to more than 400 this year.
"We are training students to do the 'backpack journalism,' so they can do the production, the writing, the social media - everything by themselves," Gibson said. "We truly are training them to industry standards."
WCUG is housed in the Carpenters Building, at the intersection of Ninth Street and Broadway, across from the CSU Schwob School of Music in the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, on the RiverPark campus in downtown Columbus. Students operate the 22,000-watt, noncommercial station under the direction of department faculty and staff, broadcasting music and original content 24 hours a day for diverse interests.
The schedule will be limited before the fall semester starts in August, then expand in the fall with additional programming, including news and sports, Gibson said.
"We look to faculty and students to tell us what they want to hear on WCUG," she said. "This is a great learning lab for our students, but it also is a new alternative in radio listening for our university and the community. I invite you to listen to us as we grow."
Scott Sellnow-Richmond, assistant professor of communication, is the faculty adviser for the radio station. He moved this summer from Michigan, where he was an on-air personality for seven years with Cumulus Broadcasting and taught at Wayne State and Western Michigan universities.
"This is invaluable," he said of WCUG. "We will build an identity and reinforce the culture. It's a way to get the students more involved with the community and get the community more involved with Columbus State. So it's going to strengthen that relationship beyond building really valuable skill sets for students."
Department lecturer Chris Robinson directs the NPACE (Nonprofit and Civic Engagement) Center, which infuses service-learning into the curriculum and provides nonprofit organizations with communication services. He and Jonathan Rome, the department's lab production assistant, worked at WTVM in Columbus before joining CSU last year for their video expertise. They also will guide the students on this radio broadcasting venture.
"This is a student-produced station," said Robinson, who was WTVM's news operations manager for 15 years. " We give them the initial spark, and they follow through."
Rome added, "A lot of people have to go through internships to get this opportunity, but this is part of our curriculum now."
In addition to being a staff member, Rome, 32, is a junior integrated media major. He graduated from Columbus High School in 2001 and went to Fort Valley State University on a football scholarship but never played there because of a neck injury. He returned to Columbus to rehab his injury and ended up working at WTVM for 12 years, first as a production assistant, then a video editor and lastly a senior videographer. Now, CSU's radio initiative adds another dimension to the communication department.
"It opens up so many doors that we didn't have before," Rome said. "The sky's the limit."
And they can see the sky and a sweeping view of downtown through the station's two walls of glass on the ground floor, allowing passersby to watch the DJs and engineers.
"We are going to brand the windows," Robinson said, "and we hope to put speakers on the outside, so as people walk by on the sidewalk they can hear us."
Live programming probably won't air until the spring 2016 semester, Robinson said. "We want to make sure that all of our content is where it needs to be," he said. "We've got a lot of students who are very green. We need to make sure they understand the consequences of an FCC license."
Gibson, however, added, "In the fall, if something really special happens, we can broadcast live. We will be not only telling the story of some of the amazing things going on in this community, including our nonprofits, but also public service announcements and things of that nature."
Although WCUG is playing almost exclusively jazz now, the programming is expected to eventually comprise a variety of music, including a CSU Top 40 selected by students, plus concerts from the Schwob School, athletic events, newscasts and talk shows.
"We're going to be very flexible and very fluid," Robinson said, "so we will be changing as our needs change. Ultimately, it's student driven."
Robinson envisions at least 100 students participating in the station in some way. The station has a student-faculty advisory board, Gibson said.
"The students have put quite a bit of research into it," Gibson said, "as well as their heart. It's amazing. I'm always proud of our students, but this is one of the prouder moments because they've had to step up and created something brand new."
The station's opening culminates an effort of at least two years, she said.
"We're trying to train students and make sure they have what they need to go be successful when they leave Columbus State University," Robinson said. "This equipment we have been so humbly gifted with is industry standard. They can walk right out of here and go directly into another station and immediately make an impact. This isn't play; this is play for real."