Joe College

by Craig Jackman

This year, as I have for the past couple, I had the chance to judge the audio portion of production demos of the graduating class of the Radio Broadcasting program at the local community college, for their annual awards ceremonies. I am also a proud graduate of the predecessor to this program, so it’s something I’m pleased to do. If the trend I’m hearing over the past couple of years holds up, “Joe College” is not going to be a derogatory term for very much longer.

For a long time I have used “Joe College” as a derogatory term. I used it for anyone fresh out of school and into that first paying gig. Heck, I guess I was “Joe College” once, young and full of enthusiasm, going full speed madly off in all directions all the time, not having a clue that I didn’t know what I thought I needed to know about the shiny new world of Radio Production. I spent the first part of my career relearning what they did and didn’t teach me in school, to do it “the professional way.” I had to learn a lot about teamwork, and dealing with both fragile and domineering egos. Of course the level of equipment, the amount of equipment, and how that equipment was maintained was completely different in the pro shop compared to at school.

Compare that to those coming out of school today. They are fully fluent in computers and audio software. Oh how I smile to myself inside every time one of them asks just how different it used to be (“Just a little!” being the start of the correct answer). When I started, the only computers were the one in Accounting, and maybe one just coming into use in Traffic. Today’s college grads may or may not have your particular audio software editing program(s), but they will have something similar, and the concepts, if not the command names, with transfer over. This school uses Adobe Audition, as they asked for opinions on what they should get when they had the chance to upgrade their computer systems a year or two back. They may not have studios for everyone, but there is enough to go around and get the assignments done, and teaching valuable time management skills at the same time.

Since this program is now based around an Internet only station run by first year students (www.algonquincollege.com/air/), and a low power FM station run by second year students (www.algonquincollege.com/ckdj/), they have a greater idea of what’s going to be expected of them once they get out and into the industry. I only got the chance to broadcast to the hallway on closed circuit when I was in school, while these guys and girls have the opportunity to broadcast to a real audience. I’m also happy to point out that it is guys and girls. No longer is Production and exclusively male area. Women now get the chance to work in small rooms with no windows too. In fact, this year’s winner was female, with not the flashiest tape, but the best thought out and put together tape.

Now just because they have access to the tools, doesn’t mean they know how to apply them. I have paint and brushes, but the only thing I can paint is a wall. It takes art talent to paint a portrait worthy of hanging in an art gallery. Certainly, none of the grad students I judged this year are on par with Michelangelo just yet. However there have been some really good ideas these past couple of years, starting out with the basis for good creative radio production, and that’s good words and good writing. From situational conversations, song lyrics, both comedy and straight, the skeleton has been there to build some really beautiful people. Some of the promos I got to judge in the past two years would be easily worthy of inclusion in the RAP Awards should they have been submitted from a commercial radio station.As far as station imaging, because the FM is an alternative/hip-hop format station, you are limited in what you are going to hear from them. That said, it’s correct for what it needs to be, with elements correctly placed, and sounding designed to do what they are supposed to do in exciting and supporting music flow. The same would follow for commercial production, in that with such a small broadcast pattern and narrow niche of listeners, you are not going to find a lot of clients clamoring to buy commercial time. The few commercial spots I heard were targeted specifically to their audience, and worked on that basis.

The one weakness I heard is that nobody has that classic “90 lbs. of steel balls” radio voice, but that also may be their biggest strength.

The one thing that’s missing of course for these graduating students is experience. They have to learn how to deal with PDs and clients who either don’t know what they want or don’t know how to express what it is they want. It’s up to the Producer to figure it out and tell them. They have to learn how to deal with being exploited by Account Executives, and how not to let it happen again, while still remaining part of the team. Of course, the first thing they have to learn is how to deal with the relentless pressure of deadlines and how to manage them.

“Joe College” comes out of school now formed, if not kiln fired, rather than just a lump of clay that’s been kneaded and is ready to mold. While you could see this as a disadvantage, in today’s corporate radio environment, where personnel must be plug-and-play, with minimal training and even less supervision, I think this is a strength.

When the time comes, don’t be afraid of hiring “Joe College” anymore. They’re ready... and I promise not to use the term “Joe College” derisively ever again.

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