The switch from FM broadcast to web-based streaming provides more opportunities for students to experiment in different media and have their work seen.
WQAC, 90.9 FM, the long-serving student radio station at Alma College, has made the switch from the airwaves to digital media, dramatically expanding its listening audience and providing an enhanced web platform for student media.
Changes in the media landscape, the realization that fewer students were tuning in to the 100-watt FM station and the expense of maintaining the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) contract prompted the transformation.
“We decided that the time had come to let WQAC go silent and use those resources to build something that students find more relevant,” says Janie Diels, associate professor of communication and new media studies.
The station, now known as Pirate Media, is still student run. However, it now not only includes stream-on-demand services and online radio shows, but also other forms of media including photography and short films.
A Strong Foundation for Student Media
“Pirate Media is a web platform for student media—audio, video and photography,” says Diels. “Any student can create a show, make a movie or submit photography and have it available to others to stream on demand.
“We work with other student groups, such as Short Stack, the student film organization, but any student can create content for the site,” says Diels. “We also worked with athletics to purchase equipment to stream events, and we hope to soon be streaming senior music recitals and other campus-focused events as well.”
WQAC was licensed as an indie rock station; the switch to Pirate Media will enable the broadcast of more diverse music offerings and talk shows.
The digital improvements will potentially expand the media audience, says Diels. In order to tune in to WQAC, listeners had to be within range of the 100-watt broadcast. Switching to Pirate Media means anyone, anywhere can access the content at any time.
“Our new format provides more opportunities for students to have their work seen,” says Diels.
It also provides synergy with Alma’s New Media Studies program, she says.
“Since broadcasting was never the central element of our academic program, the radio station was not really linked in a meaningful way to academics on campus,” she says. “Now we can provide a space for new media students, and any student with an interest, to practice what they have learned in classes and get feedback from a broad audience.
“We are just getting off the ground, but I think we have built a strong foundation for student media that is relevant to our students today and accessible to our alumni who want to see what is happening on campus,” says Diels.
Exploring the Potential for Technology
When the Internet first became widely available for downloading and streaming music, former WQAC faculty advisor Steven Vest noticed that there were students who wanted to do that. He supports the transition.
“A transition to a non-broadcast multimedia format that embraced different technologies was essential for WQAC/Pirate Media to stay relevant,” says Vest. “It’s important to reach out to students using the most effective and widely used technology.
“WQAC was an important part of the Alma experience for many years,” says Vest. “It provided an excellent opportunity for Alma students to explore the worlds of broadcasting, music and promotion in a practical, ‘real world’ manner. Pirate Media will give the students the same opportunities to work with different media and explore the potential for technology.”
Student Media at Alma College
Alma’s student-run newspaper publishes weekly during the academic year. The paper’s online presence provides a digital outlet for Almanian stories.
This student-run video production company specializes in client-based design and media projects.
An annual award-winning juried magazine, the Pine River Anthology is a collaboration of both the English and art departments.
This student-run monthly literary journal has recently moved to an online platform and provides publishing opportunities for creative student writers.
This student film organization strives to emulate a professional video production environment. It primarily creates short, narrative films.