A platform for storytelling

In late November I visited State College for Penn State’s final game of the season at Beaver Stadium against Michigan State. I wasn’t expecting a victory, and we didn’t get one. But it was the first time seeing Penn State play in-person for my brothers, and so it was a great experience nonetheless.

While in town for the weekend I also met up with Dave Cole and Tyler Ball. Dave is a Penn Stater living in Pittsburgh and works for Comcast and Pittsburgh magazine. Tyler is a junior and also president/general manager of The LION 90.7fm, the campus radio station. We met up because I had commissioned Dave to film a short documentary style film on Penn State student broadcasting and its continuing impact. I snapped the photo above of student Dan Balton during filming.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of The LION 90.7fm. It’s also significant because the station’s studio is moving from its current place in the HUB-Robeson Center to a newly expanded part of the student union building. I expect to be able to share the short film at some point in the spring. It’ll be a solid introduction for new students to the history and tradition of independent student broadcasting at Penn State, while also highlighting the potential of the medium heading into a new era.

I’ve stayed engaged with student broadcasting through the Penn State Alumni Association and the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group. The Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group itself exists specifically for the purpose of student mentorship, support for student media leaders, and alumni engagement. So I keep an eye on what the students are up to, and think about student broadcasting as it fits into the larger media landscape that we live in. When we can (which isn’t yet as often as we’d like) we support the students strategically, operationally, or financially.

2015-01-06 LION 90.7fm tweet.png

On the topic of strategic support, this tweet caught my eye earlier this month. I agree with the students that the launch of their first iOS app for student broadcasting is a big deal. It’s a pretty rudimentary app right now, but it’s a great first step.

The key will be whether they can draft and execute a plan for its continuing development. Specifically, developing the app with an eye toward it becoming a valuable platform for Penn Staters and community members to engage in the stories of the area. What might that look like?

  • Enabling user account creation for tracking registered MAUs and analytics to separate compelling programming from stuff that should be cut or the stuff that just hasn’t yet found its ideal timeslot.
  • Functionality for push notifications for special broadcast events that can engage students and/or alumni. “Penn State Nittany Lions kickoff in one hour. Listen now for live Beaver Stadium pregame coverage.”
  • A membership program tied to registered accounts to covert something like 10% of the most engaged listeners to monthly recurring donors. Eventually push them to sustain their favorite programming.
  • Enabling users to submit their own recorded audio and video from around campus for featuring as part of the broadcast. SoundCloud is probably the most obvious and low-cost way to make this happen.
  • Creating audio channels separate from the live broadcast stream to let content partners produce what would functionally be podcasts, but promoted through the campus radio station’s brand and to its total audience.

The theme is positioning campus radio as a platform for storytelling throughout the community, and as much as possible using the technology to encourage UGC and finding new ways to create earned income.

I think student broadcasting as a medium is uniquely positioned to serve as the platform for storytelling, and their iOS app can serve as the primary means to build that platform. Bu it’s critical to own the platform that serves the community, and not simply exist as part of a larger a la cart approach to a student, alumnus, or resident’s information diet. Own the platform.