Broadcasting students hit the airwaves at 105.9 FM The Region for podcasting project

For students in Durham College’s (DC) Broadcasting – Radio and Contemporary Media program, gaining hands-on experience in the field is crucial to their success in the classroom, and prepares students to join the workforce. When COVID-19 threatened to impact the hands-on component of the program, DC faculty and committed industry partners came together to find a creative solution. The result exceeded everyone’s expectations as students were given the opportunity to create and produce a podcast series that later aired on radio station 105.9 FM The Region, broadcasting to audiences across York Region.

With help from Phil Raby and Craig Robertson, faculty in the college’s School of Media, Art & Design, students were able to take potential career options for a test drive while gaining valuable skills that will prepare them for life after graduation.

Check out an interview below with Craig, students Marissa Ramcharran and Richard Evans, and 105.9 The Region station manager, Tina Cortese.

Q1: THERE ARE LOTS OF PARTS THAT GO INTO DEVELOPING A PODCAST EPISODE AND SERIES AND GETTING IT ONLINE AND TO AIR. WHAT ROLE DO YOU PLAY IN THIS PROJECT?

CRAIG: Throughout this project, I’m here to help the students hone their voice work and production skills. As well, I developed the podcast format for them to follow so they are able to showcase their individual skillset. Each week I package four shows together into a radio-friendly 15-minute segment that goes to air on Saturday mornings on 105.9 The Region.

MARISSA: I get to play a part as the producer, writer, voice talent, and editor of my own podcast segment. I’m responsible for writing the various types of content for my show while also following the podcast format so that my show is ready to air on The Region. I always try my best to ensure that the stories I’m telling are diverse, interesting, and relevant to any listeners.

TINA: As the broadcaster, our role at 105.9 FM The Region is to provide an additional platform for podcasters to share their content. It’s an opportunity to allow podcast hosts and producers the opportunity to attract a larger audience, especially in the early days of producing a show.

Q2: WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF THIS PROJECT AND WHAT IS THE MOST ENJOYABLE?

CRAIG: It’s been a challenging year overall for everyone. Despite having to pivot to remote learning, the work we are seeing our students turn out have completely surpassed expectations. They’ve embraced the assignments and delivered a wide variety of engaging content for the Discovery Podcast. I’ve known these students since their first year, so the most enjoyable part of this process for me is witnessing the growth of their skills.

RICHARD: COVID has taken us out of the classroom, so we as student journalists are learning to be prepared to make decisions on our own, and relying on our own expertise and judgement. The most enjoyable aspect for me is finding a story angle that is unexpected and following it through to the finished piece.

TINA: The most challenging parts of this project for 105.9 FM The Region are the very real adjustments that are made on a weekly basis to manage the timeslot for this content. The podcasts are scheduled for broadcast and unlike other “shows” which include specific lengths and commercial break times, the podcasts are, by their very nature, much more open-ended and casual.  This is a very manageable issue, however, because the rewards are so much greater. The reaction and comments of listeners to the DC student podcasts have been exciting to receive and confirm the very real engagement and connections students have made with their audience and followers.

Q3: HAVING THREE KEY PLAYERS IN THIS PROJECT – THE FACULTY MEMBER, COMMUNITY PARTNER AND STUDENT – LIKELY TAKES A LOT OF ORGANIZING AND MANAGING. WHAT’S THE KEY TO MAKING THIS RELATIONSHIP WORK TO PRODUCE A GREAT QUALITY PODCAST EPISODE?

CRAIG: Communication. This is a communication business after all! Before anything was presented to the students I consulted with Phil Raby, the co-ordinator of the Broadcasting – Radio and Contemporary Media program, and we discussed the logistics of the shows. As a fill-in host at The Region, I was able to manage how the program will be delivered and packaged with Tina Cortese, the station manager. Once everything was settled, we drafted a schedule for the podcasts to go to air and I formulated a simple format for the students to follow. This was all presented to the students in a class lecture and they have taken it from there!

MARISSA: Producing a quality podcast segment is all about following the format and staying true to the type of content you’re passionate about so you can be your authentic self on the radio. Of course, I’d also have to agree with Craig and say communication! Craig has been great at keeping all of us informed on a weekly basis. He constantly checks in with each of us, several days ahead of when our podcasts are set to air, to make sure that we’re on track.

RICHARD: Craig has been instrumental at making sure that we all understand what is expected of us from a nuts and bolts perspective, while always encouraging and celebrating creativity. Colouring outside the lines to a certain degree is great but we have learned that it must be within the framework of the station’s standards and expectations. Clear communication is key.

TINA: Craig is absolutely right — communication is key! The radio station is in constant communication with DC to ensure that deadlines are met, details are provided and broadcast standards are met.  A successful relationship is also achieved through mutual respect. Phil Raby and Craig Robertson are not only experienced producers but also gifted storytellers. It is their commitment to their craft and the industry that they share with their students to help them achieve exceptional and authentic content.

Q4: HOW DOES THIS PROJECT BENEFIT YOU DIRECTLY? WHAT HAS IT GIVEN YOU?

CRAIG: I remember the first time I was on the air at a professional radio station – I was terrified, yet excited beyond belief. I see that in the students with this project. The excitement and nerves have fueled great work and has given me a million ideas about how to tweak the Talk Radio classes. As a teacher, I couldn’t be happier for the students. That’s enough for me – that they are successful and enjoying the process.

MARISSA: This opportunity allowed me to really fine-tune my script writing to ensure that I am likable, informative, and also real and has given me confidence in myself to believe that “yes, I CAN do this!”

RICHARD: I’m thrilled that my work has been broadcast over the airwaves and that my instructor and the folks at 105.9 The Region have had the confidence to allow us to be heard. For all of us who aspire to be on air, this opportunity has been the highlight of my education!

TINA: The podcasts from DC students have provided not only compelling content for our listeners but especially important these days, the podcasts offer a variety of voices and opinions. The partnership serves as a reminder of our role and mandate and confirms the future growth of our industry.

Q5: WHAT DO YOU HOPE WORK-INTEGRATED PROJECTS LIKE THIS WILL LEAD TO IN THE FUTURE?

CRAIG: My hope is the relationship between community partners and Durham College can continue to progress. There is always the possibility that these relationships will produce jobs for our students, and in the end, that is success for the program and our partners.

MARISSA: I hope that these kinds of work-integrated projects allow future Broadcasting students at DC to gain hands-on experience and confidence. I know how easy it is to second guess yourself when you’re in a program and wondering if you’re actually good at any of it. With projects like this one with The Region 105.9, I’m hopeful that more students will realize early on that they’re capable of accomplishing anything and that they do have a spot in this industry. It’s obvious that the broadcasting industry needs more diverse voices and I think that work-integrated projects will help future broadcasters see this need and hopefully, fulfil it.

RICHARD: I hope that future students will be given the amazing opportunity we have been given to be heard. We all work hard on our regular projects but preparing this podcast gave me a true sense of how critical it is to have it ready to go, on time, EVERY time!

TINA: We hope that these types of partnerships emphasize our commitment to the communities and listeners we serve. We also hope it provides students with a positive and real-world experience and that it gives them the confidence to continue to grow and follow their dreams.