Students interested in landing a job in radio broadcasting immediately after college should look no further than right here in Aggieland.
Since 2010, the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications’ radio broadcasting program has been steadily building, and in the last four years, approximately 90 percent of students who are actively seeking jobs in the radio and records industry find them prior to graduating – at some of the hottest companies from the East Coast to the West Coast.
Billy McKim, associate professor of agricultural communications and journalism, oversees the radio program, which has seen substantial growth and interest from students in the past two years. The growth, he explains, is due largely in part to the addition of Fusion FM in 2015, a collaborative station initiative between Bryan Broadcasting and Texas A&M, and strong industry ties with broadcasting companies like Country Radio Broadcasters Inc, All Access in Nashville, MusicMaster, CBS, Cox Communications and KFRG in California.
“Our program is all about working with industry,” McKim said. “We want our students to connect with industry professionals daily because that is who they will work for after graduation. If they don’t know what the industry expectations are for their field, they won’t be successful.”
McKim’s links with industry colleagues is the unique strength of the program, resulting in real-world opportunities for his students, including networking, internships, professional development and financial support.
Bill Mayne, executive director of Country Radio Broadcasters Inc. in Nashville, established an endowed scholarship in McKim’s department specifically for students pursuing a career in radio broadcasting.
“We look for schools with great programs to do endowments, and there are very few schools across the nation that I see providing this realistic, real-world, hands-on approach for students that Texas A&M is doing,” Mayne said. “A number of Aggies intern for us, and these are some of the most brilliant and smart kids out there. I spend a lot of time with them, talk to them about their goals, connect them to others in our industry and recommend them for jobs throughout the country.”
Industry partners agree that Texas A&M sets itself apart from the rest of the pack.
“Texas A&M has a wonderful program, one that I wish I had when I was getting my degree,” said Heather Froglear, music director of KFRG in Riverside – San Bernardino, CA. “What Dr. McKim has done with his students is by far the smartest thing you can do to enter the world of radio broadcasting – know everything. The opportunity for students to travel and meet with media leaders from all angles, such as television, radio, digital media, research firms and record labels, is something very special to this program. Radio is no longer just on-air broadcasting; we are in the business of entertainment, whether on-air, online, on digital platforms or in person.”
These industry connections are core to the program, and a big reason the job placement rate for graduates is so high. Students are meeting and working with potential employers long before they enter the profession.
“Our graduates have taken jobs across the state and the country, including places like Memphis, Nashville and California,” McKim said. “We want to make sure we are continually graduating the most well-trained and industry-ready professionals out there.”
Monta Vaden, an assistant editor for All Access in Nashville, is just one of several of McKim’s industry partners. She has worked with numerous students over the past few years and appreciates that their preparation continually evolves as the industry shifts.
“The network of industry professionals showing a vested interest in the work Dr. McKim and Texas A&M are doing provides students with additional platforms on which to build a solid foundation of business connections and mentors before ever embarking on a career journey,” Vaden said. “This first-of-its-kind program has already helped enrich the candidate pool for our industry, and I look forward to the continued innovations produced by this top-notch program.”
McKim added that the popularity of the program among Aggies is due in large part to the fact that it expands well beyond traditional broadcasting programs to include audio and video courses, with broadcasting always at its core.
In an effort to keep the program conforming to the newest trends, McKim said Fusion FM, College Station’s first divergent rock station, will soon transition to streaming only.
“Most millennials aren’t listening to radio in traditional ways,” he said. “They are listening on their phones or computers. It makes sense to structure the station in line with what the majority of industry is doing.”
In addition to moving to a streaming-only format, McKim is looking to add a second country format to syndicate across suburban and rural stations nationwide. Other stations will pay to pick up and play, creating a potential revenue stream to support the program’s growth and the development of its students.
“We are proud to have partnered and participated with the program at Texas A&M,” Mayne said. “I tell the students all the time they are blessed; when I went to school we didn’t have the opportunity to do anything like this – to leave the classroom and have outside, real-world experiences provided to us by our university and the program.”
“But here’s Billy taking these kids all over the country to listen to leaders in the field and keep them in touch with all the current industry trends,” he added.