On Thursday, March 28, and Friday, March 29, 2019, a group of 20 student members of WONY 90.9 FM, SUNY Oneonta’s student-run radio station, took a Student Association-sponsored field trip to Boston to visit a few of the largest public media institutions in the United States. The students received private guided tours of WGBH and WBUR. They also visited the PRX Podcast Garage and WTBU, Boston University’s student-run radio station. The group was accompanied by Dr. Andrew Bottomley, WONY faculty advisor and Assistant Professor of Media Studies in SUNY Oneonta’s Communication & Media Department. It was a rare chance for students to get a behind-the-scenes peek at professional broadcasting studios, interact with experienced journalists and top industry executives, and learn about internship and career opportunities.
The journey began on Thursday afternoon with a visit to the PRX Podcast Garage, a community recording studio and educational center dedicated to podcast production. It aims to make podcasting easy and affordable to anyone with a story to share, providing community members with a professional studio and skilled production staff at low cost. The Podcast Garage’s innovative model is being replicated nationwide with various other community podcast “lab” spaces opening up in New York City, Denver and Washington, D.C., among other places. The students were hosted at the Podcast Garage by Palace Shaw, Community Manager, and Kevin O’Connell, Studio & Operations Manager. While there, they also met with Audrey Mardavich, the Managing Producer at PRX’s Radiotopia. PRX is a nonprofit public radio/podcast distributor and Radiotopia is one of the biggest podcast networks in the country. They distribute some of the most creative and popular podcasts around, including 99% Invisible, Ear Hustle, The Memory Palace, Criminal, and Song Exploder. The students spent an hour-and-a-half chatting with Palace, Kevin, and Audrey about the podcasting industry, community media and career opportunities. Later that evening, the group was invited back to the PRX Podcast Garage for their monthly “Maker Mingle” event, where they met a variety of media producers – some seasoned veterans, others just getting started – and learned about the vibrant podcasting community in Boston.
The group began the day on Friday with two stops on the Boston University campus, starting with WTBU, BU’s student-run radio station. WTBU is a nationally recognized station with an especially strong reputation in the Boston music scene, winning the College Music Journal’s Station of the Year award three years in a row (2012-2014). WTBU’s history traces back to the late 1950s, and in the 1970s it famously introduced a young Howard Stern to radio broadcasting. The station is operated through BU’s College of Communication, and Associate Professor Anne Donohue (WTBU faculty advisor and Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) graciously gave the students a tour of the WTBU facilities. In March 2016, the WTBU studios were destroyed in an electrical fire. The students were able to tour the recently reopened state-of-the-art studio spaces (designed in conjunction with Stern’s production team at SiriusXM satellite radio) – a particularly insightful experience, considering WONY’s own anticipated move to a new studio in Hunt Union in 2020-2021.
The WONY students then shuttled down to the other end of BU’s campus to visit WBUR, Boston’s legendary NPR news station. WBUR is one of the biggest public radio stations in the country, producing a number of major news and talk programs that get distributed to radio stations nationwide, including On Point and Here & Now. WBUR was the original home to Car Talk, one of the most popular talk radio shows in U.S. public radio history. Today, they have an innovative iLab division dedicated to podcasting and experimenting with new programming. WBUR’s original podcast series include the true crime art heist serial Last Seen, the relationship advice series Dear Sugars, and Modern Love, a hugely popular series co-produced with The New York Times. WONY’s host at WBUR was Josh Swartz, a podcast producer who previously worked on the daily sports podcast Season Ticket and who currently produces Endless Thread, a unique series covering the internet and Reddit culture. After a tour of WBUR’s impressive newsroom and studio spaces, the students settled into the conference room where they enjoyed a lengthy question-and-answer session with multiple WBUR staffers, including Swartz, Endless Thread co-host and producer Amory Siverstein, Kind World reporter and producer Andrea Asuaje, and Katherine Brewer, the coordinating producer of podcasts and new programs in WBUR’s iLab.
The trip ended with a bang when the WONY students got a private tour of WGBH, one of the biggest public media companies in the U.S. The broadcaster has both radio and television operations, and the visit kicked off with an hour-long private tour of both facilities. Led by WGBH docent and former Boston College communication professor Bill Stanwood, the students were even given special access to areas off-limits to most public tours: the production control rooms, the scene shop, and the central apparatus room (server room). WGBH-TV is one of PBS’s two flagship stations (the other is WNET in NYC), and the producer of nearly one-third of PBS’s nationally syndicated programming, including Frontline, American Experience, Nova, Antiques Roadshow, and Masterpiece (the U.S. home to Downton Abbey and Sherlock, among others). WGBH Radio is also an NPR member station broadcasting a news-and-talk format during the day and jazz music at night. They co-produce PRI’s The World, one of the most widely syndicated news-talk radio programs in the U.S. The visit concluded with a one-on-one conversation with Nina Porzucki, WGBH’s Managing Producer of Podcasting, who is in charge of the company’s podcasting division and programs including the investigative podcast series The Frontline Dispatch.
Photograph: Students from SUNY Oneonta college radio station WONY meet with Nina Porzucki, WGBH Managing Producer of Podcasting, in WGBH’s Boston headquarters.