In the once-dormant radio booth on the third floor of the Knight Campus, the Community College of Rhode Island has launched its first-ever online radio station featuring exclusive content from students.
The topics will range from top-10 music countdown lists to campus sports play-by-play and even health tips from CCRI nurses, but the ultimate goal is to foster an environment where students can get the on-air experience they need to compete in the field.
Associate Professor Sandra Sneesby wants to afford her students the same opportunity to learn and thrive in the competitive communications field she had at Emerson College, which has its own fully staffed television network and terrestrial radio station – a model Sneesby hopes to replicate at CCRI in the coming years.
“We’d like this to be the go-to place in Rhode Island,” Sneesby said. “You want to get trained in media? Come here. We really believe experimental training is how you give students an edge.”
After developing the concept of a radio network with fellow faculty member Professor Kathleen Beauchene, Sneesby secured licensing for musical content and purchased the necessary equipment while drumming up student interest on campus to fill important time slots. Student Life funds the station, and Sneesby and other faculty members will manage the necessities while the students run the day-to-day activities.
Longtime Rhode Island radio and television personality Dan Yorke, who hosts “The Dan Yorke Show” on WPRO 630 AM and “Dan Yorke State of Mind” on FOX Providence, toured CCRI’s facilities on Monday and spoke with several communications students about the importance of getting involved beyond the classroom.
A Dayton University alumnus, Yorke discovered his love for radio and honed his craft in college broadcasting out of a studio similar to the booth today’s CCRI students are using. The college features state-of-the-art editing software and other amenities on par with what professionals are using in the broadcast field.
“There is more sophisticated equipment in this studio than where we do our show,” Yorke said.
The broadcast veteran with more than 30 years’ experience recalled the feeling knowing his voice had been heard for the first time – “To get on the air is the biggest high for someone who wants to do it,” he said – and encouraged students to “think outside the box” to find their own voice.
“Put yourself in a place to get a break,” he said. “You never know what will happen. Be honest, be direct, do your homework and let the chips fall where they may.”
Feedback from students participating in launching the station has been tremendous.
“It’s cool to be a part of the founding group,” said CCRI student and radio host David Stachurski of Warwick.
“I listen to music 24/7 and used to play a little bit in high school. I went to [the University of Rhode Island] before I came here and was interested in radio there, but this has been a better fit for me.”
While Stachurski doesn’t plan to pursue a career in radio, instead focusing more on filming and editing, he wouldn’t rule anything out down the road.
“I hate the idea of being boxed in on what you have to do for the rest of your life,” he said. “If I was an editor for a few years and then had an opportunity to work in radio based on my experience here, I’d like that option.”
Stamford, Connecticut, native Stefano Petrafesa ’17 transferred from URI to CCRI, unsure what he wanted to do while hoping to find his niche. A career in media never crossed his mind until he heard the school needed help launching the radio station. He now hosts his own show every Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., playing all musical genres from hip-hop to alternative rock.
“I just fell in love with it,” Petrafesa said. “We have an awesome studio; we now have this radio channel. There are tons of opportunities here for someone interested or, even if they don’t know they’re interested, to find out if they are.”
Petrafesa will transfer to Emerson next fall and pursue a career in filmmaking and editing.
“Without CCRI or the radio station, this wouldn’t be possible,” Petrafesa said. “It gives you real-life experience. It gives you the opportunity to really know what you’re getting yourself into.”
The key to building the radio network is content. Sneesby will treat on-air broadcasting as a classroom assignment, instructing students to develop a story and tell it on the air. Ultimately, when they leave CCRI, Sneesby said, they will have their own portfolio highlighting their experiences in either print, broadcast or television.
“There is a correlation between what we’re teaching and the content,” she said. “It’s going to take a few years to get to where we want to be, but the campus is excited about it and our president is behind us. She’s real forward-thinking. It’s going to be a challenge and we need compelling content.”
Understanding the radical change in how people listen to the radio these days – “I have two daughters and they don’t even listen to the radio; they just listen on their phones,” she said – CCRI is offering listeners the opportunity to listen on their phones via a web app or even on the road through Bluetooth on their phones.
CCRI also plans to launch its own web-based television network, but, for now, Sneesby is more focused on continuing to build the communications program “course by course” while implementing the radio network.
A nine-year faculty member who began her tenure in computer sciences, she has enjoyed every milestone – major or minor – along the way.
“I remember being in the bookstore taking a picture the first time they put the ‘Communications’ sign over our section,” she recalled. “It’s the little things that motivate you.”
Sneesby is also putting the finishing touches on a transfer agreement with Emerson in which students can seamlessly transfer if they graduate with a 3.0 GPA and finish their general education requirements. She also hopes to get the communications program approved as an associate degree.
A project that didn’t seem possible a year ago is quickly becoming a reality, and the CCRI community will have its own hub for campus-related news and information in a new format.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” Sneesby said. “We have six to eight solid students involved now, but as word has gotten out, we’ve gotten even more students who are interested, some of whom have been in our courses. It’s a very rewarding effort.”