College Radio Station Web Sites: Perceptions of Value and Use
McClung, Steven, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator
It seems everyone has a favorite Web site these days. There are thousands of sites that appeal to our need for entertainment, information, news, gossip, escapism, and the list goes on. There are even World Wide Web sites that will allow a user to find a long lost high school friend (snowball.com, 2000) no matter where in the world she or he may be. The emergence of the World Wide Web has made our world smaller and the "Global Village" the Canadian seer Marshall McLuhan (1964) envisioned is upon us.
Traditional media have embraced the Web and there is an audience for these sites. Users of media pages have the ability to read electronic versions of hometown newspapers, listen to distant radio stations via audio streaming, and go to television sites that provide streaming video and information about local communities (Bates, et. al., 1996). The technology, in many instances, can be as entertaining as the information. In June 2000, at least 350 colleges and universities had Web sites for their radio stations (M.LT., 2000) and that number is still growing. Apparently these institutions, for whatever reason, are finding value in the integration of Internet sites with their broadcast outlets, and people are surfing these sites. Advisers of these stations, in many cases, may be at a loss as to what content to put on the sites. To this point, no one has asked what people like about college radio sites, or why people use them.
Student-run college radio is seen as the training ground for those students trying to establish careers in the broadcasting industry (Brant, 1981; Thompsen, 1992; Pesha, 1997). Sometimes viewed as unprofessional, college stations have the reputation of playing music that is "left of center" (Esparza, 1999). College radio also has the perception as being raw and cutting edge. College radio Web sites are often leaders in programming trends like promotional activities and use of innovative Internet technology (McClung, 1999a). The student body is an integral part of any campus station and these stations and their accompanying Web sites are generally staffed and run by students.
These Web sites offer a particular challenge for the faculty and advisers who are charged with overseeing the operation of these pages. Cyberspace has been a challenge for journalism and mass communication programs around the country on several fronts. Legal and ethical issues are at the forefront of curricula consideration (Smethers, 1998). Programs are also working to teach students Internet design issues and strategies. Of course, there is always the issue of content. Do the people who are teaching the Internet component of mass communication know what audiences are using student cyber-media for?
College students naturally make up the core audience of a broadcast facility on a campus and generally college radio audiences are teens and people in their early to mid-twenties. That is not the case with the college radio station Web site, however. While the core audience (50%) of a college radio station Web site ranges in age from 18 to 25, nearly 45 percent of users of these Web pages are from 26 to 40 years old (McClung, 1999b), an age range that is considered to be non-traditional for college students. While this age range doesn't fit the typical college radio station user profile, it is more typical of an Internet user (Pitkow, 1999). With the noted differences in age ranges across both mediums, the question is raised, "Why are older users heading to college radio station Web sites?"
The genesis of mass media research deals mostly with mass media effects, however there were a few researchers in the 1940s that began looking at how audiences used the media. Based mainly on psychological constructs, these studies were contributing to the groundwork that would become the uses and gratifications theory. Cantril (1942) found sets of appeals to audiences in radio quiz programs and each set had unique audience gratifications. …