On Oct. 1, 2016, TCFM, Timber Creek’s student radio officially went on the air. Two months later, its future was in jeopardy.
“The biggest challenge of TCFM was definitely trying to attract an audience, and then it was trying to keep them entertained so they would stay listening. Our numbers were pretty up and down, so it could be a little tricky,” Senior Radio Producer Karoline Austin said.
The student radio station had initial success during launch, gaining listeners in and out of the classroom. When live sports broadcasts were added in November, the listener counts — and all-important average hours listened — increased again. But the end of November brings something tough for student media.
“During Thanksgiving Break, we were getting zeros on the statistics,” Radio Broadcasting teacher Greg Janda said. “Nobody was listening.”
While the drop in listeners made sense, it also created a big problem — in December, the station would be rated to see if they could stay on the air.
The Radionomy platform that hosts TCFM requires stations to reach audience minimums after three, nine and 12 months. If a station doesn’t meet the minimum, they get pulled from the Radionomy platform.
So, by Dec. 25, 2016, TCFM needed to be averaging 12 hours listened per day over a 30 day period.
“The math isn’t too hard. Whenever someone connects to the station, the platform counts their time spent listening. They add all the hours together from the various listeners and we get a total for each day,” Janda said.
The initial launch averaged listening hours above 12 per day, but early November dropped lower except on days with football or basketball games. The highest peak was a 44 hour listening day for the Oct. 29 football game.
“If you had a 44 hour day, and then a zero day, you’d still get 22 hours for averaging listening time over those two days,” Janda explained. “Big event days really help, but it’s not sustainable.”
And that’s where the Holiday spirit came in.
The station flipped their format in just three days, loading hours of Holiday music and building a new schedule, spoken bumpers, and promotions to get to a Dec. 1, 2016 transformation into a festive location for sounds of the season. It worked spectacularly.
“I can’t sugar coat this: with the Thanksgiving Break being near or at zero for about a week, and only about two weeks of listening time expected before Holiday Break, I thought it was a long shot we’d make up the difference,” Janda said.
But the student in charge wasn’t worried.
“Meeting audience minimums in December actually wasn’t as big of a worry for me as I thought it would be, we were playing non-stop Christmas music (and people love Christmas music) so I wasn’t too worried about getting listeners,” Austin said.
On the first day of holiday tunes, TCFM hit 78 listening hours and kept climbing — the station had a new record peak of 145 listening hours on Dec. 15, 2016.
“My biggest worry with the station in December was that people were going to stop listening over the break, but by some Christmas miracle, that didn’t happen,” Austin said.
Though the numbers dropped as students and teachers left for the holidays, the format held on to many listening hours and the switch to sounds of the season saved the station. On Dec. 25, Christmas Day, the official word from Radionomy arrived in the radio e-mail box. It was the gift the station was looking for.
“We really want to thank all the teachers, students, parents and other community members that listened to us for the holidays. You truly did save the station,” Janda said.
But there’s another challenge — by June 25, 2017 the station has to significantly increase their listening hours to stay on air. The 9-month review cut off has stations averaging 130 listening hours a day.
“As for keeping up our listeners over this next ratings period, the rest of the TCFM staff and I have been working on some brand new ideas for the station, including personalized DJ blocks, a morning talk show/podcast, and specifying when we’re going to play certain types of music that way we can let an audience who’s interested in a specific genre know when that specific genre will play (Ex: Alternative music will play from 2-4),” Austin said.
The new schedule, programs and more from TCFM will start broadcasting on Jan. 17, 2017. Until then, the station is back to it’s pre-Holiday format.