Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review

Western’s student-run radio station, KUGS-FM on 89.3, has been a fixture of the Bellingham airwaves for nearly 36 years. Consistently voted one of the top radio stations in Bellingham by Cascadia Weekly readers and operated by over 75 student volunteers, the station plays an active role within the Western community and the Bellingham area at large.

While many people may be familiar with the station’s diverse syndicated news programming, wide variety of specialty shows and ever-popular “Music for the Masses” sets, they may be less familiar with the KUGS news and public affairs team.

KUGS News and Public Affairs Director Jeff Emtman works in the station's production studio on the 7th floor of the Viking Union. Photo by Joe Rudko/The AS Review

Jeff Emtman, news and public affairs director for the station, said that on average the public affairs team produces one episode of “The Beat,” the station’s own news program, every quarter. The program varies in length from half an hour to an hour, depending on how many segments are included. He said that normally there are three to six stories included in each program. Stories can vary in length, with some being under 10 minutes and others going on for more than half an hour.

In the past, public affairs team members have produced stories on a variety of topics including climate change, youth resistance movements in Bellingham and the effects of recent budget cuts at Western.

More recently, Emtman and three other public affairs team members produced an hour-long piece on the various initiatives on the November ballot. The Associated Students Representation and Engagement Programs played a role in the creation of the piece, which featured segments on liquor privatization and student voter drives.

“We wanted to present sides that were different from what people were hearing on TV and the Internet and from political advertisements,” Emtman said. He said REP Associate Director Morgan Holmgren, AS Elections Coordinator Remy Levin and AS Vice President for Governmental Affairs Byron Starkey were invaluable in creating the piece.

“These are people who are knowledgeable and can put things in simple terms,” he said.

Gina Cole, KUGS operations director, produced two pieces for the episode. One segment focused on the financing of the campaigns for and against the initiatives, while the other focused on the voter drive that took place on Western’s campus. Cole said her favorite part about producing public affairs pieces is radio’s ability to reach many different people about the issues important to them.

“A professor of mine once said radio is the only truly mass medium,” Cole said in an e-mail. “Newspapers have a highbrow reputation in some people’s minds, and not everyone owns or can afford a television, but anyone with a few dollars can buy a radio at Goodwill or somewhere like that.”

Whereas print journalism tells a story from the reporter’s viewpoint, radio journalism creates a more human dimension by allowing listeners to hear emotions in people’s voices, Emtman said. Although it may seem contradictory, Emtman said that radio journalism is actually the most visual type of journalism.

“By using audio, it triggers a part of the brain that creates an imaginative experience for the listener,” he said. “Radio has a quality of being able to bring people into a scene.”

Bethany Denton, a junior who has produced two news pieces over her three quarters with the public affairs team, said that radio news pieces are often more emotional for people than print newspaper stories. She said that being able to hear people tell their own stories adds a powerful element to the pieces.

“It can really paint a picture in a way that print cant,” she said. “With radio journalism, I can evoke much stronger emotions than I can with print journalism.”

While many KUGS reports investigate issues in the local community, others tackle larger matters. Chris Crow, a sixth-year Western senior, produced a 35-minute piece on the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference that took place in Copenhagen, Denmark. Crow said that over 100 hours of editing went into the piece, which featured climate-related issues and their effect on a worldwide scale. He said that with so many media outlets competing for people’s attention, radio has a consistently captive audience: vehicle drivers. Crow is a cab driver and always listens to the radio while driving.

“If you’re in the car and you get tired of music, there’s always talk radio,” Crow said. “Radio allows a lot more room for creativity. You can hear people’s voices, what they sound like. You can hear their energy.”

In addition to having more creative liberty, public affairs team members also have the option of telling more complete stories. Dan Crossman, a junior who has been part of the team for six quarters, said that radio journalism gives the subject of a news piece the opportunity to tell their complete story.

“The entire story is in the subject’s own words, and it’s our job to connect the pieces to make voices heard that aren’t normally,” Crossman said. “We don’t have to make as many editing choices as far as shortening stories either. It’s unlimited.”

Emtman encourages anyone interested in radio or journalism to give the public affairs team a try. No previous radio experience is necessary, and volunteers go through a quarter of training before producing pieces. Perhaps best of all, being part of the public affairs team offers members a glimpse into ways of life completely different from their own, Emtman said.

“You as the reporter get to experience people’s stories firsthand,” he said. “At the same time, hopefully you’re making the world a more informed place too.”

KUGS is located on the 6th floor of the Viking Union and can be reached by phone at 360-650-2995.