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EAA Radio: Information Source and Training Ground

Award-winning college talent groomed in Oshkosh

March - When we say AirVenture is an aviation city for a week, it means nearly everything that a small city has – including its own radio station. Chairman Jim Gray and a group of dedicated EAA Radio volunteers have been chronicling and informing fly-in attendees for two decades, and in the last decade has expanded to include internet streaming and year-round audio archives.

The longtime volunteer staff is one part of EAA Radio’s crew. The other part is the corps of student interns who make the week a professional training ground. Gray, who is an adjunct professor of mass communications at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, offers his students a true challenge to discover aviation and tell its stories for the week at Oshkosh.

“They experience the birth, life and death of a radio station within an 11-day time frame,” Gray said. “They get more hands-on experience in those 11 days than they would working at a regular radio station in a whole year or more.”

That’s because the college students are challenged and do everything during the week, from audio production to field reporting to news operations. As Gray says, “It’s not college radio. This is a real-world operation with high expectations.”

It also brings out the best in the students. Many of the EAA Radio summer staff go on to earn awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists, and Broadcast Education Association (BEA). One example is Gina Carlson, who is now with Minnesota Public Radio. Her skills blossomed during her weeks with EAA Radio in 2012 and 2013, as she grew confident enough to become the first woman to broadcast a Division I men’s hockey game. Carlson, who returned as a volunteer in 2014 and will be back this year, also earned a first-place national BEA award for her work in radio news and features.

“Gina was one of those people who was a little bit in a shell when she came here (to EAA Radio and Oshkosh) the first time,” Gray said. “This place puts a certain amount of stress on you, such that it forces you to break out of it.”

Other 2015 national BEA award winners who have been part of the St. Cloud State group at EAA Radio include 2014 staffers Declan Goff and Jeremy Klein, who will be returning this year, along with 2015 first-time intern Korina Borash.

Beyond the professional training, the student intern volunteers discover other things. Such is the case of an African-American intern, who had never heard of the Tuskegee Airmen until he was assigned to cover them at Warbirds in Review. He returned emotionally shaken and determined to discover more about them. Or two-year intern Brett Stewart, who Gray admits “is not a kid who you ever thought would get into aviation. He’s a tattooed, gangsta-looking guy.” Stewart has returned to volunteer twice since his internships, become an EAA member and is working on his pilot’s certificate.

It’s that combination of career training and youthful discovery that makes the EAA Radio effort just as valuable as the information and entertainment provided during the time at Oshkosh. It’s also a great example of how to bring young people into the AirVenture culture, which is more available than ever through the Collegiate Volunteer Program.

“It’s amazing to see a student from before they were here to when they’re in my class afterward,” Gray said. “You see growth in their abilities to work under pressure or to structure and organize their work in a short timeline. It re-forms and re-shapes the things they want to do.”
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