When Dan Murtha '08 and Ron Hendrickson '08 first came up with the idea for a Robert Morris University radio station, many doubted if it was even possible. "We'd heard that RMU could never have a station because of how close it is to the airport," said Murtha. True, this would be an obstacle for a traditional radio broadcast, where radio waves are subject to interference. But Murtha and Hendrickson's vision didn't ride on radio waves; it traveled along the information super-highway.
On Feb. 4, 2008, the vision of these two pioneers became a reality as RMU Radio (www.rmuradio.com) hit the airwaves (so to speak) and the University's radio-broadcasting era officially got underway.
RMU Radio boasts a diverse, around-the-clock format, with live broadcasting from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday. The weekly production schedule features a mix of music, news and sports, as well as specialty programming including a call-in sports show, Hispanic music, poetry readings and simulcasts of programming from RMU-TV, the campus cable television station.
RMU Radio also serves as a teaching facility that gives students real-world radio experience. It provides a hands-on working environment that includes writing and producing a variety of entertainment and informational programs, offering an unparalleled educational opportunity. Being a Web-based station, RMU Radio is designed for mobility, quality and reliable operation. And since it's an online broadcast, it has the potential for worldwide distribution.
Murtha, from Conneaut, Ohio, and Hendrickson, from nearby Economy Borough, Pa., have been experimenting with Internet radio since they were freshmen. The two became instant friends when they first met and soon began spending a lot of time together. That's when the idea for the station first came about.
"Dan told me about his history with radio and his interest in music," said Hendrickson, who serves as RMU Radio's program director. Murtha, who serves as promotional director, produced an online broadcast in high school and had a friend who worked for a college radio station. Unlike Murtha, Hendrickson didn't have any prior radio experience, but he always had an interest in music and entertainment. "When I was young, I listened to 'Jon, Dave, Bubba, Shelley' on B-94, and I always thought to myself, now that would be a great job."
In 2004, during their freshman year, they first attempted to broadcast from Murtha's dorm room. Unfortunately, the technology just wasn't there yet.
Then, in 2006, they decided to give it another go, investing in a larger server and the licenses they needed in order to play music. This time it worked, and soon they were broadcasting to a full server of listeners. This humble first station, also called RMU Radio, featured a call-in music show during weekend nights. "We'd take requests, talk about music or whatever and give away prizes," said Murtha. "Basically it was just us being goofy."
Murtha and Hendrickson may have just been having fun, but their call-in show struck a chord with a lot of students, and soon the station had a devoted following. By 2007, when Hendrickson was a resident assistant, RMU Radio was the talk of the campus. "My residents would listen, our fraternity brothers would listen, and some of our other friends would listen, too," said Hendrickson. "It got more popular than we ever imagined."
However, as RMU Radio grew in popularity, it also outgrew its server, which could only accommodate up to 25 listeners at a time. That's when Murtha and Hendrickson decided to approach the University about going "big time." They proposed their plans to the University's Media Arts Department, which was already providing radio production courses but was missing one important ingredient: an actual radio station.
It was an easy sell. Murtha and Hendrickson had already done the market research that proved the radio station would be successful. All they needed to do was convince the University that it would be a worthwhile investment. Not surprisingly, RMU jumped on board almost immediately, realizing that, besides being an enhancement to student life, a radio station would also serve as a nice complement to the University's campus TV station and state-of-the-art television production facilities. As a result, RMU agreed to back the station and build a professional-quality studio in the Academic Media Center (AMC).
RMU Radio went live on Feb. 4, following a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony. On that day, dozens of guests, including University administrators, faculty, students and local media, gathered outside the station in the Patrick Henry Center to celebrate RMU's entrance into the world of Internet radio. Speakers included RMU President Gregory G. Dell'Omo, Ph.D.; David Jamison, J.D., provost and senior VP of academic affairs; and Michael A. DiLauro, director of the AMC.
The excitement was palpable as guests mingled and toured the new facility. And just about everyone had something positive to say about this new technological endeavor.
"Launching a campus radio station is a vital step in the expansion of opportunities for all students to extend their learning through direct participation in a media outlet," said Jamison. "RMU Radio takes an important place in our student engagement initiative."
Barbara Levine, Ph.D., interim dean of the School of Communications and Information Systems, echoed Jamison's sentiments. "RMU Radio expands students' opportunities to acquire the knowledge and skills they need for the workplace," she said. "And it builds on our tradition of linking academics with the professions."
DiLauro served as host of the ceremony and was as enthused as anyone in attendance. "RMU Radio is another voice for our University that speaks to our diverse and engaged community," he said. "The station has the potential for worldwide distribution and, most importantly, will be a teaching facility that will offer our students a seamless technical transition into the real world of radio."
Running a successful university radio station, unlike a dorm-based station, is no two-man operation. RMU Radio is made possible by an entire staff of people including Kathleen Ujhazy, part-time production coordinator for the Academic Media Center, and Joseph Hale, TV (and now radio) engineer for the AMC.
The RMU Radio website (www.rmuradio.com) was designed by media arts student Justin Lotz. Besides serving as an online "front door" for the station, the site enables listeners to log on to the live broadcast anytime from anywhere. "It's crazy to think that people around the world are going to be able to listen to it," said Hendrickson. "It's better than AM/FM radio. Your friend in Italy can listen to it; Dan's parents in Ohio can listen to it; my parents in Beaver County can listen to it."
So far, Murtha said the station has remained pretty busy, with only a few minor bumps in the road. "It took a little time for everyone to get used to the board and whatnot," he said, "but we're really starting to get into a groove now."
Hendrickson is both surprised and pleased by how much interest there is in the station, and how many diverse ideas there are for shows. "It looks like I am going to have a lot of involvement [in the station] this summer and probably after that too," he said.
In the future, RMU Radio plans to simulcast live University concerts on the station. They'd also like to see computers in RoMo's Café, the Health and Fitness Club and other public areas around the campus where people can log on and listen to the station. Of course, Murtha and Hendrickson understand that they can't please everyone; but they both feel that, overall, the station is a positive thing because it gives the student body a voice.
Looking into the future, Murtha and Hendrickson's personal involvement with RMU Radio is up in the air. Both graduate this spring but hope to continue hosting their original talk show, RMU at Night. Murtha said that he wouldn't mind working in radio on the weekends, but he still has designs on a career in accounting. He's already accepted a position as staff accountant with Schneider Downs in Pittsburgh's Strip District, and he plans on pursing his CPA over the summer.
Hendrickson's future, however, is a little more up in the air after being bitten by the RMU Radio bug. "It's crazy because, before this year, I always figured I was going to go into business, since that is what my degree is in," he said. "I've had some good offers from different companies. However, now I'm looking at getting my master's degree and continuing to work at the station. And if that's the path I choose, I would love to get more involved in radio. Who knows where it could take me?"