On Friday, NWC student Reed Tobol sat before a computer in one of the two radio broadcast rooms as he put finishing touches on his hour-long program.
Tobol, who uses the radio name Colin Richards, began broadcasting on the radio at the age of 14.
Already announcing racing action at a Montana racetrack, he also began hanging around the radio station.
“I was playing music for a couple of weeks,” he said. “One night, the announcer didn't show up, and it was 7 o'clock, and there was nobody there. They offered me 50 bucks to do the night. I had no idea; I picked up the microphone and ran with it.
“From that night on, the rest, as they say, is history, 'cause doors started to open, and I started getting a lot better.
“It's always a joke; my mom says I never said a word until I was 3; they wondered if there was something wrong with me. But she said once I started, I haven't shut up yet.”
He has since expanded his efforts to include rodeo announcing, and he plans to develop all three endeavors as career options after graduating next spring with a degree in agriculture communication.
Tobol said he's just helping out at the radio station where there's a need now, but he plans to take the radio broadcasting class next semester.
There's a lot to know about broadcasting, he said, and the college provides a good environment in which to learn and practice needed skills.
“Our focus ... is first of all, learn how to program and how to operate it, how to bring in the music, how to talk, how to edit, how to fade, how to bring it up and make it sound like radio. That's basically our focus, to feel comfortable with flowing on the microphone ... If kids screw up, they can do as many takes as they want,” Tobol said.
“For somebody who doesn't know, or who's never done it, it's tough, and it's a lot easier doing it right here with closed walls where nobody can hear you than say, picking up a microphone at gym over there and announcing. People just can't do it; they just can't get the words out.”
As he visits, Tobol works on the computer to find a good place to taper off the last song in his program so it doesn't end abruptly before the next program starts.
“It's all on timing,” he said. “An hour-long show must be 59 minutes, 59 seconds and 29 frames; one second equals 30 frames. If it's even one frame over, (the automated system) will either reject what went in there or something won't flow. It has to be just the right amount of time.”
“We cut the show and we save it, Dennis (Davis) takes it from here, loads it through the automation system and picks where it's going to play, when it's going to play, and how often it's going to play. That's completely out of our hands.”
Tobol praised Davis, NWC assistant professor of journalism/mass communication, who first proposed starting a radio station and radio program at the college and has worked for years since then to make that dream come true.
Since receiving its FCC license and beginning broadcasting on Nov. 17, Davis said, KNWT has been on the air continually outside of a couple of short interruptions for maintenance.
“We've been working to improve the technical quality of the signal,” he said. “Our engineer, Jim Bender, is working on that, and it's continued to improve. Obviously, we want to have a good clean signal, one that's listenable.”
Bender also is working to equip a second radio studio within the college's new recording studio facility, Davis said.
“That was always the plan, to have redundancy, so the station can operate from either,” he said. “If there are equipment problems or repairs, we can operate out of the other studio.”
The station will begin airing news through the Associated Press, augmented with local news and information as well, he said.
For instance, radio students recently interviewed cast members of the community play, “Dearly Beloved,” which hits the stage this weekend, and they conducted an interview with NWC Paul Prestwich about events and issues at the college as well.
“We want to help people know what's going on,” Davis said.
Davis said he is optimistic about the future of the radio station and the contributions his students will bring to it.
Among other things, Davis said he wants to international students to be involved, and he hopes Spanish-speaking students will enroll, allowing the station to produce some Spanish programming.
“When new students come, they will add new programming” based on their interests, he said. “We'll lose some of that when they graduate, but somebody else will come with something new. Some things will stay the same; some will change from semester to semester, year to year.”
Davis said enrollment in the radio class for the spring is double the fall enrollment, and he expects that trend to continue.
“When something's brand new, it takes a little time to get the word out, to let people know you're here,” he said.
He said students don't have to be journalism or radio majors to take the radio class; they just need to have an interest in learning how radio works.
Tobol said increased student numbers will add to what the station can offer, such as the ability to broadcast more athletic events and create additional programming.
He said he hopes to be able to do some live broadcasting as well.
“I'm very much against what radio stations are doing today,” Tobol said. “The stuff you're listening to today — he's not there. He came in in the morning, boss said cut your show, he sat down for an hour and cut a four-hour show, then the rest of the time he's paying him to cut commercials because it's saving him money.
“I want a guy that interacts on the radio. Give me a call, here's a trivia question. You have to interact with your audience, or you're not going to have them.”