Today almost a million people listen to EAA Radio each year during AirVenture, but the public voice of the show began with much more humble origins.
Started in the late 1990s in a small closet in a communication center on the airport, the station originally existed to promote the convention’s forum schedule. It didn’t take long for organizers to see the value in having an on-site radio station, and soon other attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors showed interest in getting access to programming time. Today EAA Radio is live with a minimum of eight and a half hours of programming a day, plus the airshow and the Theatre in the Woods evening programming, during the 11-day event. It’s available on air on the show grounds on 96.5 FM or 1210 AM, and in a web stream that is live during the show and replayed overnight at eaaradio.net. The web stream also plays historical programs throughout the rest of the year. And it’s all run by students.
James Gray is the director of operations at KVSC Radio at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, and an adjunct professor in the communications department. Every year he teaches MCOM 414, a summer class where students come to Oshkosh for 11 days to create, run, and tear down a radio station. Gray and his students are responsible for everything from sponsorship sales to the technology and equipment, programming, news gathering, editing, and on-air talent. “Students get to see and experience a working radio station from birth to death,” he said. They work 10 to 15 hours a day for 11 days, and all sleep together in a tent city in Camp Scholler. Gray wants them to have the full Oshkosh experience.
The students get to experience the crunch of deadlines, and they get the occasional perk. In recent years they’ve interviewed and hung out with actor/pilot Harrison Ford, the Apollo 11 astronauts, actor/pilot Morgan Freeman, baseball great/pilot Ken Griffey Jr., and many more celebrities. Plus, the radio building is air conditioned, a rarity on the grounds.
The station also serves as a part of the emergency management coordination of the event, and a meteorologist from the school’s broadcast meteorology program comes to forecast and deliver the weather. He or she works with NOAA, the National Weather Service, and Leidos. It’s part of the entertainment—interviews with celebrities and performers—and news service for the 600,000-plus people who attend AirVenture every year. Yet more people listen to the web stream in the overnight hours than during live programming. “It’s a way into the event if you can’t make it there,” Gray said.
For Gray it’s a way to mix the professional with the personal. He’s a pilot and grew up on a farm with an airstrip. He remembers standing on the seat of his dad’s Cessna 140 so he could see over the panel. This year will mark his forty-third trip to the show.