Closeup of studio microphone.

WRFH 101.7 Spreading the College’s Mission on the Air

Written by Breana Noble

They’re waiting. Doing vocal warm ups: “Testing 1, 2, 3.” They’re waiting. Brainstorming ideas for their own shows, they’re eagerly waiting.

On July 10, WRFH 101.7 FM—Hillsdale College’s new radio station—crackled to life, and with it, the dreams of many students to have their voices echo across Hillsdale’s airwaves. Though an automation system currently selects songs from a “Patriotic Music” catalog to fill those airwaves, the mic will soon be in the hands of students.

“Students are anxious to get going,” Professor John Miller says. “Right now, I’m just asking for patience. I hope soon I’ll be able to send students somewhere when they want to get involved.”

WRFH 101.7 falls under Hillsdale’s Dow Journalism Program, which recently hired Scot Bertram, station manager and morning co-host for WROK in Rockford, Illinois, to advise students running the frequency. Once Bertram comes to campus next semester, the process of opening the station to student involvement may begin. Students will have the chance to work as music disc jockeys, radio news broadcasters, and talk show hosts on the new station.

“We want it to be a service to help students become better at the art of rhetoric,” Professor John Miller says.

The college purposely requested the WRFH call letters to stand for Radio Free Hillsdale. “It’s a neat name,” Miller says, adding that it reminds him of Radio Free Europe. “It was an important tool in the Cold War. I think it echoes the mission of freedom that our college believes in.”

While the WRFH headquarters hide in a small room behind the Old Snack Bar in the Knorr Student Center—visible through a glass window with open blinds and nonchalantly labeled with a paper sign—the other half of the initiative resides in the Allan P. Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C. Using the same frequency, the station in Hillsdale will be able to connect to the Boyle Radio Studio in order to air events at the Kirby Center. It will also allow for professional radio talk-show hosts to broadcast their programs from both studios.

The Kirby Center’s capabilities will also permit students who participate in the Washington Hillsdale Internship Program (WHIP) to continue working toward becoming the next Mark Levin or Laura Ingraham while they’re away from the main campus.

Vince Benedetto, a supporter of the college and president and CEO of Bold Gold Broadcast and Media Foundation, brought the idea of the radio station to Hillsdale after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made available small radio broadcast frequencies to non-profit organizations and educational institutions.

The foundation applied for the frequency on behalf of the college. Once approved, the agreement with the FCC necessitated the station be live after several months. Without a station manager to start the program, Mr. Benedetto got creative in the most Hillsdalian fashion: by bringing patriotic songs into the mix.

“The music represented contemporary patriotic music and music going all the way back to even the colonial era that had been recorded and represented American history at different times,” Benedetto says. “It seemed like a fitting placeholder. It has a symbolism appropriate for what the college represents.”

Ultimately, Mr. Benedetto and Professor Miller say they hope students will develop valuable communication skills for whatever career path they follow. Perhaps some may even become future radio stars.

“One of my passions is getting young people introduced to broadcasting,” Benedetto says. “I think it the most effective medium for promoting principles that the college stands for, because the very nature of its format allows for debate.

“Radio now is on air, online, mobile, social, live, and local. It’s been a passion of mine for young people to get not just on air, but as radio station owners, managers, program directors, and be part of the golden era of radio consumption.”

Breana NobleBreana Noble, ’18, is a student from Michigan studying American studies and journalism. She is a member of the Dow Journalism Program; is an assistant news editor for Hillsdale’s school newspaper, the Collegian, and has interned at Newsmax Media in Washington, D.C. through the National Journalism Center.