I decided to enroll in college in spring of 2017, following a year of bohemian travel, volunteering, and true rest after years of sleep deprivation and over-achieving.
No money or connections meant my path to a career in journalism would have to be through my own merits. So what was the first step? Google said it was to get a reel, and the best place to start was with your student television channel. So off to CoogTV I went.
The experience was fine. Certainly not the training I’d need to prepare me for an internship (let alone the real world), but an okay mimic. Instead of hanging out in the studio with the other members of CoogTV, I found myself camping out in the lobby more and more, drawn to Coog Radio and the energy of the people laughing within.
They took their lunches at the table I sat at with my laptop. Small talk ensued for a few weeks. One day, a Filipino with a unicycle invited me to pho and coffee with him and some of the Coog Radio staff. I accepted, and a friendship was born.
The staff was kind, wholesome and pleasantly eclectic. It felt like I’d stepped into a movie with characters so diverse and well-rounded, they almost felt like industry plants. In our free time, we did things people only do in Smashing Pumpkins music videos. Singing on bridges at midnight, attending a ‘small house show’ turned rager cops had to break up, spontaneous road trips to Galveston or Austin, driving through the night in order to arrive back at the University on time for an 8 a.m.
The friendships gave me support, protection, and guidance as I navigated a world that was new to me. Stability, advice and reassurance made the academic aspect of my college experience a lot more manageable – to the point I had plenty of free time. Naturally, I wanted to spend said time with my friends, so I went ahead and joined Coog Radio too.
Right off the bat, I noticed the lack of gatekeeping. There was no favoritism towards seniority, experience or relationship status to whoever is in charge. I asked the then station director what it would take for me to one day have a radio show. He signed me up for a slot then and there, helped me fill out the paperwork and structure my ideas, and made time to train me on the proper use of studio equipment.
I started the following week, faithfully airing ‘Hey, There’s A Song For That’ weekly until the day I graduated. All I had to do was express interest in anything from advertising, DJing, audio editing or engineering, and someone would happily show me the ropes. The lack of toxicity soon stopped being suspicious and morphed into my new normal. But things really changed the day Fleetwood Mac came to town.
Fun fact; in exchange for a promotional article and a concert review, Coog Radio will give student writers free tickets to a local show. This includes big acts at the Toyota Center as much as smaller ones at the Satellite Bar. Up until February 2019, I’d been pouring a significant amount of my paycheck into live music. I brought up I was scavenging last-minute cash for a Fleetwood Mac show to the then web director, and she suggested I just cover the show instead. She said she could get me in for free.
From then on, it was rare that I had to pay for a show, and my portfolio grew like crazy as I added intricately-written narrative reviews of every concert I saw. I started bringing my camera to shows. Already an experienced photographer, I was surprised at how difficult it could be to shoot active people in dark rooms under unpredictable lights. But I learned on the job.
Eventually, my work started to get noticed. managers at Warehouse Live and Satellite reached out to offer access to whatever show I pleased in exchange for some photos. A team member from Death Cab for Cutie invited me to their Houston show, then bought some of my photos for the band’s social media. A member of My Chemical Romance’s promotions team reached out to tell me about the band’s return months before it was announced to the public, contracting me to break the news in Houston on a set date and advertise the tour. I was getting to do the best job on earth, padding my portfolio, learning industry skills and secrets, and all because I got sick of paying for concert tickets.
I’d been involved with Coog Radio for a few years when I was asked if I wanted to take on a leadership position. The board was graduating, and the station needed direction from people who had an idea of how it was run. I readily agreed, becoming the news and sports producer in 2019. This went smoothly until halfway through the semester.
The student serving as web director stopped coming to meetings, responding to emails and updating the website. Articles were getting backed up, contracts weren’t being fulfilled, and press passes weren’t being acquired. The new station director had to make a tough call, asking the web director to resign. But now, one of the key roles at the station was vacant. I was called in for a meeting where I was asked to take on the position.
According to online statistics, I was the most published, the most active. I had the most experience with the website and music journalism, thus would make for the smoothest transition into the role. I agreed, moving blindly into the role.
It was unusual, as everyone else got to train their replacement. I was stuck figuring things out on my own, occasionally reaching out to the two web directors prior to the one who’d resigned whenever I got stuck.
While rushing to catch up with the site and guide the team of journalists, I continued my role as news and sports producer as I found a trained replacement. It was a stressful job, essentially that of an editor-in-chief who works closely with advertising and marketing teams to gather the money and recognition needed to keep the station running. And yet, it was the most rewarding job of all.
I edited every article published, teaching people how to write in AP style, use better grammar, and make their stories flow. I also held photography workshops to teach anyone who wanted to learn how to handle their cameras anywhere from an orchestra to a mosh pit. Our readership grew and it became easier than ever to obtain press passes. At the end of the semester, my success as web director was the perfect jumping-off point for me to become Coog Radio’s first female station director.
I dove into the role with passion. By that point, I’d learned how to do most everything that needed to be done to run the station, so I was ready to train anyone in whatever they may need. I interviewed and chose my new board, a dynamic group of people where diversity and cooperation were our greatest strengths.
My final semester saw the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I had to navigate running a station during a pandemic without a map, and somehow managed to create a model smooth enough that the station director that followed me was able to use it during his own term.
Outside of the dozens of skills I learned during my tenure at Coog Radio, the most important thing I got out of the experience were the life-long friendships I made and the incredible college experience we had together. In this friend group, I see future godparents and members of my wedding party, chosen family that have proven themselves to me time and time again. I have skills to kick-start my career with, and friends, no, family to cheer me on as I go. And all because I decided to join Coog Radio.