From College To Media
Sac State vs. The Suck State of Mainstream Media
Introduction: A Journey Through Mass Media Education

Introduction: A Journey Through Mass Media Education
Chapter 1: Why I Majored in Communication
Chapter 2: The Art of Radio
Chapter 3: Writing TV News
Chapter 4: Studying To Be a Rock Star
Chapter 5: Exploring the Age of Incoherence
Chapter 6: The Science of Media Persuasion
Chapter 7: How Stats Influence Perceptions
Chapter 8: Strategies for Winning a Debate
Chapter 9: Programming Music Instead of Computers
Chapter 10: My Career in Media

by Alex Cosper, October 17, 2015

Sacramento State University is my alma mater, a place I'll never forget. I earned my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication Studies there in 1984. To some extent I owe my media career of many years to some of the influences of this under-rated university, the campus where more prominent media figures such as Tom Hanks, Lester Holt, Joan Lunden, Kristine Hanson and Bobby McFerrin once studied.

The following story represents a reflection of my college days, what I learned at Sac State, how it prepared me for a media career and got me through the doors in radio, my career and my impressions of how mainstream media became a huge letdown for society. The good news about mainstream media's meltdown in credibility is that it has paved the way for the internet to become more important and reliable for news and entertainment. In other words, it has opened the door for anyone to build their own media outlet outside the club of limited mainstream media empires.

Knowledge vs. Anti-Knowledge

Much of my focus will be on my own experience, but I will also include research to back up my views on the broader picture of mainstream media. I'll also discuss the hidden influences of government and the corporate world that shaped the industry over the years. I've already written about my career at KWOD in The Rise of Alternative Radio, so I'll only touch on certain areas of that exerience that are more relevant to the bigger picture of mainstream media.

What I learned at Sac State was compelling and cultural. Yet, what I learned from the so-called geniuses of the radio biz was a much more watered down, dumbed down philosophy that any puppet could have learned as long as they had little regard for raising awareness and more focus on slicing and dicing simple messages into 15 second bits of disposable soundbites that don't offend corporate sponsors.

This is a story about how I put a lot of faith in the college system to get my communications degree only to find out no one in the radio industry ever bothered asking me about my education, nor did it ever matter on a resume. Granted, it wasn't Yale, Harvard or Stanford, but I still picked up valuable knowledge from very intelligent professors and books. So ultimately I don't consider it a waste of time even though the radio industry always seemed more concerned about finding people who do as they're told rather than people with unique insight or creative ideas.

Business, Not Pleasure

"The masses are asses" and "cater to the lowest common denominator" were the mantras the radio biz tended to teach everywhere I turned in the industry. "We're not here to educate, this is just a business," the parrots of the industry often repeated with a tone of arrogrance. "Perception is reality," insisted the brainwashers of the old school that had been around for decades. Once it became my turn to program a radio station, it felt great to prove them all wrong ... at least for awhile, until big biz finally took over and shoved its corporate mediocrity down people's throats.

Luckily I had more of a challenging spirit and chose to think for myself combined with the fact that an owner did allow me to experiment and be a leader instead of just a redundant follower of industry norms. But that was only at one station, whereas the usual mentality at other stations was pretty much "don't be too creative, just be tight and bright."

The frustration I had throughout my radio career was that I wanted to mix knowledge with music, but there wasn't much opportunity for that from the mid-eighties onward. By that point stations were either all talk or mostly music except for morning shows that tended to emphasize outrageous yet light-hearted humor rather than more subtle humor for deeper thinkers. Documentaries were always the most interesting shows on television to me, not so much the redundant formulas of sitcoms and dramas that I burned out on by the late seventies.

Boundaries of Education and Community

As much as I apparently didn't need a communications degree to have a successful radio career, I still reflect on my education at Sac State as monumental. It was part of a journey that led to an internship that allowed me to enter the radio industry. Not only that, several Sac State professors inspired me to think further outside the box. I had always been involved with art as a cartoonist at an early age and a singer/songwriter/guitarist starting in my teen years. My college coursework was a mix of art and science classes that helped me bridge left and right brain thinking.

Sac State was very much a journey into multiple aspects of culture, which included media and beyond. Even though "the real world" of the radio business was almost nothing like what I had studied, my college experience encouraged me to pursue unique perspectives, rather than just do what I was told. I always believed anyone can do what they're told by people just doing what they were told. I wanted to be different.

I was fortunate to counter the conventional radio career path and do it my way for many years, although eventually I found myself trapped in a sinking business full of corporate cheese and cookie cutter conformity. At one time radio at least catered to local community interests, but thanks to big mergers it was now about everything national and not much local.

Why New Media Rules

I don't worry about the radio anymore and how it became nationalized by a handful of big floundering companies using their billions in debt to justify cutting tons of jobs and switching to automated voice tracking. I also don't watch much television despite the hundreds of choices - that are mostly owned by six big companies. I love the internet where I can either find my own set of choices or even create my own media.

I've learned quite a bit about media and its possibilities from both my education and my experience. In many ways where media hasn't been yet is far more fascinating than where it has been.

Continue to Chapter 1: Why I Majored in Communication

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