-James Osborne, News Editor
“This is where it all began, here in these four walls, it’s great to be back,” said Ben Ingram of the Atlanta Braves Radio Network and Mississippi College Communication Department Alumnus of the year, during an on air interview at WHJT Star 93.5 with station manager Doug Amacker. Of his time at the radio station on campus Ingram said, “It gave me the confidence I needed to work in the industry. Gave me the needed ability to fail and learn, to do sound checks and interviews, and learn all of the nuts and bolts of the radio industry.”
Some students at Mississippi College may not know that there is a hidden treasure on campus in the basement of Aven Hall, the radio station WHJT Star 93.5, a commercial broadcasting station that plays Christian contemporary, rock, and pop. The station has seen several developments in the past year including most recently a new website, a free app available on the App Store and Google Play, new software in the studio, and some new staff members. The station has two full time staff and eight part time student workers. The Star 93.5 staff include Doug Amacker, the general manager, Don Barnes, operations manager, and the student staff which include Josh Lee, James Osborne, Ann Marie Parke, Courtney Hamrick, Alan Bauer, Katy Pirkle, Jonathan Parke, and Dilon Pankey.
WHJT was founded in 1975 by Hollis and Julia Todd. In the call letters, the “W” means east of the MS River, the “H” stands for Hollis, the “J” for Julia, and “T” for Todd.
“The Todds worked tirelessly to get the license for the station and all the work done so that the station could be a possibility,” said Cliff Fortenberry, head of the MC Communication department. “The goal was to offer an opportunity for students to work in broadcasting and boost the knowledge of MC in Mississippi.”
“Doug is doing a good job of creating a good product for WHJT to put out there,” said Reid Vance, communication instructor and MC alum who worked at the station as a student. “If the station offers quality programing, a positive voice, and supported from every aspect of campus and given the support it needs, it can represent the school well and even bring in students,” said Vance.
Not many universities have the opportunity to have a commercial radio station on campus. Being a commercial station, which means having to sell advertising and rely on advertising dollars to operate, pushes the staff to do well because it is a real job. Vance said of his time working at the station as a student, “We always made it a point to do well so that it seemed it was not a college run station.”
Vance is also the “voice of the Choctaws” and broadcasts MC football games. “Doug and his staff have been wonderful in getting Choctaw football back on the air after it was off for a few years. It was not seen as important, but Doug knew that it was,” said Vance.
Having a radio station broadcast from campus helps bring in interested students and students who want to work in radio. “I came to MC as a student to work at the radio station, and I’m not the only one,” said Vance.
“We are an outreach ministry of the school and we have been since the station switched to the contemporary Christian format in 1987, which makes it one of the longest running markets in the Jackson area,” said Amacker. Amacker officially started at Star 93.5 on Jan. 4, 2013, and before that he worked as a consultant for the station. Amacker has worked in the radio industry since 1998 and worked in multiple markets in Mississippi.
According to Amacker, three things make a great radio station: being live, being local, and serving the community you broadcast from. “Live is important because the program is not being broadcast from a satellite feed from broadcasters who have no idea what is going on in the local community,” said Amacker. With local radio, broadcasters inform the community of severe weather, traffic, and local news and events.
This past summer WHJT welcomed back Don Barnes, a radio veteran who is an MC alumnus and worked at Star 93.5 as a student, as the new operations manager for the station. “I love this college and this station,” said Barnes.
Barnes is excited about the future of the radio station. “This station has always been a diamond in the rough,” said Barnes. “I didn’t know much when I worked here as a student. But after more than 20 years in the industry, I want to bring my knowledge back to my roots and hopefully bring this station to its full potential and watch it grow beyond anything that could have been imagined when it began so long ago.”
“We switched to the Christian music format on Easter Sunday in 1987,” said Barnes. “I was there. It was a very cool experience. At that time, we didn’t broadcast overnight. We powered down at midnight and then came back on air at 6 a.m. I remember turning on the transmitter, and the first song we played was “Rise Again” by Dallas Holm and Praise.” The format has always played Christian music since that morning.
“We strive to play something to reach everyone,” continued Barnes. “Worship songs, Christian rock and pop, and also some great classics that you won’t hear anywhere else. But we are also active with area organizations like The Baptist Children’s Village, area churches, and community outreach programs. We are constantly asking our listeners to share prayer requests with us by email. And if someone just doesn’t know who to call and talk to and needs to hear a comforting voice without being judged, they know they can call our studio line and talk with whoever is on the air.”
“My favorite part about working for the studio is probably all of the people I’ve gotten to meet and talk to”, said Katy Pirkle, a junior public relations major, who also co-hosts the morning show with Amacker. “I love co-hosting the morning show because people actually call in and say how much the station has blessed them or just thank us for the music. Which has nothing to do with us. It’s a total God thing that people are moved by the music we play. It’s an awesome outreach ministry.”
“It’s a unique opportunity and we are excited about the progress we’ve made and the direction we are going to bring the station back to its full glory supporting the Christian community in central Mississippi,” said Amacker. We have a unique opportunity with the internet and the app to promote the college and broaden its footprint around the world. We encourage everyone to listen to Star 93.5, give us a listen, and join the conversation.”