HASSELT/DIEPENBEEK, Belgium — Coinciding with the start of the new academic year in Sept. 2022, the PXL University of Applied Sciences and Arts launched its own radio station, livestreaming and broadcasting on FM and DAB+.
“The gap between live radio and radio education continues, despite the fact that our students do practical internships with public broadcasters and local radio stations,” said Philip Hilven, head of PXL’s journalism education. “Making live radio goes beyond the theory in class. Our students must learn to cope with deadlines, gather news for the new station and provide content for the station’s programs.”
In addition to the lecturing facilities, the college also houses five professional podcast studios, two mobile podcast units where students prepare radio content and two fully-fledged music recording facilities.
Hilven, a former radio presenter, underlined that experimenting with the radio medium is crucial. “The best learning school is practice, and in this project, the ‘freedom to fail’ principle is more important than audience ratings. We must give our students room to gather experience and learn how to improve themselves.”
Hilven advocated for a dedicated PXL radio station for some years. The project gained momentum when he met Nostalgie presenter Bjorn Verhoeven.
The best learning school is practice, and in this project, the “freedom to fail” principle is more important than audience ratings.Philip Hilven
“Our colleagues of Radio VRD in Regioradio, the same advertising sales house as Hasselt 1 and 10FM, were looking to target a younger audience,” explained Verhoeven. “That’s how demand and supply met: the result is the combination of a regional radio station for the whole Limburg province on DAB+ and a breeding pond for young radio students.”
Together with former 4FM founder and Nostalgie colleague Stefan Ackermans, he took the initiative to set up PXL Radio.
“I’ve always dreamed of our own radio station and editorial team on our PXL campuses,” enthused PXL University managing director Ben Lambrechts. “Bjorn Verhoeven and Stefan Ackermans met the challenge for our journalism students, and the result is great.”
Making studio space
At press time, PXL Radio was using VRD’s studio infrastructure. “The PXL Radio on-air campus studio opens officially mid-February — we are currently renovating our main building on campus to create a dedicated space for the station. Until then, the station offers a mix of experimental content produced by our students and Regioradio broadcast staffers. As of February, our students will edit and present news bulletins and programs live on the air,” added Hilven.
“Our journalism students will have specific assignments that we will evaluate before going on air. Student volunteers from PXL University and radio staffers from the local VRD station will produce additional content.”
Tom Callebaut of Radiostudio.be took on the technical aspect of PXL Radio. “The students use the university’s podcast studios to produce programs and content,” Callebaut explained. “This file-based content is then uploaded to the station’s server system for broadcast. As of Feb. 13, we go live all the way.”
The station started broadcasting on two FM frequencies — 106.1 MHz in Hasselt and 106.5 MHz in Diepenbeek — on DAB+ and live streaming. “In Limburg, we have a good working relationship with the other stations on the provincial (test) multiplex,” said Verhoeven.
“There was room for PXL Radio, resulting in province-wide coverage.” PXL Radio broadcasts during the evening hours and Saturday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Lecturers include radio veterans Dirk Guldemont — of 4FM and Nostalgie — and Chris Dusauchoit of StuBru, speech therapist Christel Lacroix, who teaches language proficiency and presentation techniques, and VRT journalist Bart Cortoos who takes them through the process of creating digital content. Bjorn Verhoeven contributes as a monitor and coach, and as a guest lecturer, he introduces the basics of radio.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to make ‘real’ radio during our education,” enthused journalism student Bono Marting. “I was involved in the project from the very start and assisted in compiling the music database. I hope to become one of the presenters in the future.”
“Theoretically, making radio isn’t that difficult,” said Guldemont. “If you have a piece of paper saying you should ask a question or introduce a studio guest, that’s not frightening at all. But with ‘live’ radio, you quickly realize that it takes plenty of mileage on the clock to master every aspect of the job and remain concentrated. PXL Radio is a true enrichment for our students, allowing them to gain experience — not for an audience of millions, but knowing it’s really live encourages them to keep focused on the radio course.”
The journalism training is a three-year course with over 80 students. “We want the world to know how we appreciate the journalism training,” concluded Hilven. “We may be PXL’s smallest department, but we must stand out for the future. This pilot project is a solid move ahead.”