Last fall, after UWM’s Student Involvement Fair, Alexis Treadway waited nervously in the cold on the Sandburg lawn. She’d been recruiting for Prowl Radio, UWM’s student-run radio station that she had just founded, and it was time for the station’s first meeting. She and Prowl Radio’s other officers were already planning for the worst-case scenario where no one showed up.
Instead, they were flooded with 30 new members. Prowl Radio was taking off.
Today, the radio station plays any and every genre of music, showcases local talent and has been fostering community on campus and in Milwaukee. It’s everything Treadway hoped it would be.
“I feel like Milwaukee is a very commuter-oriented campus. You do your classes and you go home for the day. But I feel like there is a culture with Prowl, now,” Treadway said proudly. “I’ve seen so many friendships grow out of it.”
Starting the station
UW-Milwaukee boasts several media outlets run by students. Media Milwaukee is a student-run news organization. The UWM Post covers campus news and events. The university once boasted its own television news show called PantherVision.
But there was a distinct lack of a radio station.
“Marquette has one. MSOE has one. Madison has one. We’re kind of missing out, here,” said Treadway, who is a film major.
And then, in the spring of 2022, Treadway took Journalism 101 with teaching faculty member Rachael Jurek, who told the class about her own experiences with the campus radio station at her alma mater. Treadway was intrigued – and persuasive.
Ivy Hamblen, a JAMS major and Prowl Radio’s talk director, laughed when she recalled how Treadway cornered her one afternoon and announced she liked college radio stations.
“I said, ‘Do we have a college radio station?’ She said, ‘No, that’s the problem. Want to start one with me?’” Hamblen said.
Treadway recruited several others in the same manner. Then they began their research. How did other college radio stations run their organization? What platform would be best to use? How should they advertise? What about licensing fees? (“The amount of information I know about licensing societies is through the roof,” Hamblen said.)
Jurek signed on as the group’s faculty advisor, and she couldn’t be prouder of how Prowl’s founders rose to the challenge.
“They should write a book on how to organize an organization,” Jurek said. In fact, Prowl Radio was named Outstanding New Student Organization of the Year by the UWM Student Association in May.
In the end, Prowl Radio ended up as an internet radio station. It’s streamed over a platform that includes licensing fees in its model, so the student DJs can play whatever music they’d like.
Unique and local programming
It’s hard to classify Prowl Radio in any particular genre because its DJs play every genre.
“No matter what kind of music you like or content you gravitate to, we want there to be something for you on Prowl,” said Josh Skarda, the station’s music director.
Skarda, a JAMS major, is a newer addition to Prowl’s management team; he was one of the 30 students who joined after the 2022 Fall Involvement Fair. He encourages the eclectic tastes of Prowl’s student DJs. While some DJs might stick with easy listening or rock, others take delight in mixing it up. You might hear folk one minute and heavy metal the next.
As the music director, Skarda often fields requests from emerging artists and bands who are requesting airtime on Prowl. He’s especially proud of the relationships that Prowl is building with local musicians.
“Over the past semester, we’ve really gravitated toward local music, and specifically people who make music in Milwaukee. That ties into the interviews that we do,” he said. Treadway added that the station has close ties with bands whose members are students on campus, including Scam Likely.
This year, Hamblen is hoping that the station can expand beyond music. They’re still debating what format it might take, but Hamblen wants to expand the station’s talk radio offerings in a way that will bring the UWM community together.
“The coolest idea I’ve been pitched for talk radio so far is interviewing coordinators and officers from other clubs, to see how other clubs got started and to give listeners more of a look into other clubs as well,” she said.
A good experience, a great community
You can’t start a radio station without learning something on the way. Jurek has watched the group master skills like fundraising, marketing, branding, promotion, interviewing and community outreach.
The biggest thing they learned?
“Being able to look at something and figure out ways to make it succeed,” Jurek said. “They’re very inclusive and open to new ideas. They get things done.”
Treadway likes how recording interviews and creating content for social media has helped her hone her skills in film. Hamblen likes that she’s learned to track the station’s analytics and use the feedback to help improve their reach. They consistently have around 40 listeners per day, and reached 200 listeners when Prowl first debuted. Hamblen is confident that Prowl can expand its reach so that 200 listeners per day is commonplace.
Skarda has learned to look at music with an analytical, business-oriented eye: What songs will the audience want to hear? Which bands are gaining popularity and should receive more airtime? What sort of music will drive traffic?
A sense of community
But beyond the skills he’s learning, Skarda says he’s found something just as important: A place to belong.
“Coming to UWM, I really did not know anybody. I found Prowl Radio at what I feel like was just the right time,” he said. “I’ve made so many amazing connections and so many awesome friends.”
Now, with the station’s emphasis on local music and its devotion to the UWM campus, the Prowl Radio staff is hoping that every student can find a sense of that community by tuning in.
“Music is such a universal language and brings people together so easily, no matter what walk of life you’re from,” Treadway said.
So don’t touch that dial – Prowl Radio is on the air.