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Political philosophy major evolving into radio journalist

Senior and COOG Radio founder Clifton Conner interning at KUHF

News Coog Radio - Clifton Conner

Conner Clifton says he’s strongly opinionated, but willing to be a neutral observer to succeed as a radio journalist.

As a senior on the verge of graduating with a degree in political philosophy, Clifton shares his views in the classroom, but not on the job.

He’s interning this academic year at KUHF, Houston Public Media’s news station affiliated with National Public Radio. At the station’s on-campus studios, Clifton spends his days covering and writing news stories for KUHF.

However, his initial interest in radio broadcasting was spurred by the 2009 movie, “Pirate Radio.” The movie is about a group of seafaring disk jockeys who played rock music from a ship to get around 1960’s British censorship laws.

“I became fascinated with how to tell a story only with audio,” said Clifton. “So, after watching the movie, I waited outside Dr. Renu Khator’s office so I could ask her if I could create an on-campus radio station.”

He eventually got a green light and launched COOG Radio, UH’s only student-run radio station.

In a culture where anyone can launch a podcast or YouTube channel, there was a lure to radio that Clifton could not resist. His vision for the radio station it an eclectic mix of music and information, but he was certain that he wanted it to be a medium where individuals could freely express themselves and their opinions without fear of University repercussions.

“I was baffled that UH did not have a (student-run) radio station,” said Clifton. “I saw a hole and wanted to fill it.”

It took two years for Clifton’s vision to become a reality. He sat through countless meetings with university administration and the UH Center for Student Involvement. He acquired equipment through KUHF, and he recruited students to work at the station.

Those efforts resulted in the radio start-up being offered a tiny work space - he calls it a closet - on the bottom floor of the University Center. With programming and equipment in place, COOG radio was ready to go live.

“We went on the air on August 29, 2011,” said Clifton. “I wanted to be first on the microphone so I started at 8:00 a.m. The first DJ came in at 9:00 a.m. For overnights, we used an automated music player.”

Clifton and his cohorts bring a wide variety of music, art and culture to the university and the city overall. He gives special credit to fellow student Sofia Straus for helping to start COOG radio.

“I went into the radio industry, but she went into music,” said Clifton. “Today she works at SugarHill Recording Studios located in Houston.”

SugarHill has been in continuous operation for more than 70 years. In that time, the musicians who recorded there include Lightnin’ Hopkins, George Jones, Freddy Fender, the Rolling Stones, Arnett Cobb, Dizzy Gillespie, and Destiny’s Child.

This year, COOG radio received $14,000 from the University as an operating budget, but this funding came at a price, Clifton said.

“With that money coming from UH, I had to watch what I spoke about on COOG radio,” said Clifton. “I couldn’t touch the Student Government Association, for example. I had to play nice.”

Initially, COOG radio considered incorporating advertising so the station could be independent, but timing didn’t allow them to go that route. When Clifton began this project, he was a sophomore. Once the station got up and running, he was a senior and he didn’t have time to fully develop an advertising program.

Clifton has passed the COOG radio baton on to the next class of radio enthusiasts, though he still acts in an advisory role to the station. As he completes his last college credit and prepares to graduate in May, he’s gaining paid work experience as a KUHF intern.

“It is hard out there for new graduates,” said Clifton. “I feel blessed to be able to write the news. I’m allowed to cover news stories by my own intuition, as well as by assignment. I’ve had opportunities to interview Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Mayor Annise Parker.”

Once his stories are written, they are broadcast on-air by KUHF on-air talent.

“I am really enjoying this job,” said Clifton. “COOG radio opened doors for me, but this position is starting to help me on my own merit. I plan to stay in radio journalism where my duty is to inform, not convince.”

~ by Monica Byars

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