Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Is Slope Radio/Media Doing?

Over three years ago, to much pomp and circumstance, Slope Radio was founded. Slope billed itself as the only student-run radio station at Cornell. (WVBR employs a lot of Cornell students, but its headquarters are off-campus.) With sites like YouTube and Flickr exploding, the time seemed ripe for internet media ventures.

Slope Radio operated that first year from a humble studio on the first floor of Appel Commons. After one short semester, however, Slope wanted to expand. That spring, Slope moved into more spacious quarters in Willard Straight Hall.

The following fall, Slope Media Group was founded. Through fundraising, and assistance from Cornell, Slope was able to purchase $40,000 worth of new equipment, which was installed in the WSH studio. Slope was now venturing into producing video, which would be both streamed online at slopetv.com and available on a CUTV channel for on-campus viewers.

In addition to video, Slope began publishing a magazine, and launched a major recruiting drive to recruit producers, hosts, business majors, and everything else they would need to succeed.

The price of all this expansion was not cheap. Any student who wished to join the organization was asked to pay $60 for the first semester (Fall 2007), with the promise that dues would be reduced in the spring. Slope officers reached out to campus organizations with invitations to start their own shows.

The Slope Media juggernaut was rumbling along. But it stopped just as quickly as it started. The fall semester of the 2007-2008 year was tumultuous. Just check out the self-written "full historical timeline" on the Slope website:
  • September 2007
    • Slope Radio/TV launch in new 24/7 internet television format – before cnn, before nfl network, espn, etc
    • slope magazine first hard copy distributed on campus
  • October 2007
    • Slope Media comes to a halt, all production stops for the semester, Radio/TV project non-sustainable
    • slope media group goes through massive reorganization
    • Slope TV and Radio split permanently
Scarcely one month after their heralded launch, Slope was off the air. Most student shows, except for a select few, were canceled. Some TV shows, which had previously been given a weekly time slot on SlopeTV, were told they could only continue as a weekly podcast on SlopeRadio, provided they were able to record the show in their own time. Slope's leadership had decided to focus on a core of ten produced shows which they thought would bring higher ratings. (It should be noted that nobody at Slope, including the publicity department, had made an effort to advertise for the shows which were later cut due to poor ratings.)

Slope set a series of dates for their exciting "relaunch," missing the first couple of dates they chose. Eventually, at some point that year, things were back up and running again.

I will admit that by this point, with my own ties to the organization severed, I stopped paying close attention to what was going on.

But let's take a look at Slope in October 2009, three years after the launch of SlopeRadio and two years after SlopeTV got off the ground. SlopeMedia.org. A line at the top notes that "Slope Media is Undergoing Development. Please excuse errors and thank you for your patience." Ordinarily a reasonable request, but not when the site has been under development more or less continuously for two years.

The video front and center does not load. The news-style columns on either side contain duplicate entries, almost all of which are from last academic year.

Click on "magazine." There is nothing. There is a graphic of Ludacris. Click the link. It takes you to a bizarre page with a large "Weekly Cowbell" logo and a few sentences about Ludacris' visit to campus last year.

If you go to magazine > issues > fall 2008, you find (underneath the "Weekly Cowbell" logo again), a pdf from the most recent edition of Slope Magazine, published ten months ago. The file is 10 MB, but if you have the patience to open it, you'll find it looks pretty good.

So why has nothing happened since? The organizational chart shows a VP specifically in charge of the magazine, yet nothing has happened in almost a full year.

If you click on "radio," you'll be slightly more impressed. There is an extensive array of shows, although if you click on them, you'll find that many of them have not had any new episodes since the spring (or even Fall 2008). It's certainly not accurate to pretend that every show listed pumps out an hour of content each week.

Go to TV. The only thing listed under Recent TV is "The Weekly Cowbell." "The Weekly Cowbell" was the name of the SlopeRadio show hosted by former cowbell player Ari Baum '07 during the 2006-07 year. Each week, Ari would discuss the previous weekend's hockey games and provide commentary for a listener base of students, alumni, and townies -- basically anyone interested in Cornell hockey.

The current "Cowbell" consists of two hosts sitting on a couch and rambling about sports for an hour. The show was probably born out of the disorganization in Fall 2007, when the decision was made to consolidate all previous sports programs under the umbrella of "The Weekly Cowbell." This may have been an attempt to capitalize on the success of what may have been SlopeRadio's most successful program.

In an outstanding bit of irony, the current incarnation of "Cowbell" never discusses hockey. The show named for one of Cornell hockey's traditions has completely ignored the sport.

There's one more category left. Try "The Slog." The front graphic is unreadable, but if you click on the archived graphics to the side, you'll find something which looks like an elementary school art project. The idea is actually cool -- to organize the week's news based on its relevance to Cornell students (I think), with some Newsweek CW-like one-liners thrown in. But, like nearly everything else with Slope, this has fallen behind the times. The most recent Slog is from three weeks ago.

So, who is running this seemingly disfunctional, oft-delayed, massive operation?

Returning to the organizational chart, you'll be happy to know that there are no fewer than ten (!!) individuals who can call themselves vice-presidents of Slope Media. Along with a president and three editorial directors. (One wonders what the responsibilities of the editorial directors might be, given that there is so little content.)

What does all of this mean?

Has Slope Media deteriorated into a sham organization, with plenty of people claiming to be its leaders, but very little going on? Sure, there are a few radio hosts who do a good job, and maybe there's something to the Slog idea, but what the hell is going on in every other department? Why is the only TV show a hockey show that doesn't talk about hockey? Why has the magazine ceased to "publish" (quotes because I don't think a paper copy has been produced since the first issue)? Why is the fancy video equipment being left unused? What happened to the exciting announcement that SlopeMedia had reached a deal with Athletics to "give viewers unlimited free access to online broadcasts of varsity sports games, pre-game events and interviews with players and fans?"

Why do I care? I care because after three years of reading and hearing about how great Slope is, after seeing how much effort its founders put into starting the organization, and after seeing the expensive equipment and imagining how many cool things can be done with it, there is essentially nothing to show for it today. And this is both disappointing and deceitful. The two guys on "Cowbell" could have just sat in front of their MacBook cameras for an hour and then posted it on YouTube. The few active radio shows could use readily available software and microphones to stream their show online, and have no need for Slope's expensive equipment.

You would think with $40,000 of audio and video equipment, ten vice presidents, assistance from Cornell, and the unlimited broadcast potential of the internet, Slope would have more to show than this.

Maybe we just need to show a little love for Slope. You can place a radio advertisement on SlopeRadio for $8.00 for one week, or $3.50 a week ($7.00 total) for two weeks. Now tell me this whole thing doesn't make sense.


  1. Thanks for digging all that info up on Slopemedia. I remember listening to the Weekly Cowbell back in the day when it served my hockey interests, and thinking that Slopemedia had some hope. I specifically remember coming into the Straight after the thrilling win over Harvard in the fall of '06, where Ari was hosting the Cowbell from the lobby, and getting to say a few words on the air (something like "Kennedy's goal blew the roof off the place!"). With some modification, I think you could get this blog post into the Daily Sun opinion section.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Yeah, that was a great goal and a great game. I don't think we've had a comparable moment at Lynah since then.

    As for the Sun, I would probably need to talk to some people at Slope to hear their side of things before I wrote anything. I'm on the editorial board and I'll be co-writing a hockey column this season, so I'm not sure how much more I want to be doing for them. If someone else wanted to write a column, I'd be happy to let them steal anything I wrote here.

  3. Sigh. This is the type of investigative journalism the Sun should be doing.

  4. The equipment is not going unused definitely. Slope media often gets contracted by the university to film certain special events, so other places on the cornell official website, there will be footage taken by slope, but I dont think they link to those on the slope website. The problem, at least on the TV side, is a lack of editors who can piece together all the footage they have saved. The editing process takes a while, and a lot of the content also does not get uploaded to the web fast enough. The other problem is a lack of deadlines and structure. Its not for a lack of doing anything, but there isnt that sense of urgency from what I saw in the TV department to get shows out there at a certain time. (I was a part of the TV department for a while, but decided I didnt want to do it anymore.)