Torch radio ignited after four years of silence

Biola’s radio station KBR: The Torch is now streaming live 24/7.



After watching the campus radio station struggle to go live, senior Sky Dickinson and sophomore Jackson Theune, general managers of the Torch, took it as their duty to bring it to life for the first time since 2009. Five paid staff and about 20 volunteers work to ensure the online radio is streaming music and student-made talk shows 24/7. “I come in every day to update the playlist,” Theune said. | Heather Leith/THE CHIMES

Heather Leith, Writer

After watching the campus radio station struggle to go live, senior Sky Dickinson and sophomore Jackson Theune, general managers of the Torch, took it as their duty to bring it to life for the first time since 2009. Five paid staff and about 20 volunteers work to ensure the online radio is streaming music and student-made talk shows 24/7. “I come in every day to update the playlist,” Theune said. | Heather Leith/THE CHIMES


During his three years at Biola, Caleb Taylor (‘13) spent countless hours producing content for the Biola radio. He eagerly jumped on board to oversee sports broadcasting for the radio that would soon be on air.

Or so he was told.

The radio never went live. His sports broadcasts remained in the files of content that had been building up since 2009, the last year that the radio was on the air.

“We kept hearing that we were one week away from funding,” Taylor said.

The failure to launch stemmed from a lack of money in combination with disappointing technology issues.

“Everything was in place [last year], we could have been on air,” said Heather Hamilton-Stilwell, faculty adviser for the Torch.

It came down to the streaming service failing to connect with the on-campus equipment, and another year ended with dozens of voices left unheard.

A dream fulfilled

Four years of silence broke at 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 26 when the all-new Torch staff unveiled a 24/7 online live stream, launching an eclectic music mix and student-made talk shows into the airwaves during Biola Weekend. The dreams of past radio hopefuls and their faithful adviser, Hamilton-Stilwell, were fulfilled.

“It was fun for the staff to look at each other and say, ‘We did it,’” Hamilton-Stilwell said. “There’s been a lot of false hope at the radio station.”

That flickering hope was fanned into fruition by this year’s five-person senior staff and about 20 volunteer DJs. Leading the group are general managers Jackson Theune, sophomore Biblical studies and communication studies major, and Sky Dickinson, senior journalism major.

Theune came onto the team last year as a DJ. Although putting work into producing content only to have it fizzle out was disheartening, he said it fueled the passion that brings him into the studio nearly every day to run the revamped project.

“It motivated me to make sure that doesn’t happen to other people,” Theune said.

12-hour days became the norm as the Torch staff worked out the kinks getting in the way of their Biola Weekend premiere.

“We basically just tested everything to its limits so that if something goes wrong we can fix it and that we won’t go off air again,” Theune said.

“This girl told me I had a voice that was a mix of cashmere silk and gravel,” freshman Megan DePaso [right] said. The freshly-recruited news anchor works quickly to record her broadcast before she goes live as news director Heather Pape, senior [left], checks her work. | Heather Leith/THE CHIMES

The Torch ignites

Preparations for the 11:30 a.m. launch time began at 6 a.m. that day, and everything went off without a hitch as they broadcasted for the very first time from Sutherland Way, interviewing missions teams that had booths by the fountain and encouraging those that passed by to give them a listen.

“It was definitely excitement, a relief to feel like we’ve arrived a little bit,” news director and senior journalism major Heather Pape said. “… We were just happy to be there and get our voice heard for the first time.”

Although the radio station has yet to gain massive popularity — mention of the Torch is often met with, “The what?” according to Pape — she does not plan on letting the airwaves go dead again, no matter what.

“Radio is still a really relevant medium. … Even if I’m not seeing results now, hopefully people see results in the semesters after I leave. I’m hoping to just build something here that people can pick up,” Pape said.

Dickinson, who has the task of promotion and marketing, wants to get the Torch playing campus-wide in places like Eagles Nest and Common Grounds. Theune dreams of a Biola radio mobile app for on-the-go listening. They hope to reach a wide audience by streaming music their peers like.

“It’s a dying art, but we’re giving this really revamped sense of cool to it because it’s kind of like a Pandora-meets-Biola, so it’s like people you know are running the Pandora station you’re listening to,” Dickinson said.

Theune hopes the radio will gain a following and students will want to be on air with them, something Biola radio DJs of the past know full well.

A voice from the days of vinyl

Ken Suk (‘81) worked as DJ for the Biola radio as a student, back when all the music was on vinyl and radio commercials were edited by literally cutting and pasting the recorded tape into a fluid advertisement.

“The students were quite loyal. … It was actually wired into the residences so they could listen to it in their rooms or in the lounges at that time. They chose to,” Suk said.

The content of Biola’s radio in the late ‘70s was made up of Christian artists like Benny Hester and Second Chapter of Acts, live reports from Angels baseball games and talk shows where Suk said with a laugh that he often told listeners they were broadcasting in color.

The practical experience of putting together news reports and filling airspace with good conversations was priceless, he said, and the concept of a dead radio station did not sit well with him.

“You’re taking away the opportunity for someone to go into that field,” he said.

History repeats itself

The past four years were not the first time for the radio program to fall through the cracks, according to Melodie Turori (‘09), general manager of Biola radio from ‘07-‘09.

“It kind of seems to be a cycle of about four to five years. It’ll come back, and once the core staff that’s really passionate about radio graduates and moves on, then it kind of falls apart again,” Turori said.

Turori was a part of the team that revived the radio after about three years off the air. The dead space happened when the film department, which used to house the radio major, narrowed its focus to just film, leaving the radio with no faculty members in charge and no students required to participate.

“Nobody really knew what to do with it,” Turori said.

The radio was eventually assigned to the journalism department, and a team formed during the summer of ‘07.

“I remember the first day I walked into the studio there were equipment and wires and cables everywhere. It was kind of big mess when we came in, but we worked real hard and got it back on the air,” Turori said.

Newly-hired president Barry Corey’s inaugural chapel was one of their first broadcasts. Turori poured hours upon hours into that year, and the two that followed as they gained listeners all over the world.

After she graduated, it fizzled out again — this time because of a lack of dedication from the new staff.

Turori has been waiting for her beloved radio station to return. And waiting some more.

She finally got word that the radio was back and excitedly shared the news with her radio buddies.

“I was thrilled,” she said. “I know how much work they had to have put into it. … They should be really proud of what they’ve gone and accomplished.”

Lighting the path ahead

Just over a week into their relaunch, the Torch is holding a small, flickering light that has been easily extinguished in the past.

As Dickinson sees it, they are starting from scratch. Although it is hard to get the public’s attention because of a general lack of faith in the radio, she spoke confidently of the future.

“There’s going to be massive things that happen this year for the station,” Dickinson said. “The Torch radio will be a thing in five years. For sure.”

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