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Hofstra student journalists broadcast from DNC on campus station

Hofstra University senior Sean Bates, 21, of Medford,

Hofstra University senior Sean Bates, 21, of Medford, assistant news director of the campus radio station WRHU/88.7 FM, and senior Juliana Spano, 20, of Smithtown, WRHU's programming director of talk, are seen at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on July 26, 2016. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Lugging equipment, laying cable, gathering interviews, trouble-shooting technical problems, conducting sound checks — did we mention the power is out at the hotel? The first days of a major political party’s convention and media frenzy would be a scramble for any journalist.

Hofstra University student reporters from WRHU/88.7 FM are clearing the hurdles like the pros, gaining valuable on-air experience, building their portfolios and bringing the Democratic National Convention alive this week for some 300,000 listeners of their award-winning campus radio station.

“This is a place where the future will be determined — and I’m here,” Sean Bates, 21, of Medford, said Tuesday. “It is so important.”

Bates, WRHU’s assistant news director and a senior majoring in broadcast journalism, is one of three Hofstra students with media credentials to access and work the convention inside the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Last week, Bernie Dennler, the WRHU station manager who is double-majoring in journalism and political science, covered the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The 21-year-old senior from Colchester, Connecticut, called it a “surreal” experience, recalling how he mustered up the courage to ask Rudy Giuliani for an interview — as the former New York City mayor exited a restroom.

“You don’t feel like a college student when you are out reporting,” said Juliana Spano, 20, of Smithtown, who is at the DNC.

On Monday, she found herself caught up in a media scrum interviewing talk-show host Jerry Springer. Spano, a senior majoring in rhetorical studies with a concentration in political communications, aspires to become a White House correspondent or a political analyst.

“I’m just casually seeing these big television anchors walking by,” she said. “Seeing them on a very intimate level makes me really think that one day I can do this.”

The college radio station, like Hofstra itself, has a long history of political education, news coverage and commentary. WRHU sent student reporters as credentialed media to the political conventions in 2004, 2008 and 2012. The students this year have been getting a firsthand look at the election cycle, from covering local campaign events to the New Hampshire primary and the conventions.

The candidates will come to Hofstra on Sept. 26 as the university hosts the first presidential debate — becoming the only school ever to host presidential debates in three consecutive election cycles. Hofstra, initially an alternate site, was told last week it was needed as a host site after Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, bowed out over cost and security concerns.

“We want the students who work at the station to be in places where they can get the maximum professional experience and be able to polish their broadcasting skills,” said John Mullen, an administrator at Hofstra who is operations manager at WRHU. Mullen spent 16 years working in Manhattan for various radio stations before he began helping run the college station and teaching at the university as an adjunct professor.

WRHU employs 234 active students, some of whom are on work-study programs and others who earn credit. Sports and politics are the two most popular areas. The station has a broadcast partnership with the New York Islanders hockey team, the New York Cosmos soccer team and the Long Island Ducks minor league baseball team. There’s even a crew that covers the Belmont Stakes, he said.

Listeners in Nassau and Suffolk counties and parts of Queens and Brooklyn can tune in to 88.7 FM or online through to hear the Hofstra students live from the convention each evening from 8 to 11 p.m.

“Radio teaches you how to work as a team,” Mullen said. “These are skills that go far beyond the platform of radio reporting.”

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