Senior Ava Pukatch didn’t even know she liked audio journalism until she joined Carolina Connection, UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s student-produced radio show and podcast platform.
Then, she realized she loved it. She enjoyed the immediacy of the audio format and its smooth fit into Generation Z’s iPhone-always-in-hand habits.
“Audio’s so accessible, and you can tell really good stories,” said Pukatch. “You can get really creative and tell stories in interesting ways.”
Pukatch is one of about 25 students telling stories at Carolina Connection this semester, where they produce stories weekly that populate the Carolina Connection website, air every Saturday on local station 97.9 The Hill WCHL, and then get expanded on CarolinaConnection’s podcast platform.
Students, working in a variety of roles from reporting to production, deliver stories mainly about campus issues and local, national and international topics.
“The thing I love most about audio journalism is that I can be my authentic self; there’s no pressure to look or sound perfect,” said Carolina senior Jayda Williams, who has served as an anchor, reporter and producer for Carolina Connection. “The audio medium gives room for me to be conversational, and as a result, reporting feels less like reporting and more like valuable, genuine conversations.”
Daniel Myrick, a senior who often anchors Carolina Connection’s radio show with Pukatch and Williams, appreciates the powerful stories he tells at Carolina Connection.
“Last semester, I did a story about the labor shortage faced by UNC housekeeping,” Myrick said, “I got to walk the halls with one of the housekeepers as he worked the graveyard shift, and it opened my eyes to how much work each of the housekeepers put into keeping our campus clean and safe. It also opened my eyes to how much help they need.”
Two courses feed students into Carolina Connection: “MEJO 426: Audio Journalism for Radio and Podcasts” and “MEJO 523: Broadcast News and Production Management,” both taught by Carolina Connection’s adviser, Adjunct Instructor Adam Hochberg.
Students who have taken MEJO 252 can enroll in MEJO 426. Carolina Connection also welcomes volunteers with any level of experience or no experience at all. The show always needs reporters, producers, sportscasters and technical personnel, Hochberg said.
Hochberg, a veteran radio journalist who currently works as editorial director for the American Homefront Project and previously worked 15 years with NPR, praised Carolina Connection’s resume-building potential. “We teach best practices in the Carolina Connection courses, as well as network quality journalism and audio production standards. Students have used our platform to do big things. Their work gets noticed,” Hochberg said.
Pukatch’s Carolina Connection work recently got noticed as the only journalist present as University officials watched the installation of signs denoting the name change of two UNC-Chapel Hill buildings on Dec. 3, 2021, to honor Hortense McClinton, the University’s first Black professor and Henry Owl, an Indigenous student who was Carolina’s first student of color.
Carolina Connection has won many of the top collegiate audio journalism awards multiple times. It has been named the nation’s “Best All-Around Radio Newscast” by the Society of Professional Journalists in the 2021 Mark of Excellence Awards. The Radio Television Digital News Association named it the national Edward R. Murrow Award winner in 2021, 2020, 2018 and 2017. Over the past decade, more than a dozen Carolina Connection students have been national finalists in the Hearst Journalism Awards.
“It’s not so much the awards themselves that are a measure of Carolina Connection’s success,” Hochberg said. “The more important thing those awards represent is that our students are producing well-crafted journalism about crucial issues. I hope it also helps their resumes stand out as they enter a competitive journalism job market.”
Brighton McConnell ’19, news director at 97.9 The Hill WCHL and Chapelboro.com, credits his student work at Carolina Connection with his professional success.
“My work with Carolina Connection truly helped launch my career: the stories aired on WCHL in Chapel Hill, catching the attention of its news director and leading to my summer job there in 2018. After graduation, I returned to work at the station as a regular reporter,” McConnell said. “Two years later, I’m not only now the news director for WCHL, but also host my own live afternoon show. Each day, I draw upon things I learned during my time with Carolina Connection to help me on the air.”
Among other notable alumni who took part in the show include Reema Khrais, host and reporter at the public radio program, “Marketplace;” Emma Peaslee, assistant producer at NPR’s “Planet Money;” Will Michaels, anchor and reporter, North Carolina Public Radio/WUNC; and Josh Ellis, associate vice president for media relations at the UNC System.