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Students use cameras during rehearsal for “Summit Sessions Live.”

Chaos is the key ingredient

Students from three RSOs work together to produce a live music show

Contact: Emily Stulz


"Practice starts in five minutes," shouts a voice, straining to be heard above the noise. Chaos is key to this learning experience, as students from student recording studio Moore Media Records, Moore Hall Television and radio station WMHW-FM work to execute "Summit Sessions Live," a music show that airs live every other Friday evening, except for a spring finale Thursday, April 19, with a special surprise.

"If you tried to teach this in a classroom, many of them might fall asleep," said Jim Bollella, audio laboratories manager for broadcast and cinematic arts. "The way we are doing it, and the way they are learning it, causes them to pay attention in a way that we can only dream about in the classroom."

Aaron Jones, video facilities manager and BCA instructor, agrees. "It's experiential learning, and they are having so much fun."

Welcome to another episode

"Summit Sessions Live" has become a biweekly staple for more than 20 students. A five-hour rehearsal Thursday evening sets the stage for Friday's live show, which airs at 8 p.m. on MHTV, is streamed live on YouTube and is tape delayed to run at 9 p.m. on WMHW's 91.5 The Mountain, one of CMU's two FM radio stations.

The crew spends more than 10 hours a week in the small studio space on the first floor of Moore Hall, every one of them voluntary.

"It is a lot of time, but it flies by, and it doesn't feel like work at all," said Abby Johnson, a BCA student from Milford, Michigan.

What started as a casual idea from Bollella has turned into a labor of love for students, faculty and staff. Each taping, Bollella and Jones are joined by faculty members Maggie Mayes and Kevin Campbell, engineer Robert Johns and graduate assistants Mario Caballero and Joe Caravallah.

"There is so much faculty involvement, so much hands-on supervision," says Bollella. "We let them bump into walls, but then we tell them how to fix it. It shows the power of these faculty-supervised student productions."


Jim Bollella and a student work to prepare a guest artist for rehearsal.

Learning in different ways

Originally planning to be involved primarily as station manager, Johnson now works behind the cameras or on the audio board. "I've been doing radio for so long there wasn't much else for me to learn, so coming into TV has been fun, learning something new."

Sean Kusch, a BCA student from Jackson, Michigan, finds his niche to be engineering and technical directing. After having worked with Sports Central, Kusch realized his goal was to work as an engineer at live events.

"Getting my hands dirty, being involved is the best thing about this show," Kusch said. "I really enjoy problem-solving, troubleshooting things, figuring things out – getting that sense of accomplishment being part of a group that works together to solve problems."


Sean Kusch works on an audio board in the studio as students set up for rehearsal.

Problem-solving on the fly

Kusch has plenty of opportunities to practice his problem-solving during "Summit Sessions Live." Re-creating their studio each rehearsal, pushing equipment to the brink and working with different artists leads to close calls in every episode.

"Things are going to break, and you have to problem-solve on the fly," Bollella said. "We go on the air live at 8 p.m., so scrapping it is not an option, starting over is not an option. That kind of pressure is exactly what they need to be prepared for in the real world."

Johnson agrees. "Whenever I'm talking to someone about problem-solving, I tell them that 99 percent of the things I've learned — about radio especially — I've learned when something has gone wrong and I've had to fix it. It teaches you to think on your feet, it teaches you to be flexible, it teaches you how to quickly solve problems."

Ending the season with a bang

"Summit Sessions Live" took to the air April 13 for its final regular episode of the season. But thanks to some quick work by Moore Media Records' recruiter, the team will re-assemble for a special episode April 19 for the actual season finale.

Why? Because former "American Idol" contestant Jena Irene Asciutto will perform for the show. Airing live on MHTV and YouTube at 9 p.m., the show will also be shared on WMHW-FM later in the evening.

Come fall, the "Summit Sessions Live" team will look for more members to help move the show forward. 

"There's no reason why you can't come do this as a freshman," Jones said. "Do you want to learn live production and work on this show? If you do, then show up. It's the best learning environment we've got."

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