Syndicated student wins scholarship
Donald Isaac Jr. has a radio show syndicated on 17 stations and affiliated websites worldwide—and he’s still in college.
The Bluffton University junior’s work on his show, “The Chillout Sessions,” and as program director at campus radio station WBWH, helped earn him the Antelle Haithcock Humanitarian Scholarship at the recent Community Enrichment Dinner in Lima, Ohio.
The Walter C. Potts Entrepreneur Center awards the $500 scholarship, which goes to a local student pursuing a career in broadcasting, journalism or music.
Isaac, from Dayton, Ohio, had the idea for a show on WBWH during his first year at Bluffton. Two years later, “The Chillout Sessions” is sending “smooth” jazz to an international audience, primarily via websites—including European- and American-based sites—that stream the syndicated program.
His work on the show, and at the station, led Isaac to change his major last spring from pre-medicine to broadcasting and journalism, and to set his sights on a career in radio or possibly television.
"This award is well-deserved, as Donald has combined his passions for music and broadcasting with impressive entrepreneurial initiative,” says Dr. Melissa Friesen, chair of communication and theatre at Bluffton. “His success is a boost for our relatively new broadcasting and journalism major steered by Dr. Dan Fultz."
Isaac’s father played a big role in his son’s choice of music. Because his father liked jazz, “I grew up with it,” Donald Jr. says. But he also became a jazz fan “because it’s relaxing; it’s different than anything else on the radio,” he adds. “That’s what I want when I turn on the radio—something relaxing.”
As a first-year student, he talked to Fultz, an associate professor of communication, about his idea for a radio show—which he started soon after, live from 7-9 p.m. Sundays on WBWH. “It was just for fun at first, then I realized how much I liked it,” says Isaac, who gained experience writing his own scripts and playlists. The following year, he took the paying job of operations manager at the station—now at 96.1 on the FM dial—before becoming program director for the 2012-13 academic year.
All the while, Isaac has worked to expand “The Chillout Sessions,” named in part because he wanted to incorporate “chill” music from Europe with smooth jazz—a combination of several genres—to give the show a more “worldly feel,” he explains. And that infusion is “one of the prime reasons my show gets so much international feedback,” he says.
New episodes still air at 7 p.m. Sundays—although they’re now prerecorded—with replays at 9 a.m. Thursdays and 3 p.m. Fridays, on WBWH and streamed on BlufftonConnection.com. Episodes from the program archives air at 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Isaac also hosts special editions of the show that feature the music of, and interviews with, individual artists. The music sometimes includes world premieres; the interviews are done on the phone or Skype. He contacts artists through social media, which usually leads to an email exchange, he says. With few radio stations playing smooth jazz, artists are anxious to get their music out and, in some cases, he introduces them to a new audience, he adds.
Among smooth jazz performers, Kenny G is perhaps the best known. “He does so much for the format,” says Isaac, noting the saxophonist’s ability to get play time for instrumentals on radio stations dominated by vocals. “Other smooth jazz artists can’t do that.”
The Chaminade Julienne High School graduate hasn’t hesitated to seek other outlets for “The Chillout Sessions.” Through contacts he has made, the affiliates list now includes Cyprus-based SmoothRadio.net; Tulip-Radio.co.uk, Tynefm.com, Hot FM Smooth Grooves Radio (Hot-fm.co.uk), Platinum Grooves Radio (PGRstation.com) and RealSoulRadio.com, all in England; BlackMartiniRadio.com, Cincinnati; jazzy103.com, Orlando, Fla.; and Black Soul Rhythms Radio (blacksoulrhythms.com), New York. And the show is available on demand at mixcloud.com/donald-isaac; samurai.fm/thechilloutsessions; and soundcloud.com/donald-isaac.
But WBWH is still the flagship station, notes Isaac, who also oversees BlufftonConnection.com, an online news source. WBWH is “promoted all through the week internationally” and has gained a number of listeners in Europe and some in Japan, for other shows as well as his, he says.
For a full list of Isaac’s affiliates and air times, see www.thechilloutsessionsradio.com/affiliate-list/