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Pandemic jeopardizes Charlotte broadcasting school after 65 years in business

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Will Francis

After 65 years of training people to work in TV and radio, Charlotte’s Carolina School of Broadcasting faces an uncertain future amid pandemic disruption.

The school was founded in 1957 as a training school for the radio industry. It adapted to the emergence of television and the internet, most recently refocusing on digital production. Ken Fuquay, co-owner of the for-profit school, says one thing remained constant: "It was broadcasters training would-be broadcasters to be broadcasters."

But he says COVID-19 undermined that model, which relied heavily on hands-on training and internships.

"During the pandemic the internships dried up and it became almost impossible to put a student into a building where they weren’t sure they were even going to be working a staff, how they were going to be functioning," Fuquay said.

Carolina School of Broadcasting stopped admitting new students 15 months ago, once it became clear the school couldn’t deliver on the program it promised, Fuquay says. And initial hopes that the disruption would be short-lived have been squelched by new waves of COVID-19.

The building, just off I-85 in western Mecklenburg County, has been sold, and so has some of the equipment. There's no faculty to lay off because the school relies on part-time contracts with working broadcasters.

But Fuquay says it’s too early to say whether the school will close or undergo major restructuring. Its accreditation means agencies such as the U.S. Department of Education and the North Carolina Department of Community Colleges are involved in such decisions.

For now, Fuquay says the remaining staff is working to help current students complete their program. An announcement about the school’s future is expected in January.

Fuquay is a 1981 graduate of Carolina School of Broadcasting and CEO of Lifespan, which provides services for people with disabilities.. He says he got a job as a copy writer at WPEG Power 98 FM soon after finishing the program. He says the school is designed for "people who have done some living" and want a job in broadcasting, not a traditional college education.

"There’s no math and science and biology in this program. It’s not an associate’s of arts program. It’s not a bachelor’s degree program," he said.

And he says most of the school's alumni are working behind the scenes, not on air.

"They understand few get the anchor desk jobs," he said, "but that there are a thousand other great jobs in this industry out there that they may be well suited for, and this school served that purpose."

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.