A young person who exhibits a maturity or understanding of the world around them far beyond their years is sometimes described as an “old soul.” Melanie Formosa certainly fits the bill.
She has an uncommon appreciation of music created long before she was born, something cultivated by her early days tagging along with her dad, a technician who worked behind the scenes for some of the biggest acts of the rock and jazz eras, and reinforced by seven years of her own experience in the music industry.
“I don’t see myself as a 21-year-old,” said Formosa, a senior journalism major. “I grew up with the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Sun Ra, and jazz musicians. It was always playing in the house and in the car. It’s a part of me. But I’ve done a lot and I’ve seen a lot, so I guess I do have an ‘old soul.’”
As she prepares for her upcoming graduation, Formosa can add one more honor to an already impressive resume — she was named one of five inaugural Next Step Radio Scholars by the College Radio Society, a national organization dedicated to furthering college radio. The Next Step Radio program was launched in 2022 to help college students who aspire to have a career in radio after graduation.
“It’s an honor being one of the five inaugural winners of the scholarship nationally,” she said. “This is a brand-new scholarship, so it’s exciting to be one of the forerunners.”
“Melanie continues her streak of winning awards for her outstanding performance, achievements and accomplishments in college radio and other media,” said Norm Prusslin, faculty adviser, WUSB-FM and the Student Media Council Lecturer, Honors College, Division of Undergraduate Education. “In addition to being a great practitioner in the media field, she is an excellent student and a respected role model and mentor for other students she works with. I continue to be very proud of her.”
It’s been quite a road — a long and winding one, as Beatles’ fan Formosa might say — for someone who was unsure of what her major would be and ended up running a college radio station three years later. Raised in East Northport, NY, Formosa chose nearby Stony Brook because it offered the best financial package.
“I always liked English in school and I was editor of my high school’s literary magazine, but I also wanted to get the audio and broadcast skills in addition to the writing,” she said. “I didn’t want all the literature that comes along with majoring in English, and I knew I didn’t want to be an English teacher. After that, journalism seemed like the obvious choice.”
Once at the School of Communication and Journalism, Formosa anchored broadcasts, worked as a remote reporter, and even worked behind the camera. She also learned about podcasts, producing one that explored the experience of returning to campus after the COVID-19 pandemic. The podcast featured interviews with university leaders, including Stony Brook President Maurie McInnis. Formosa then sent the podcast to Isobel Breheny-Schafer, assistant director of Student Media and general manager for WUSB.
Breheny-Schafer aired the podcast and the next fall, asked Formosa to be news director, where she established a new student news department. She soon began coming to the WUSB studio for on-air training taught by then-program director Luke Kaicher ’23. For her first time on the air she played Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” a song released in 1965.
“I said that I thought that song was the beginning of rap and somebody called in and said, ‘I am so glad that you just said that, I’ve been saying that for 20 years! Now I can say I heard it on the radio,’” she said. “That was my first on-air experience. And that was it, I loved it.”
With Kaicher’s guidance, she quickly grew more comfortable and became program director in summer 2022. She also hosts her own show, Hygge with Joi, a music show that incorporates themes of “coziness, contentment, and well-being.”
As graduation approaches, Formosa is unsure of what her future holds. “I want my career to be a mixture of different gigs,” she said. “I like having a lot going on and I don’t want to just sit at a desk. On the print side I like copy-editing and fact-checking. I also enjoy radio so if I could be program director at a radio station, I would enjoy that. And there’s also the TV world. The perfect scenario is a little bit of each.”
“We cannot be more proud of Melanie and all that she has accomplished,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School of Communication and Journalism. “Her work with WUSB shows just how she carries the mission of this school with her wherever she goes, and we know that she will continue to impress at every stage of her wonderful blossoming career.”
Formosa already has a TV production job lined up at a Long Island newspaper, and hopes to work at a radio station in London in the summer.
“I had so much to do, and I say yes to every opportunity,” said Formosa, who advises all undergrads to do the same. “And I’m really glad that I did that because it always ended up taking me someplace else.”
— Robert Emproto