Haverford Spring/Summer 2012 : Page 33
Haverford on the ◆ Former WHRC DJ Jennifer C. Waits ’89 chronicles nine decades of campus broadcasting. Radio I first set foot in Haverford College radio station WHRC ever used by a radio broadcasting station.” WABQ’s beginnings in January 1986. I quickly became a DJ and was predated electric phonographs, so the station aired live musical thrilled to have access to the station’s record library, performances from campus and the Ardmore Theatre. The which was full of historical gems. I had no idea that club also conducted ambitious wireless projects, communi-the funky 1950s records that I mixed into my music cating by Morse code with students as far away as London sets were a sign of the 640 AM station’s lengthy and in 1924. The New York Times reported that this was “the first storied past. On the occasion of my 20th college time that educational establishments in America and England reunion in 2009, I organized a tour of WHRC in order have talked to one another by the means of wireless.” The to connect with station alumni and document club held wireless chess competitions, and according to the Haverford’s radio history. Although only a handful of folks Times , the match with the University of Oxford was “the first showed up, I spoke with many more in the years that followed. international chess match by amateur radio.” From these conversations and By spring 1925, the Radio research, I discovered that Club was one of the biggest although Haverford radio’s pio-clubs at Haverford and was air-neering achievements are large-ing lectures, speeches and con-ly unknown today, back in the certs to listeners as far as 1,500 miles from the campus. The early 1920s the Radio Club powerful WABQ signal was was, according to a yearbook not only a boon to Haverford, report of the time, “helping but also an appealing asset to put Haverford on the map.” to outside interests. As the Radio broadcasting began students who built WABQ at Haverford in 1923, when AM approached graduation, the sta-station WABQ was built and tion was sold to WFAN in launched by the 15-member Philadelphia. (WFAN eventu-Haverford Radio Club. Only ally became WIP , now owned the second radio station in by CBS.) According to the 1927 Pennsylvania, WABQ was Haverford College Record , described as having “one of the An equipment check at the College’s then-radio station WABQ. “Though loath to part with the most unusual forms of aerials 1920 s SPRING/SUMMER 2012 33
Haverford On The Radio
Former WHRC DJ Jennifer C. Waits ’89 chronicles nine decades of campus broadcasting.<br /> <br /> I First set foot in Haverford College radio station WHRC in January 1986. I quickly became a DJ and was thrilled to have access to the station’s record library, which was full of historical gems. I had no idea that the funky 1950s records that I mixed into my music sets were a sign of the 640 AM station’s lengthy and storied past. On the occasion of my 20th college reunion in 2009, I organized a tour of WHRC in order to connect with station alumni and document Haverford’s radio history. Although only a handful of folks showed up, I spoke with many more in the years that followed. From these conversations and research, I discovered that although Haverford radio’s pioneering achievements are largely unknown today, back in the early 1920s the Radio Club was, according to a yearbook report of the time, “helping to put Haverford on the map.” <br /> <br /> Radio broadcasting began at Haverford in 1923, when AM station WABQ was built and launched by the 15-member Haverford Radio Club. Only the second radio station in Pennsylvania, WABQ was described as having “one of the most unusual forms of aerials ever used by a radio broadcasting station.” WABQ’s beginnings predated electric phonographs, so the station aired live musical performances from campus and the Ardmore Theatre. The club also conducted ambitious wireless projects, communicating by Morse code with students as far away as London in 1924. The New York Times reported that this was “the first time that educational establishments in America and England have talked to one another by the means of wireless.” The club held wireless chess competitions, and according to the Times, the match with the University of Oxford was “the first international chess match by amateur radio.” <br /> <br /> By spring 1925, the Radio Club was one of the biggest clubs at Haverford and was airing lectures, speeches and concerts to listeners as far as 1,500 miles from the campus. The powerful WABQ signal was not only a boon to Haverford, but also an appealing asset to outside interests. As the students who built WABQ approached graduation, the station was sold to WFAN in Philadelphia. (WFAN eventually became WIP, now owned by CBS.) According to the 1927 Haverford College Record, “Though loath to part with the station, it was deemed advisable to sell it at the time mainly because the men who had built and operated the apparatus were to graduate in June, and the continuation of the broadcasting activities would be in doubt.” Although Haverford students were allowed to broadcast from the WFAN studios, interest waned and the Radio Club shifted its focus to wireless projects and code classes. The 1933 yearbook listed the club as a “defunct organization.” <br /> <br /> By the late 1930s, the number of licensed college radio stations around the nation had declined considerably and students were beginning to pioneer campus-only radio networks, making use of carrier- current technology, which uses a building’s electrical system to transmit a signal to a small area, like a building or group of buildings. By 1938, Haverford’s Radio Club was revived, and by 1942 a small campus-only radio station, WHAV, was broadcasting from the Union building. Ken Blum ’49 recalled that WHAV aired mostly music (particularly jazz and classical), along with news, basketball games and events. <br /> <br /> In the 1940s, college radio stations began to organize, and WHAV became a member of the first regional college radio network, along with Swarthmore (WSRN), Bryn Mawr (WBMC) and the University of Pennsylvania (WXPN). The member stations planned to share programming and broadcast over a commercial station in Philadelphia. In 1946, WHAV was renamed WHRC after the Federal Communications Commission asked the station to change its call letters, most likely because of the impending launch of a similarly named station in Massachusetts.<br /> <br /> Along with technical advances—including a permanent line for sports broadcasts from the gym, experiments with FM and the purchase of a tape recorder—WHRC also faced equipment failures and setbacks. An entry in the 1953 yearbook said, “The radio station proceeds on its steady path of repair, construction and repair … the fifth entry telephone still picks up most of the programs with alarming clarity, and 78 rpm records still idle around 33 ¹/3.” The carrier- current broadcasts were often joked about, and the 1954 yearbook described WHRC as “the only radio station you can get by turning on the hot-water faucet.” Community radio pioneer Lorenzo Milam ’57 remembered playing classical music on WHRC, and called the station a “labor of love,” since “the signal barely got up enough steam to [get] out to the dorm rooms and halfway down the Nature Walk before it pooped out.” <br /> <br /> Despite these challenges, WHRC broadcast for 20 hours a day and was recognized by a local commercial station as having the best radio show. Bruce Reeves ’55 remembered conducting interviews for WHRC with prominent guest speakers like Bill Buckley and Aaron Copland. In the 1960s, WHRC did experimental stereo broadcasts and ambitious live remotes. “One of our little triumphs,” recalled Charles Read ’61, “was to broadcast a campaign speech by John F. Kennedy by remote hookup from a shopping center on the northwest side of Philadelphia.” In the early 1970s, station director Steve Bronstein ’75 moved WHRC from the top floor of Union to the basement of the Dining Center. The station played mostly rock music and was influenced by free-form FM stations of the era. One of Bronstein’s favorite memories was of doing his “late night shows” and “having the freedom to play whatever I wanted.” By the late 1970s, WHRC was playing an eclectic mix of music, including punk and new wave, and Perry Michael Simon ’82 said that the station was “painted purple with cartoon sheep drawn on the walls.” <br /> <br /> By the 1980s, WHRC had more than 6,000 records and over 100 Djs, and broadcast in the Dining Center and the dorms. However, the carrier-current system was failing, and attempts to move the station to FM fell through. By 1994, WHRC was off the air. According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article, “the dining service took over its studio and offices, haphazardly stacking dishes and equipment on top of records.” Dan Silver ’02 remembered arriving on campus in 1998 and finding that there was no radio station. Silver worked with other students to bring WHRC back in the fall of 1999 thanks to donations from an anonymous alumnus. Once again, WHRC aired music shows (including an electronic techno show hosted by Silver), talk shows and sporting events. However, despite the influx of energetic Djs and new broadcasting equipment, the station struggled with its unreliable signal on campus. WHRC staff explored the possibility of obtaining a low-power FM license, but these were in high demand and the student Djs were again left without a licensed broadcasting option.<br /> <br /> By the summer of 2000, changes to the campus phone service further disrupted WHRC’s broadcasts. Following that, lightning knocked out a line connecting the campus to the Haverford College Apartments, cutting off broadcasts to students living there. Nathan Keim ’04 helped rewire the WHRC studio around that time and told me that by 2001 WHRC was broadcasting on the Internet, with the carrier-current system “mostly defunct.” Students could still hear the station in the Dining Center at mealtimes, but there were few online listeners. Despite that, there were 72 student Djs in spring 2002. By 2005, WHRC was experimenting with streaming video and broadcast a men’s basketball game online for an estimated 100 viewers. But WHRC faced another setback in January 2008 when a hacker attack shut down the website, prompting staffers to rethink the purpose of the radio station. In part, the concept of “radio” was losing its luster among college students with the advent of online music and iPods. In a 2009 article in the Bi-College News, Genna Cherichello ’11 wrote, “Why listen to a music-based radio show anyway when you have your iTunes open?” <br /> <br /> In spring 2009, WHRC came back for a semester as a podcastfocused music club presenting live DJ sets on campus. In fall 2010, another group of students began work on reimagining WHRC. They investigated broadcast options, launched a website with blog posts and playlists, and held a fund-raising party. But by spring 2012, even their hopes of a WHRC revival were dashed. “We didn’t receive the student response we need to run a radio station,” said Thy Vo ’14.<br /> <br /> As I complete this article, remnants of WHRC still remain in the Dining Center basement. It’s clear that despite the strong desire among students to connect with one another through music, the radio and sound, the challenges of running a radio station can conspire against the best of intentions. Considering the number of deaths and rebirths experienced by WABQ, WHAV and WHRC over the years, I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon hear of yet another vision for Haverford radio in the 21st century. Stay tuned …<br /> <br /> Jennifer Waits ’89 was a WHRC DJ and music director between 1986 and 1989. Since graduation, she’s volunteered at several college radio stations and has been hosting a weekly music show on Foothill College radio station KFJC, in Los Altos, Calif., since 1999. She writes extensively about the college radio scene for her blog, SpinningIndie.com, and helped launch RadioSurvivor.com, a website devoted to radio news. This brief history of radio at Haverford is part of a bigger project, which includes a forthcoming article, “From Wireless Experiments to Podcasts: The Secret History and Changing Role of College Radio at Haverford College 1923-2010,” for the academic journal Interactions: Studies in Communication and Culture. Decade-specific articles about WHRC can also be found on Waits’ Spinning Indie blog, where she documents field trips to radio stations all over the world. Alumni are encouraged to send their Haverford radio memories to her at email@example.com.<br /> <br /> TheMusic Man<br /> <br /> Mario Cotto ’98, a DJ at Los Angeles’ free-form community station KCRW, has the dream job he didn’t even know he wanted.<br /> <br /> Mario Cotto ’98 didn’t plan to become a professional radio DJ. Nor did he get to practice his eventual profession in the proving grounds of college radio, because his Haverford career coincided with one of WHRC’s fallow periods. But the College’s storied radio history did offer him one memorable college DJ experience. “Towards the end of senior year, a friend who worked at Lunt Cafe somehow obtained a key to this weird closet full of promo vinyl and Cds that had been getting sent to the campus’s defunct station,” remembers Cotto, who majored in English. “One night we pulled a bunch of records and Cds from the closet and threw a dance party in Lunt basement. Then, like the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, all that stuff got sucked back into that closet in a maelstrom of smoke and light and the door slammed shut forever—or at least until someone else opened it.” (And no, he sadly doesn’t recall the secret closet’s location.)<br /> <br /> Cotto now has access to an even more impressive promo closet as a DJ for renowned musical tastemaker KCRW, Southern California’s leading National Public Radio affiliate. It’s a free-form station, so the Djs are given complete control over the music they play. Cotto’s show, credited on KCRW’s website as “a kaleidoscopic Dada dance party,” airs Saturday night from midnight through 3 a.m. “The show has evolved a lot,” he says. “When I started, it was a glorious mess—super-eclectic, from boogaloo to hip-hop to post-punk to techno to disco, a little bit of everything. As time has gone by and my shift has changed, I’m currently primarily focused on dance music. But it’s a constantly evolving thing, because our format allows for that freedom and growth.”<br /> <br /> In addition to his work at the station, Cotto spins records at parties and clubs and maintains a day job as a standardized patient trainer, hiring and preparing people to play sick for medical students. It’s a double life that has him spending his days in an office and his nights Djing. Says Cotto: “I’m mostly grinding, picking up gigs that don’t necessarily pay well—or sometimes not at all—but offer me great experiences, like spinning poolside at a new hotel in Palm Springs over Coachella [music festival] weekend. [It’s] nice work if you can get it.”<br /> <br /> Though he seems tailor-made for a career in radio, Cotto is as surprised as anyone that he’s ended up there. The North Philadelphia native chose Haverford after seeing a performance by campus comedy troupe Lighted Fools on a campus visit. He auditioned as a freshman, and after four years in the Fools he headed west to do improv in Hollywood. Cotto began volunteering at KCRW because he was a fan of the station’s programming and needed a break from the “frenzy and desperation” of the comedy scene. “Volunteering turned into assisting several amazing, world-class Djs on their shows, which was in essence a master class in broadcasting and programming,” he says. Eventually, in October of 2007, he earned his own show.<br /> <br /> What he loves best about his work at KCRW—beyond, obviously, the music—is the cooperative spirit that is fostered there. Though he may not have been taught the radio trade at Haverford, the lessons he learned at the College serve him well at the station. “Ultimately, Haverford’s ideals and the principles of community, respect, truth and honor made me want to seek that out in the world,” Cotto says. “And I found that in so many ways at KCRW.”<br /> <br /> —Rebecca Raber<br /> <br /> The State Of College Radiotoday<br /> <br /> During the 1980s and 1990s, which many people cite as college radio’s golden era, student stations were lauded as tastemakers, playing independent bands before the groups achieved mainstream success and sparking an interest in alternative or “indie” culture by commercial radio stations and record labels. Even Djs at WHRC recall meeting upstarts like Living Colour and They Might Be Giants in the 1980s before the bands made it big. College Media Journal (CMJ) started its industry publication focused on the college radio market in 1978. College radio stations became more legitimized as they were asked to report their weekly “tops” charts to CMJ, which in turn shared the information with record labels. By the end of the 1990s, the growing popularity of “indie” music created some competition for college radio as commercial stations started to play staples like grunge, punk and alternative rock. At the same time, college radio stations also started reaching new audiences online. Among the earliest student stations to broadcast on the Internet were WREK (Georgia Tech) and WXYC (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) in 1994. Haverford’s WHRC began netcasting around 2001.<br /> <br /> Some of the biggest changes to affect college radio in recent years have been related to FCC regulations, technology and the economy. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 lifted caps on the number of radio stations that one entity could own. As a result, the number of commercial radio station owners in the United States has shrunk dramatically, bringing with the drop a more standardized sound among sister stations across the country. At the same time, listening options beyond FM and AM have exploded. Satellite radio, Internet radio, and mobile devices like MP3 players have become listening alternatives for many, with personally selected iTunes playlists and music-oriented social media websites luring people away from traditional radio. Whereas in the past many discovered new artists by listening to FM radio, in 2012 it’s more likely that a young music enthusiast will learn about bands from blogs, YouTube or a friend’s Spotify feed on Facebook. In this landscape, college radio often gets overlooked, even though it’s still exposing listeners to groundbreaking music and ideas through handpicked music supplied by human Djs.<br /> <br /> Despite reports of the death of radio, it is still one of the most popular forms of media. A 2012 study by Arbitron and Edison Research found that 93 percent of respondents had listened to radio in the previous week. College radio continues to thrive. It’s estimated that there are close to 1,500 college radio stations in the United States, including terrestrial and online-only stations. While remaining true to old technologies, many college stations also have highly interactive websites, video streams, mobile applications and, in some cases, HD broadcasts. With the recent passage of the Local Community Radio Act, many students are also energized about the opportunity to apply for new low-power FM (LPFM) licenses.<br /> <br /> At the same time, college radio has faced some big setbacks in the past few years. Long-time college radio stations KUSF (University of San Francisco), WRVU (Vanderbilt University) and KTRU (Rice University) left the air in 2011 when their university-owners entered into agreements with public radio groups and turned over the stations. In each case, tempting million-dollar-plus offers were hard for the cash-strapped universities to pass up, and students were offered Internet-only radio stations in place of their former FM homes.<br /> <br /> Although Internet broadcasting can reach a potentially larger, global audience, it still doesn’t generally attract the same number of listeners as a terrestrial broadcast does. For that reason, students have mounted campaigns to protest the loss of these terrestrial stations. In 2011, College Broadcasters, Inc. organized a nationwide “minute of college radio silence” in response to recent station selloffs. Community radio station WFMU spearheaded a 15-station multi-cast featuring ousted KUSF Djs, and more than 360 stations participated in the first College Radio Day.<br /> <br /> As a college radio participant and observer, I hope that schools continue to recognize the impact their stations have on students. One Haverford alumnus told me that he once overheard a fellow WHRC staffer telling prospective students that “academics was just a side show, and that the real action at Haverford was in our autonomous student organizations like the radio station.” That may seem like an extreme statement, but the Haverford radio alumni I’ve talked to have made it clear that the time they spent controlling the airwaves was indeed a magical part of their college experience.<br /> <br /> —J.C.W.