Students hit airwaves with WCWM

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September 23, 2008

3:05 AM

Walking down to the basement of the Campus Center, students might discover the home of WCWM hidden away behind a door plastered with stickers. That is, if they were even aware that WCWM 90.9 FM, the College of William and Mary’s own radio station, existed.

Current Station Manager Dan Siepmann ’09 and Music Directors Michelle Kelley ’09 and Stephen Reader ’10 are hoping to change the general lack of awareness about the station through a series of plans to increase listenership and expand programming. WCWM recently launched its new website, wcwm.org.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure that any William and Mary student can tune in and be impressed by the variety and high-quality of our programming,” Siepmann said. “We offer such a wide range of programming, from crunk rap to funk, from popular indie bands to metal and industrial music, from jazz to world music, that there is really something for every student to appreciate.”

The station employees decide on the programming, as each student DJ hosts a weekly one-to-two-hour show focusing on different genres.

Some shows feature a certain number of songs from albums on the A-list — a heavy rotation list that changes weekly as new music comes into the station.

“Personally, when I’m going through new releases, I’m looking for things that sound unique, are different from what you’d normally hear on mainstream or college radio, and that I think people may be into but otherwise wouldn’t have searched out. This doesn’t mean excluding all better-known artists; I would just like our DJs to also give underappreciated artists a chance, because college radio is one of the few places that these artists can get easy, semi-mass exposure,” Reader said.

For other programs, the DJs themselves decide on a particular genre or theme that they will pursue throughout the semester, whether it be funk and early hip-hop or electronic dance music.

One of several A-list shows is that of Zach Claywell ’10. “Mah Jamz” airs Mondays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Apart from the six required A-list tracks he plays per hour, Claywell is free to play whatever he likes. Each week, Claywell and his co-host Tyler Kosnik ’10 choose a theme and try to incorporate as many songs related to that theme as possible in the show. Claywell doesn’t prepare topics to talk about during the show; a lot of it is ad-libbing.

“The key to our show is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Kosnik said.

“Mah Jamz” averages between five to 10 online listeners. At any time during a WCWM program, it is possible to see how many people are accessing the online stream, but DJs can’t tell how many people are actually listening to them on the radio.

“When I say I have a radio show, most people are surprised to learn we have a station at all. I’d love to have more people at the very least minimally aware of our existence,” Claywell said. “Our listener-base right now is great and loyal, but it’d be awesome to have the whole campus listening.”

WCWM faces not only outreach problems, but its very medium of broadcasting music is threatened by personal music devices, Reader said.

“There seems to be a mentality of ‘Why should I listen to this when I’ve got my iTunes or CDs? Why would I want to hear someone else’s music instead of my own?’” he said. “In an age where entire music libraries are literally at everyone’s fingertips, having someone choose our stream over their own mp3s is a tough sell.”

As a result of these challenges, Siepmann and the other directors are trying to revitalize radio on campus and in the community.

Siepmann has two broad goals for the station. The first is to achieve 24/7, continuous programming, which he believes will happen sometime midway through next year. The second goal is to make WCWM more visible and accessible to the campus community and the greater Williamsburg area. Currently, programming is only scheduled between noon and 2 a.m.

The WCWM staff is working to accomplish this not only by nearly doubling the number of active DJs but also by providing a number of services to the campus and community such as broadcasting last year’s Board of Visitors forum and the Ying-Yang Twins show live. The station also runs public service announcements relevant to the local community. In addition, WCWM is running a large publicity campaign this semester and is holding meetings at both on and off-campus locations to get WCWM played in public.

“College radio is really about students connecting to other students and their community to try to expand musical horizons,” Siepmann said. “In recent months, WCWM has developed a focused series of goals and executed them well, and we’ve seen our DJ interest and listenership blossom.”

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