by Jessica Miller, PortalWisconsin.org
College campuses across the state are providing students with professional training in broadcasting through student-run radio stations. These stations are run almost entirely by students, giving them the opportunity to learn every aspect of radio from budget planning to sound board operation. Members of the stations pride themselves on giving their listeners something new.
University of Wisconsin-Madison station WSUM 91.7 FM says it offers "innovative radio for independent minds." The station tries to introduce music not found on other frequencies, such as experimental, new wave, punk, underground, local and independent. WSUM has been on the airwaves for less than two years. Prior to gaining a radio tower, the station was broadcast over the Internet and, in its earliest days, through a transmitter in the residence halls.
WSUM music director Anna Filipek said that because the station is so new to the airwaves, "It is a very exciting time for WSUM. The station is right in the middle of a major growth period and there is a lot to look forward to."
WSUM has a staff of 100-150 students and is funded by the university, fundraising events and donations. Radio shows vary from talk programs, literature, music, opinion, film and sports. WSUM has live announcers at each Madison Mallards baseball game.
Listeners within a 30-mile radius of downtown Madison can tune into WSUM, but the station eventually crosses signals southeast of Madison with WSUW at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, which shares the same 91.7 FM frequency.
WSUW has been on the air since 1966. Its tower is situated on top of Hyer Hall, which is located on the Whitewater campus and is also the tallest building in the city. The station is known as "The Edge" and is an independent alternative music station. Listeners can enjoy a variety of music on WSUW from hip-hop and reggae to rock and heavy metal. WSUW also offers a political science talk show, hosted by professors in the political science department, and Hawk Talk, a sports talk show that covers university sports.
WSUW has 40-50 staff members and is funded primarily by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Station disc jockey Josh Goldberg said, "The production facilities are outstanding and we have very knowledgeable people creating our promos, breakers and liners and other bits for on-air use. We easily had the top show in the state last year with the Pete & Joe Morning Show. They became known all over campus. It was phenomenal."
The skills gained from working in college radio give students the opportunity to be professionals, according to Randall Davidson of Wisconsin Public Radio. Davidson spent over three years working at WRST at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and said his experience in college radio proved that "hard work got you ahead."
Says Davidson, "The UW-Oshkosh station really provides a training ground for students, by giving them engineering skills that will help students who want to work in either commercial or public radio." Davidson did not join WRST intending to make a career out of radio, but because of his involvement, he ultimately changed his career path from business to broadcasting.
Davidson said WRST is a quality radio station because of the sense of "listener priority." He said, "I think a lot of people dismiss college radio, and are many times right to do so, partly because many stations try to serve themselves rather than the listener." WRST, according to Davidson, offers programming for the listener and not the disc jockey. By coordinating some of its time slots with Wisconsin Public Radio, WRST often emulates a public radio station, giving the listener a variety of programming.
Davidson said quality programming is important in a college radio station because, as he says, "College stations are sometimes the only alternative voice left."
Want to tune in? Here's a sampling of Wisconsin college stations:
Beloit College: WBCR 90.3 FM. Soul, gospel, metal and talk.
Lawrence University: 91.1 FM
UW-Madison: WSUM 91.7 FM. Underground, local and independent music, as well as talk and public affairs programming.
UW-Oshkosh: WRST 90.3 FM. Coordinating programs with WPR, and playing fresh new music.
UW-Parkside: WIPZ 1610 AM
UW-Stevens Point: WWSP 89.9 FM. New age, acoustic, jazz, Latin, industrial and public affairs talk.
UW-Whitewater: WSUW 91.7 FM. Talk and independent alternative music.
About the writer: Jessica Miller, a PortalWisconsin.org intern, majors in journalism and English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.