College Media Geeks: Jennifer Waits, College Radio Reporter & Advocate

I met college radio guru Jennifer Waits for a lunchtime chat last Friday in The Coop eatery at Haverford College, her alma mater. She told me to search for a woman wearing a black tote bag sporting KFJC. They are the call letters of the college-based community radio station where she DJs, a pastime she adores. In her words, “It’s an addiction. I have to DJ. … When you’re DJing to FM airwaves, you’re DJing into space. There’s no feeling like it.”

I’d caught Waits on a break from an all-day stint in the Haverford archives. She is piecing together the fascinating history of the college’s student radio adventures, which stretch back to the 1920s.

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1Waits has been exploring and championing college radio adventures for years. A while back on this blog, Radio Survivor co-founder and operations director Paul Riismandel called her “the strongest and smartest voice reporting on and advocating for college radio today.”

During our Coop tête-à-tête, we talked about contemporary college radio trends, radio’s place in collegemediatopia’s future and the upcoming takeover of the student station at Georgia State University.

During a recent talk with an important journalism educator, he told me with no ill will or sarcasm he was not sure whether or where college radio fits into the student media mix in the 21st century. What is your comeback to that statement?

I think students are just as interested in radio as they have always been. When I go visit stations, I hear they’ve had record numbers of people signing up. A lot of stations have to turn people away because they don’t have enough room in the schedule, which has been a boon for online broadcasting. So some stations might have multiple streams — FM and a separate online stream so they have more spots for all interested students, which is kind of cool.

1Wellesley College Radio, I heard, is the largest student organization on campus. Even though you may have an online station or a station with a very limited audience, it still seems like students are very interested in it. That was the case when I was in college. We were carrier current, so we were campus-only — you could only hear us in the dining center and the dorms. You couldn’t even hear the station in the campus housing I lived in. People still were passionate about doing their radio shows and working with record labels to add cool music. It was still a really vital club, even though we didn’t have a powerful FM signal.

I think that’s the case with some of these online stations, where you might not have a very large audience, but there’s something compelling about running your own radio station. It’s real-life experience you might not get in any other campus organization. It’s pretty incredible. You’re interacting with the music industry and bands. You’re controlling your own shows — it’s creative.

1[Georgia State University recently struck a deal to place outside content onto the GSU student radio station WRAS (88.5 FM) during the daytime block in place of student programming.] What’s your take on the WRAS situation?

Radio stations are very autonomous. Often they were built by students. … Many stations were student endeavors. Students pushed for them and they’ve run them without much interference from the university. Now we’re at a point in history where the licenses might be worth something, so suddenly it’s a commodity and universities are taking an interest and might consider making a deal and selling off the stations. …

I visited that station just a few years ago and they didn’t even have a legitimate online stream. They were very slow to get on the Internet as far as webcasting. So it’s new for them to be streaming online. It’s not the way their listeners tune in at all. It’s a 100,000 watt FM signal in Atlanta and a majority of their listeners are terrestrial, so they’re going to lose a majority of their audience. It’s really sad.

How important is college radio archiving?

It’s really important for historians. Student radio is a really important part of radio history, but it hasn’t really been acknowledged or written in [to the larger narrative] the way it should be. The more student media is archived the more that story will be told — both college radio and print media. A lot of the work I do tracking down college radio history is found in student publications … student newspapers, student yearbooks are often the only places where you’re going to get glimpses into the history. The old yearbooks, before they got post-modern, always had a picture of the radio club and a description of their accomplishments for the year.

What college radio station has been on your radar lately as one that is especially interesting?

The Swarthmore station [WSRN 91.5 FM] at Swarthmore College. What I thought was cool, especially because I’ve been very interested in college radio history lately, is that they have all kinds of stuff. They had a record label at one point, so they have a bunch of 7-inch [records] from the ’90s that they had released, a little slice of the ’90s. They also have all of these ancient records, l6 inches, I guess they are called transcription records, largely of choral music. It’s an oversized record and I’d never even seen them before. … They have stacks and stacks of them. Some of them were red vinyl. I thought that place was a treasure trove of fascinating, arcane radio stuff.

What trend do you see emerging lately in the college radio universe?

Multimedia. … Experimenting with video, more podcasts and archiving so you can listen to a show at a different time. Like where I DJ, we’ve added a live HD webcam, so every time we have a band play, listeners can tune in and watch them during their performance, which is really cool.

Related

CMM 10: Jennifer Waits, College Radio Blogger & Advocate

Surprise Takeover of Georgia State Student Radio Station Spurs Criticism, Calls for Boycott

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  1. […] Read more on College Media Matters. […]

  2. […] published the same day as the Salon.com piece, I also discussed the state of college radio during a Q&A with College Media Matters scribe Dan Reimold. Although I am also troubled by the situation at WRAS, I also pointed out that […]