Colgate Radio Waves

Alyssa Labelle

mmon response that Colgate students gave when asked about the University’s radio station. That is slightly surprising, considering that WRCU 90.1 FM, Colgate’s own radio station, is the largest organization on campus with over 150 people involved.

But what is WRCU? Music, shows and what else? Well, for a full explanation of the station’s complicated inner workings and illustrious history, it is necessary to delve into the station’s past. Although the WRCU website asserts that “WRCU was created millions of years ago by a race of warrior muskrats who wanted to control the other species on the planet,” deeper plumbing into the depths of the station’s history provides some illumination, or at least some random facts you can use to impress your friends. Hey, you never know what will pop up on Jeopardy.

WRCU was started in the early 1960s by broadcasting on a carrier current. It was located in Curtis Hall and called the KED. Power lines marked the boundaries where the signal carried, and it was transmitted over the phone lines. The station used to consist of only indie rock, with some classic rock and country thrown in for good measure. Things have definitely changed since then, and the station has evolved as Colgate’s community has developed. “The station has changed. Students change, right? The station and students of 2005 are not the station and students of 1985 or of 1975 or 1965. WRCU’s change reflects the student change,” explained the the station’s faculty advisor and Professor of English Michael Coyle.

The station is currently located in Drake Hall, and the signal travels much farther than it did in the past, but at 2000 watts this should come as no surprise. That’s pretty hefty power for Colgate, especially when compared to, say, the 100-watt station at Hamilton College. The signal carries up to Utica and Syracuse, down to Norwich and, of course, to Hamilton. “It’s different from other organizations in that it is potentially the public face of Colgate,” says Coyle. It’s not just for us, and that fact is one of the beauties of WRCU.”

With such far-reaching influence comes responsibility. A nine-person board governs the station. These people meet every week to set the vision for the station and to make sure things run smoothly. Falling under the board in the station’s hierarchy are the different producers for each day and for each genre of music represented on the station.

Under the producers come the actual DJs. Such a structure keeps things organized and under control. Although one may think of it as “only college radio,” it is a federally regulated station and possesses the expected degree of professionalism that comes with such a title. In fact, the government will soon be coming in to evaluate the station for its upcoming re-licensing in June 2006. “Everyone works together. There are open lines of communication. We all work together to represent WRCU, because we are all in it together,” said general manager of the station junior Jeff Smidt.

WRCU has expanded its musical repertoire to include more than classic rock and country. The station provides something for anyone and everyone. “It’s a diverse radio station that really reflects the diversity of Colgate’s population,” said Smidt. Whether you’re interested in the typical college indie rock scene, world music, hip hop or even jazz, there is something to whet any appetite for music. And, while it’s no NPR, there are talk shows ranging from sports to medical issues to satisfy any listeners looking for information and conversation.

Be this as it may, many of those involved with the station see room for further change and growth. Many perceive WRCU as an untapped resource in the Colgate community, one with which a lot more can be done. One exciting change is the impending relocation of the station to the basement of the Coop. It will be relocated to where ITS now resides, and passing students will actually be able to see the radio work going on behind the glass walls. This will hopefully foster a stronger connection between WRCU and the Colgate community. “There has been a lot of pressure on the board to reinvent WRCU, to make it less like a club and more like a community station,” said Coyle.

Director of the Center for Leadership and Student Involvement and WRCU Administrative Advisor Corey Landstrom agreed. “We want relevance for those who aren’t directly involved. We want relevance for the community. The community itself needs to be engaged – it is an untapped resource. We want a station that honors the past, meets the needs of the community and pushes the envelope a little bit,” he explained.

The station is responding to this pressure by looking into broadcasting shows by faculty, staff, community members and visiting speakers, as well as better news coverage and newer tastes in music. “We need more than just indie rock or any single genre of music,” stated Coyle. “That is part of the educational influence of college, and we want to give listeners more than we’ve been giving.”

One can find a list of shows and listen to the station at Here are mini-reviews of some of the shows.

“What’s Up, Doc?” is a show hosted by Colgate’s Director of Student Health Services, Dr. Merrill Miller. It’s in its fourth year and covers various medical issues. It airs on Sundays from 7-8 p.m. Topics are wide-ranging; ideas come from students, news and campus events. Past shows have included panels where students have discussed their health problems, an interview with a local optometrist, a chat with a family practitioner to discuss preparation for winter and a “medical potpourri” covering all the high-profile medical stories of the past year.

“This show is applicable to anybody,” said Miller. “All ages, on campus and unaffiliated. I really like the immediacy of radio – it’s a different level of communication. It’s not so much question and answer as it is a conversation.” In celebration of the upcoming Sex Week, she will be hosting a show on the 16th entitled “Sex on Campus: It Could Happen to You.”

Juniors Jeff Saber and Mike Cook host “Power Hour” on Saturdays from noon until one. Saber likes the Red Sox and the Redskins; Cook likes the Yankees and the Giants – you can imagine what ensues. Good-natured bantering and discussion of national sports is the order of the day here. You’ll also find conversation about Colgate sports such as hockey, football and soccer. “Everyone plays music on WRCU, and we wanted to do something else,” explained Saber. “Music is fine and all, but we need something else too. We’re trying to bring some variety to the station and have fun while doing it.”

First-year Helen Lee is the DJ of a two-hour music show on Saturdays from 2 until 4 p.m. She specializes in indie music, but she explains that it is a very broad genre. Sounds range from electronic to rap to rock and anything in between. People can instant message WRCU or call in to make requests. Insightful commentary on the technical and emotional aspects of a particular band or album adds to the interest factor.

“Just listen to the station,” said Lee. “You can learn about new music and campus activities. I wish there were more listeners because it’s important to get WRCU out there. It’s cool because you get to listen to nothing but the music you enjoy anyway!”

The desire for more listeners seems to be a widespread sentiment among those involved with WRCU. “We want it to become a vital part of the student experience,” said Landstrom. “With mp3s and iPods, people tune out of radio. We need to evolve to meet contemporary experiences.”

Involvement with WRCU is not restricted to listening. Those interested in DJing or having their own show need only fill out an application. No experience is needed and all training is provided. “It’s a nice feeling, people in class telling you they heard your show,” said Smidt. It’s a great way to get out there and become part of the Colgate community, while playing your music or talking about what interests you.