Friday, December 5, 2008

Spinning Indie 50 State Tour: Stop 8 - West Virginia's WSHC

It's time for another stop on the Spinning Indie 50 State Tour. The goal of this project is to do interviews with college radio stations from each of the 50 states in order to highlight fascinating stations (and their tales) from all over the U.S.

The first seven virtual stops have been to stations in Arkansas, Wisconsin, Kansas, Louisiana, Alaska, North Dakota and Nevada.

For my 8th stop, today we visit Shepherd University station WSHC-FM. College radio station WSHC is located in Shepherdstown, West Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley. Their first official broadcast was in 1974, but student-produced radio experiments were happening on campus as early as the 1950s. The station has been broadcasting 24 hours a day for about 8 years, and started netcasting in 2005. WSHC emphasizes "alternative" music and DJs are given complete freedom to program their shows.

Thanks to WSHC's Assistant Manager Todd Cotgreave for talking to me about the station. In his interview he discusses the history of the station, WSHC's role in the local music scene (including plans to set up a recording studio), the station's continued use of vinyl and cassettes, and a tale about in-studio levitation during one of their public affairs shows.

Spinning Indie: What motivated you to get involved with college radio?

Todd: I grew up listening to WCDE in Elkins WV, a 100 watt college station. I thought that was the coolest station ever. They played and said whatever they felt like. It sounded so much better than all of the commercial stations.

Spinning Indie: I understand that WSHC has been around since 1974. Can you share with me some interesting bits of trivia from the station's history?

Todd: In the mid 1950's it was run over a wire to the "Rams Den" (the campus lounge). In 1974 we were given 10 watts at 88.5 and no budget at all. The first song broadcast was "Blackwater" by the Doobie Brothers. In the early 80's the FCC told us to boost power or move to the commercial side of the radio. Because there was no budget we were bumped to 93.7. In the late 80's a new College President came to town and wanted to be able to hear the station at his house one mile away. In 1991 we went to our current status of 950 watts at 89.7. We began ...internet broadcasting within the last couple of years.

Spinning Indie: What's the overall music philosophy of the station?

Todd: We focus on being eclectic and well out of the mainstream path. You can listen to other stations for top 40. We want you to hear what a small educated town has to offer.

Spinning Indie: What's the music scene like in Shepherdstown and the surrounding areas and how is your station involved with local music?

Todd: [There is a] strong local music scene with lots of diversity. WSHC has been promoting local artists for years and in the next year will be spotlighting more locals and setting up concerts for them. We are also setting up a recording studio to help up and coming locals make albums. We feel it is very important to be as involved as possible with local music, including the Shepherd University music department.

Spinning Indie: Are DJs required to play anything in particular? Is there anything they aren't allowed to play?

Todd: Try not to play anything with curse words in it. Everything else goes. From Abba and Disney songs to the latest hip hop tracks. Our automated system plays the eclectic mix we are known for. The DJ's have no regulation on their content.

Production Studio Before Remodel
(image from WSHC website)

Spinning Indie: I can see that you add digital and CD releases. How about vinyl? cassettes? What format of music gets played the most?

Todd: Well there has been a strong movement recently towards digital media, but we still have cart machines, reel to reel and turntables. Vinyl has always been a strong source here at WSHC. One of our shows, called "Vinyl Tap" (airs Mondays between 8-10pm), plays nothing but vinyl. We almost had a show called "Tape Worm" for cassette enthusiasts.

Lindsay Guild, host of "Vinyl Tap" on Monday nights 8-10pm
(Image provided by Todd Cotgreave)

Spinning Indie: What's one of the weirdest records in your library?

Todd: Well we don't have just one weird one. We have always asked small labels, independents, and locals to submit music so.... the better question is... "what is the most normal record?" Which is probably something like "King Missile."

Spinning Indie: What's the longest running show at the station?

Todd: Hard to say, we have many shows that have been running for years. I think it could be the "Old School" show DJ'ed by Direct Connection (Airs Thursday night from 8-10). He plays all sorts of stuff, mostly from the 50's to the 80's and features WV's only weekly surf report.

Spinning Indie: Are there any shows that stand out as being unique to WSHC?

Todd: We have so many unique shows. "Inner Views" hosted by Doug Herrick (Fri 5-6 pm) is a talk show that deals with conspiracy theories and government scandals and once had a man in the station that could levitate objects. Radio really doesn't get any better than in-studio levitation.

Spinning Indie: Are the majority of your DJs students? Do you have community DJs at the station?

Todd: We have a good mix of locals and students, about 60% students.

Spinning Indie: Do you listen to other college radio stations? Which stations do you love?

Todd: We can't really pick any up where we are but 89.7 out of Towson, MD [WTMD] does a great job.

Stick week the Spinning Indie 50 State Tour journeys to Kentucky.

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