Thursday, October 18, 2012

Radio Station Field Trip 35 - Radio DePaul

Radio DePaul signage (Photo: J. Waits)

I spent part of my summer vacation in Chicago and was able to see a few radio stations there leading up to and following my trip to Urbana-Champaign for the Grassroots Radio Conference. On Monday, July 30, 2012, I visited DePaul University's online-only student radio station Radio DePaul. Since it was summer vacation, the dorm (University Hall) that houses Radio DePaul was technically closed to the public. General Manager Scott Vyverman met me at the front door of the building and took me down to the station's home in the basement.

University Hall, the home of Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits)

Vyverman couldn't tell me much about the history of Radio DePaul, but he guessed that radio had been a feature of campus life for maybe 25 years. He said, "the early history is a little murky." Apparently there's never been a licensed station on campus and prior to Radio DePaul going internet-only, radio was broadcast through carrier current (using the call letters WRDP on 640 AM) or local cable at the Catholic university. When Vyverman arrived at the station in fall 2001, the station was already using the name Radio DePaul and he said that at that time nobody knew where the old carrier current transmitters were.

Radio DePaul is part of the university's College of Communication, which means that the station is intertwined with course work as well. The station is 100% students, although faculty can also be on the air.

Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits)

The station moved to its current location on Clifton Avenue in summer 2005 from McGaw Hall. Vyverman told me that Radio DePaul inhabits a space that formerly housed an old dorm lunch room. When they remodeled the space to suit the needs of the station, they opted to keep the old lunch counter and rolling metal gate. The music and promotions departments have their offices behind the counter and the gate is now emblazoned with a painting of a boom box.

Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits)

Although it was summer vacation, a number of Radio DePaul volunteers were hanging out at the station. It's a neat and organized space and Vyverman even joked a bit about his high standards for order at the station. A mural ("Timeless Vibrations") painted in 2007 lines one full wall and pillars throughout the lobby are painted with blackboard paint. Musicians and station guests are invited to use chalk to sign the pillars.

Awards at Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits)

A trophy case in the hallway of the station contains various awards earned by Radio DePaul and other awards line the nearby walls. Vyverman said that one award in particular, the 2010 Best Station in the Nation award from Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS) "changed everything." He said that their standing on campus shifted and they've been able to get more funding for the station after receiving that recognition.

CD Library in Main Studio at Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits) 

In terms of programming, Radio DePaul plays a blend of music that includes indie, hip hop, and metal. They also have live news shows, arts programming (including a poetry show and a program run by the writing center), live sports, and live remote broadcasts.

Recently Radio DePaul was one of the first college radio stations added to Clear Channel's iHeartRadio app. Although some college stations shied away from partnering with Clear Channel, Vyverman said that it's allowed them to increase the number of listeners. He said, "We're now heard on the most popular radio app in the world." He told me that with more than 100 people volunteering at Radio DePaul, it's important for him to ensure that there is a good listener base. Vyverman recounted his own college radio days, telling me that he remembered heading to his station at 3am in order to be on the air. He said that for many student DJs, the time they spend on the air is "the best two hours of their week."

Main studio at Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits) 

Nathan Brue, Radio DePaul's outgoing Program Director said that it's important to attract DJs who are "passionate" and admitted that one of his mantras at the station is to "keep it weird." Vyverman agreed, saying that they are "committed to diversity." Brue told me that he had hosted a progressive rock show on Radio DePaul in which he "tried to balance...classics...with modern counterparts." He explained that doing the show was an education for him, even though he'd had a head start since he grew up hearing his dad play songs and records from that genre, including "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Tubular Bells."

Events Listings at Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits)

At Radio DePaul they strive to be on the air at the minimum from 10am to 10pm. By the end of spring semester 2012, the schedule was filled with shows from 8am to 2am Mondays through Thursdays and from 8am to midnight on Fridays. Weekend shows tended to end by midnight. During the school year the building is open all night, so the station is not restricted in terms of broadcast hours. They shut Radio DePaul down over winter break and put the station on automation. In the past they had to do that over the summer as well, but they've been able to work out an arrangement with the school so that they can continue operating during summer break. I was told that DePaul is mostly a commuter school, so there are plenty of students around to fill shifts over the summer.

Equipment in Radio DePaul's main studio (Photo: J. Waits)

Brue said that for the most part DJs are playing music off of their computers. Radio DePaul has a digital library full of 13,241 tracks (the first track digitized was the Beastie Boys "Triple Trouble"), and about half of the music that comes into the station today is digital. They will also rip CDs to add to the library. Although Radio DePaul does get sent some vinyl, the station has no turntables on which to play vinyl. I was told that they rarely get sent cassettes, although they do have a double cassette deck in their studio (as well as 2 CD players and a mini disc player).

Many of the shows on Radio DePaul are archived and the Radio DePaul website hosts podcasts of live performances. Vyverman told me that he'd like to add some original podcast programming and said that he was planning to hire someone who would be dedicated to overseeing the station's podcast programming. Additionally, Radio DePaul is utilizing multimedia features and has videos and photos posted on their website. A webcam also captures all the action in the studio.

Thanks so much to everyone at Radio DePaul for the lovely tour of the station.

Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits)

See a complete list of all of my Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips here.

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