Thursday, February 14, 2013

Radio Station Field Trip 40 - WREK at Georgia Tech

Near the entrance to WREK (photo: J. Waits)

The third radio station visit during my whirlwind tour of Atlanta in October, 2012 was a journey to WREK 91.1 FM at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). Unlike the other tours (WRAS, SCAD Atlanta Radio and WMRE), which I arranged myself, the visit to WREK was an official activity at the College Broadcasters Inc. (CBI) conference.

CBI attendees on the field trip to WREK (photo: J. Waits)

On Thursday, October 25, 2012, a bus arrived at the conference hotel and picked up around 25 CBI attendees for a group tour of WREK. Cody Turner, the Operations Manager at WREK, met us at the hotel and was our official tour guide. When we got to the station, we broke into groups and toured through various parts of the station, including the spacious lobby, large on-air studio, and record library.

WREK lobby (photo: J. Waits)

Celebrating its 45th anniversary next month, WREK is a student managed and operated station that broadcasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 100,000 watts and online. Although the station began in 1968 as a 10 watt station, it was able to increase its power to 40,000 watts in 2004 and to 100,000 watts in August, 2011.

WREK on-air studio (Photo: J. Waits)

Today there are more than 100 members of the station staff and volunteers are comprised of students, professors, and community members. Some volunteers have been at the station for decades, with the big band show the DeSoto Hour the longest running show.

WREK program schedule (photo: J. Waits)

WREK prides itself on playing a wide range of music, including jazz, electronic, classical, experimental, hip hop, rock, noise, and metal (I was told that the award winning metal show WREKAGE has a big fan base in Scandinavia and in prisons). Approximately half of the shows are specialty shows.

Artwork by Atlanta street artist Catlanta in WREK lobby (photo: J. Waits)

The station also airs sports programming and some interesting public affairs shows, including a science comedy show (Inside the Black Box). Additionally, the show Underground Recordings plays historic recordings from the WREK archives, including live music performances from the past as well as vintage WREK programming from late 1960s reel-to-reel tapes.

On-air studio at WREK (photo: J. Waits)

Although the station is on the air 24 hours a day, there aren't necessarily live DJs at all times. When there's no live DJ in the studio, WREK's automation system (Audio Vault) takes over. As you might imagine with a technology-focused university, much of the technology at WREK has been created by volunteers, including the online playlist tool.

On-Air DJ at WREK (Photo: J. Waits)

DJs at WREK play music from a variety of sources, including vinyl, CDs, and digital files. There are two turntables in the studio and some DJs bring in their own turntables and mixers. The station receives around 10 CDs a day and only adds physical music to its library (although it digitizes that music as well, with all DJs asked to digitize 10 tracks a month). WREK's back catalog music library, known as the Vault, contains vinyl, CDs, and cassettes that date back to the 1960s and earlier.

CDs in WREK's main studio (photo: J. Waits)

DJs with rotation shows pick all the music they play from items in the main studio. These DJs are allowed to pick one piece to play from WREK's Vault of non-current music and are also given guidelines about the percentage of music to play from specific genres. WREK has a block formatting schedule, meaning that at a specific time of day listeners can expect to hear a particular type of music.

A glimpse into the WREK Vault (photo: J. Waits)

On weekdays from midnight to 1:30am, the programming block is generally "Atmospherics" (ambient, drone, spaced out music), from 1:30 to 6am the block is "Overnight Alternatives" (a range of genres, but leaning towards experimental, noise, power electronics and more extreme material), from 6am to 9am is the classical music block ("Classics"), from 9am to noon is jazz ("Just Jazz"), and from 1pm to 6pm (until 5pm on Fridays) is a more standard mix of college radio sounds ("Rock, Rhythm, and Roll"). Specialty shows tend to air between 6pm and midnight and public affairs programs run on Sunday mornings and mid-day during the week.

Vintage vinyl in the WREK Vault (photo: J. Waits)

Overall, WREK has a commitment to play "atypical music, particularly music that is outside the cultural mainstream," according to its program guide.

 Engineering room at WREK (photo: J. Waits)

Thanks so much to everyone at WREK for a fun tour. My tour of Atlanta radio stations will wrap up soon with one final stop to visit WMRE at Emory University.

Bulletin board in WREK lobby (Photo: J. Waits)

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

No comments: