Friday, February 15, 2013

Radio Station Field Trip 41 - WMRE at Emory University

Office window at WMRE (photo: J. Waits)

My final radio station field trip during my trip to Atlanta for the College Broadcasters Inc. (CBI) conference in October, 2012 was a visit to Emory University's student radio station WMRE. Since it was a bit more off the beaten path, I ended up taking a cab to Emory. Located in the Druid Hills section of Atlanta, the campus is nestled in a lush, suburban setting. WMRE General Manager Adam Valeiras offered to meet me at one of the entrances to the school and as we walked into campus and passed by all of the beautiful old buildings, I was reminded of my own college experience.

WMRE is located in Dobbs University Center at Emory (photo: J.Waits)

Beginning in 1983, students at Emory started planning for a radio station (WEMO) and by 1989 it launched as carrier current station WMRE at 590 AM. Eventually the carrier current system broke down and broadcasts moved to the campus cable system, and eventually online in 1998.

Sign at WMRE (photo: J. Waits)

Today the station can be heard (and seen via webcam) online, on campus cable channel 26, and over low power at 1660 AM. When WMRE began its low power AM broadcasts in February 2011, there was hope that this could be a first step towards acquiring a larger terrestrial signal. Valeiras said that the AM signal has a range of about a mile and that it can be challenging to hear. He told me that he's never heard WMRE over AM.

View of main studio and office (behind window) from WMRE lobby (photo: J. Waits)

When we arrived at WMRE on the afternoon of October 26, 2012, there was a transition between DJs and I was able to see a few DJs setting up for their show. Since 2008, the station has been located on the 5th floor of Dobbs University Center (it was in a dorm basement before that). The building also houses student publications and a dining hall for first-year students.

DJs getting ready for their show at WMRE (photo: J. Waits)

Upon entering the station, one is immediately in a large room containing the station lobby and on-air studio. An office with a door is located off the lobby. Since DJs were getting ready to be on the air when we arrived, Valeiras and I chatted in his office. He told me that there are around 150 active participants at WMRE, making it the 3rd largest student organization on campus.

WMRE's music and culture magazine Frequency (photo: J. Waits)

Not every WMRE volunteer is an on-air DJ. In addition to producing radio shows, WMRE also publishes the music and culture magazine Frequency once a semester. The glossy full-color magazine includes music reviews, band interviews, concert reviews, and articles about upcoming events. Framed issues of the magazine (it began as the magazine Listen in 2002) line the walls of the station.

Old issue of WMRE's music and culture magazine (photo: J. Waits)

In addition to the magazine and radio shows, WMRE also puts on several concerts a year. LocalsFest takes place in the fall and features smaller bands from the Atlanta area. Spring Band Party happens in the spring and is a larger budget event with bigger music acts. The April 2012 event featured Beach Fossils, Sun Airway, and Elite Gymnastics.

WMRE studio with view of web cam transmission (photo: J. Waits)

An interesting thing about WMRE is that there's a web camera pointed at DJs for the duration of their shows so that listeners can view the shows live online and over campus cable. DJs do have the option of blurring the video if they don't want to be seen on-camera. Valeiras told me that most people probably listen to the station online, but that he did watch the station over campus cable when he lived on campus as a freshman.

DJ in studio at WMRE (photo: J. Waits)

DJs at WMRE are chosen through an application process and most end up doing hour-long shows with a co-host. Undergraduates, graduate students, and professors have all had shows. Programs are scheduled from 11am to midnight and after midnight WMRE switches to automation airing heavy rotation programming. Valeiras said that heavy rotation encompasses an eclectic range of sounds across a number of genres.

Rules posted at WMRE (photo: J. Waits)

The station doesn't have too many rules besides the basics (no food/drinks/alcohol in studio, no stealing, don't touch certain pieces of equipment, don't curse or play curse songs, don't miss your show), but expects that DJs will play 2 songs an hour from heavy rotation (which includes around 200 tracks) and attend mandatory monthly meetings. Executive staff members (there are around 10 of them) are required to work at WMRE concerts.

WMRE studio (photo: J.Waits)

Some DJs host genre-specific hours and the station plays everything from party music (techno/rap) to indie, world, rock, and jazz. There are also talk shows and in the past a sports talk show (the station doesn't broadcast games). Valeiras said that DJs are given a lot of freedom and for that reason he finds that WMRE shows have a really "personal feel" and are aligned with an overall tendency to promote creativity on campus.

Vinyl that we spotted under a table at WMRE (photo: J. Waits)

The library at WMRE is entirely digital, although the station did have a big vinyl collection in the past. After I asked about it, we did spot some vinyl records under a table in the lobby. In the box we saw a bunch of random selections including some side-long dance singles, a Boyz 2 Men record, and an Avett Brothers record.

7"s on the wall of WMRE (photo: J. Waits)

Additionally, vintage 7" records adorn the studio walls. I saw a variety of 45s, ranging from bizarre novelty records to classics. Some of the records included "Music for Tap Dancing," Starland Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight," Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," a Chipmunks 45, and a record meant to be played when bathing babies (on the Pram label).

Bulletin board at WMRE (photo: J. Waits)

Valeiras said that there isn't much of a demand for vinyl at WMRE. The station has a needle-less turntable as well as a black box with DJ turntables for mixing. The station also has one CD player. When I asked about cassettes, Valeiras laughed and said, "cassettes don't sound as good" and told me that he mostly listens to music on iTunes. He said that at the station, most DJs bring in a key fob drive with their playlist of music and upload it to station's automation system RadioLogik.

WMRE On-Air Sign (photo: J. Waits)

Thanks so much to Adam Valeiras for the interview and tour of WMRE. It was a fine way to wrap up my Atlanta college radio field trips.

Sign at WMRE (photo: J. Waits)

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

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