Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Academic Take on Students and Community Staff at UMass's WMUA

College radio hasn't been studied much by academics, so it's always exciting to find a new article that takes a look at my beloved genre of radio.

There's a fascinating journal article by Dickie Wallace called "Reinventing the Wheel vs. Grinding the Same Old Axe: An Ethnographic View of the Students and Community Members at a Massachusetts College Radio Station" in the March 2008 issue of WPCC (which is focused on community radio).

The article discussed University of Massachusetts, Amherst's college/community radio station WMUA 91.1 FM and the struggles that exist there between older, long-time station staff from the community and younger, ever-changing undergraduate DJs. It's a great article that points out that although the station is controlled by students, long-time community member shows and a block programming structure actually work to make it very difficult for new, undergraduate DJs to get on the air. Tensions are highlighted by a few things, including:

"...many undergraduate students are taken aback by the structure and how hard it can be to establish oneself...they are turned off by the competition with so many older people, Community members, for coveted show times...In turn, many Community members have spent years with the station...Many have built up a following...When WMUA does it on-air fund drive, these regulars bring in the lion's share of support from their listeners..."

The author also makes a valid point about community members providing continuity at the station, something that I personally think is vital for a station's survival. He writes:

"[Community members]...serve as an institutional memory that would otherwise be cyclical as new classes of students come to college every autumn, stay for four or five years and move on."

On the flip side, long-time staff can make a station seem conservative and unchanging:

"Community members, however, can become territorial about their time slots and roles at WMUA, especially in reaction to new waves of eighteen year-olds, who are all too ready to revolutionize the station..."

I'd be curious to hear about how other college stations deal with this tension between students and community.

Thanks to Uncarbonated for turning me on to the community radio issue of this journal.

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