Monday, December 21, 2009

WITR Reduces Community DJ Shifts to Make Room for Student DJs

Here's a story that's sure to stir up some debate. According to an article in today's Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester Institute of Technology's student radio station WITR has made the decision to reduce the percentage of airtime devoted to shows hosted by community DJs in order to make more room in the schedule for students. The article states:

"The campus radio station at Rochester Institute of Technology will be cutting back, but not eliminating, programming hosted by non-students. That's the final decision of the student Executive Board of WITR-FM (89.7) after a month-long debate over community programming that had escalated after the sudden resignation of Colin Thomas, who had hosted the Saturday afternoon Reggae Sounds, which the station said was the longest-running reggae show in the country.

Student managers did not return several phone calls asking for comment over the past two weeks, but the community disc jockeys say the biggest failure during this debate was a lack of communication from the students. The bottom line, according to a memo issued by the station, is that community slots will be limited to two hours starting in January. Six shows that the station's programmers deemed unnecessary, including three dedicated to Christian rock, have been eliminated. The goal, according to the board memo and the community DJs, is to create more on-air slots for student DJs."

According to an article earlier this month, long-running shows at the station included a reggae show that's been on the air for 30+ years, a gospel show with a 28 year tenure, and a 25-year-old garage rock show.

As a result of changes in the schedule, some community DJs have already given up their shows. Some long-time listeners and former DJs are publicly venting about this and have expressed concern that this schedule change is part of a larger mission to standardize the station and make it more like a commercial station.

Yet current staff members argue that this is not the case, that they are just making a few tweaks to programming requirements. One DJ pointed out in a comment on the WITR Facebook page, "There are non college members that are taking away opportunities from college students on a college station."

However, some listeners point out that this focus on current student needs may not be the best idea. One commenter on today's story argued,

"This is an extremely short-sighted move for WITR. Just look at the number of years these shows have been running: 10 years, 25 years...How long does a student's college stay last...maybe 5 years at most. And how long will this sudden wave of radio interest last...maybe one semester."

Another listener writes, "There are certainly more community members compared to RIT students that listen to WITR. The community DJs bring a wealth of experience and contribute great programming." And, this comment may get to the core of what WITR is hoping to change. By reducing the amount of time devoted to long-time specialty programming (which is probably favored by older listeners) and tightening up their indie rock playlist they may be hoping to attract more college student listeners.

Every college station has different guidelines concerning non-student DJs. Some stations only allow students to be on the air, whereas others have an unlimited number of community DJs. Some say that community DJs are the glue that holds together a college station, since students come and go and don't always keep an eye on station tradition. Yet others argue that long-time community DJs can make for a more stagnant airsound. For that reason, many stations require that all DJs reapply for their shifts every semester; so that the programming department can re-evaluate all of the shows and make room for new DJs.

Every station has its own mission and priorities as far as programming goes; so there's certainly no right answer on this one.

How does your station incorporate non-student DJs into the schedule? Has this ever been a source of controversy?

By the way, here's an amazing gem from WITR's past: some 1968 film footage of the student radio station!

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