Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Radio Station Field Trip 31 - WLUW at Loyola University Chicago

WLUW Studio Entrance (All photos by Jennifer Waits)

While visiting Chicago during a summer vacation/trip to Urbana-Champaign for the Grassroots Radio Conference, I decided that it was time to tour more college radio stations in the area. On Thursday, July 26, 2012, I scheduled a trip to visit Loyola University Chicago's station, WLUW 88.7 FM. Located just a few blocks away from the hustle and bustle of Michigan Avenue (with its upscale shopping destinations and  historic Water Tower), WLUW has some swanky digs in a relatively new building on the Loyola campus.

WLUW Office (Photo: J. Waits)

General Manager Danielle Gunn gave me a tour of WLUW and filled me in on the inner workings of the station. She told me that the station has been on the air since 1978. Although she's only been at WLUW for a few years, she explained a bit of the station's history. I was particularly interested in hearing more about the station's relationship with community volunteers, especially in light of some management changes a few years back.

WLUW DJ in the Studio (Photo: J. Waits)

When I arrived at the station on a Thursday afternoon, Gunn was wrapping up her radio show. I took a look around the station while she was finishing up and then we sat down to talk about WLUW. She told me that she was hired in January 2009, around six months after Loyola University took over the management of the station from public radio station WBEZ.

Back in 2002, WBEZ stepped in to help after the university decided to no longer fund WLUW. Between 2002 and 2007, WBEZ oversaw the day-to-day operations of WLUW. In 2007, Loyola announced that it would be ending its relationship with WBEZ, and brought management of the station back to the university in 2008. With some changes on campus, there was a desire to once again incorporate the radio station into academic offerings and use it as an "educational tool."

One of the several vintage radios in Danielle Gunn's office at WLUW (Photo: J. Waits)

Gunn told me that she was brought in after everything was settled, but admitted that there was still some "panic" at the station in the wake of the WBEZ relationship ending and added that it was like the aftermath of a "break-up." Despite the changes, Gunn said that the station is "largely the same" as it's always been. She said that students and community members both share the airwaves and get along, with many community volunteers helping to train students. WLUW also continues to work with WBEZ by airing the local call-in show Vocalo Morning Amp. Loyola students work on the program, which is produced at WBEZ and airs on a number of radio stations.

Vinyl spinning in WLUW's on-air studio (Photo: J. Waits)

Today, WLUW has around 150 volunteers, with about 125 of those working on-air. Although it's officially a student station, a little more than half of the volunteers are non-students from the local community. Some of those community DJs have been at the station for "decades," according to Gunn. She is the only full-time staff member at WLUW, but she is assisted by a student executive staff.

Flyer in Main Studio - Turntable Training! (Photo: J. Waits)

The station moved to its current location three years ago, after it became a part of the School of Communications. Ironically, the FM broadcasts cannot be heard in the part of town where the station is located, although they can be heard at Loyola's main campus in Rogers Park (where the station was formerly located in a now-razed building that was full of asbestos). When WLUW first began broadcasting in the 1970s, it was actually located in the attic of a house on the same spot where the station is currently located. In the intervening years that building was torn down and replaced by the new building where WLUW is today.

Photo of old WLUW Studio posted on wall of WLUW office

On the day that I visited, Gunn was busy with phone calls in preparation for Lollapalooza. This year was the third year that WLUW was at the Chicago music festival, providing live broadcasts from the massive music event from August 3 to 5. WLUW had its own stage and was able to book bands and air those performances and interviews throughout the festival. I caught a bit of their Lollapalooza broadcasts while I was in town and thought about the WLUW crew when a huge thunderstorm shut down the festival one afternoon (the WLUW staffers safely evacuated to a local restaurant).

WLUW's CD Library (Photo: J. Waits)

Amidst the Lollapalooza prep, Gunn toured me around the station. She showed me the physical music library, which only includes CDs. Gunn said that WLUW gets sent some vinyl and DJs also bring in their own vinyl to play.  The physical music library contains more than 11,000 CDs, which are organized numerically in the order that they have been added to the station. The most recently added CDs are located at the end of the library and have the highest numbers assigned to them. She said that it's easier this way (versus having a library in alphabetical order). Gunn said that most DJs play CDs, but that a lot of people also bring in laptops and at least one DJ plays cassettes. The station also has a digital music library.

Portion of CD Library. Can you guess when these were added? (Photo: J. Waits)

The Music Director manages the station's music staff and a democratic process is used to determine what music goes into rotation. Around 35 items are in rotation at a given time and those CDs are placed in the on-air studio. DJs who are assigned an independent music shift (generally daytime shows) are required to play 6 tracks an hour from rotation. Gunn describes WLUW's airsound as being "on the approachable end of indie" as far as music goes. During the evening and on weekends there are a range of specialty shows which are not required to play music from rotation. Those shows include programs focused on house music, Native American music, black gospel, as well as public affairs programming including community talk shows.

A few of the "rotation" CDs when I visited (Photo: J. Waits)

Gunn told me that the 100 watt station reaches mainly the north side of Chicago and can also be heard in nearby Wisconsin. She said that WLUW has a "pretty big audience." On Fridays live bands play live from a spacious studio that's located across the street from WLUW's main studio.

Thanks to everyone at WLUW for showing me around the station. It was a great start to my summer tour of 6 radio stations in Illinois and Indiana. More on that later...

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

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