The following is an excerpt from a story on Vassar’s radio station (WVKR) that appeared in the Miscellany News on February 14. Vassar’s student-run newspaper since 1866, the Misc encourages any interested students to contribute or join the staff. Recently, WVKR was chosen as a Free Yr Radio station of the year and will sponsor a showcase during the College Music Journal’s October conference.
—By Chelsea Mitamura ’11 and Sarah Siegel ’08
VASSAR'S COLLEGE RADIO PUMPS DIVERSE SOUNDS: Behind a door plastered with posters in a little-known corridor on the third floor of Main Building lies a cache for which many a Vassar student would give up Founder’s Day: tens of thousands of CDs and records that date back to the 1920s. The recordings are all part of the collection of WVKR, Vassar’s student-run radio station.
Founded in 1971, WVKR is one of the largest college radio stations in the Northeast, with financial donors from as far away as Hawaii and listeners from Japan to Brazil tuning in to the webcast.
“Our goal is to promote new and interesting music—music and programming that you can’t find anywhere else on the radio-waves,” said WVKR general manager Noah Kardos-Fein ’08.
The station receives two to three postal crates full of CDs every three to four days, giving them at least 50 new albums to review and organize every week. That task falls to Hunter Haney ’09, WVKR’s music manager.
“I traditionally have a 20- to 30-hour work week,” said Haney. His week is “filled with telephone calls to and from record labels, distributors and promoters...researching bands and labels…seeking out new music for DJs to play on air…and typing up charts and play-lists,” he said.
The station has a vast range of programming from both student and community-based DJs. It receives applications for new shows once a semester. “We’re always looking for new, exciting, cohesive shows with DJs who know their stuff,” said Kardos-Fein.
While it runs music from jazz to hard rock, WVKR also has programming that includes everything from a show airing letters from prison inmates (“The Fancy Broccoli Show”) to another show that plays old radio-dramas from the 1920s and 1930s (“Radio Showtime”).
Some students DJ throughout their Vassar careers. “It was always something I wanted to do,” said DJ Anabel Graff ’09, who said that seeing one of WVKR’s sponsored concerts in the Students’ Building as a prospective student was one of the reasons she chose Vassar. “My first show was at 4:00 am,” she said. But Graff has stuck it out and now her current show, “Finer Things,” cohosted by Eliza Thompson ’09, holds a 12-2 pm time slot.
Many of the station’s workers get hooked and continue to stay involved, including psychology professor Nicholas de Leeuw, who is both a DJ and a Vassar alumnus. “I was the music director at the station about a quarter of a century ago (ouch!),” said de Leeuw in an emailed statement. Now the station’s blues director, de Leeuw has a show called “The Big Blue Kitchen.” “I love doing my radio show, but I also love working with the students at the station,” he said. “Year after year I am impressed with the knowledge, the energy, and the dedication that Vassar students bring to the station.”
Jorge Quintana, a community-based DJ who plays Afro-Cuban music, said that he frequently gets feedback from pleased listeners. “From the Hispanic community, I receive comments of surprise on hearing this music being played,” he said.
Another DJ, Joel Tyner, is a county legislator for Clinton and Rhinebeck and chair of the Environmental Committee. He has had “one show or another” for 21 years. His current program is a political talk show called “The Real Majority Project,” which he says can bring people together across party lines.
Staffers strive to bring listeners music that doesn’t get played elsewhere. Graff and Thompson’s show “Finer Things” only features music with female lead singers. “We focus on giving female artists more play because most of the time they don’t get enough,” said Graff. De Leeuw had a similar perspective: “I think I have a responsibility to play artists who do not get exposure elsewhere, but that pretty much covers anybody who plays the blues,” he said.
Last year Kardos-Fein was a speaker on a panel at the national collegiate radio conference South by Southwest, and he and some of WVKR’s other executive board members will be returning this year. In addition to those more long-term development efforts, the station produced a band’s CD last year.
“We recorded a band called Dirty Projectors playing live in our studio,” recalled Kardos-Fein. “They had played an off-campus show the night before. They came back to Vassar this year for a No-ViCE show and packed the room. They’re getting to be a pretty big band, and the recordings we made are pretty special because they were acoustic versions of songs that they had not yet released…. In my personal opinion, our recordings are better than the versions on their new CD!”
To listen to the Dirty Projectors or any of the other little-known artists or programming that WVKR features, tune in to 91.3 FM or listen online at wvkr.org.