From news shows to movie reviews and everything in between, WCWM 90.9 FM gives students the opportunity to control the airwaves. Started in 1959 and located in the basement of Campus Center, WCWM 90.9 FM is William & Mary's student-run radio station.
"We’re probably the largest free-form college radio station in the state,” said Technical Director Matthew Ferry ’16. “We have one of the largest broadcasting ranges of any college radio station, and we do that with only one employee who is part-time and everyone else is students."
With a broadcasting range of 30 miles, reaching the outermost edges of Richmond all the way to Newport News, the station broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week and caters to a variety of people with its eclectic mix of music and shows.
Welcome to WCWM 90.9 FM
Housed in what was once a bowling alley, William & Mary's radio station is a series of rooms connected by an elongated hallway with CDs and vinyl records covering the walls. The main listening room contains most of the vinyls and is utilized for the station's weekly meetings. During these meetings, the station's management and DJs collectively select the weeks “A-List,” the music to be played when there are no live shows. At the back of the room under lock-and-key are the older vinyls, first press 45s, many of which are from the 1960s. With a Media Council grant, the station now has the ability to help preserve these vinyls and thus the music and history of great artists including Marvin Gaye, Elvis Presley and Joni Mitchell.
“We want to have it online and accessible database-wise for the American Studies Program or anyone who wants to write a paper about music,” said Station Manager Sarah Henry '16.
Off of the main listening room, and down the hallway, the station also contains a recording studio, two soundproof practice rooms for Battle of the Bands and the studio in which the broadcasts are aired. In this studio, visitors and DJs will find turntables, CD players, cassette players, laptop hookups, two computers for mixing music, microphones and the A-List.
Becoming a DJ
Although hosting your own radio show may seem daunting, becoming a DJ at WCWM 90.9 FM is pretty simple. Through a three-step process of completing volunteer hours, training hours, and a test hour, interested students can learn the inner workings of radio broadcast production.
“We have 60 DJs right now, which is one of the highest [numbers] we’ve ever had,” said Henry. “But we have about 200 in training.”
Training to become a DJ can take as little as two weeks, or as long as you want -- it all depends on how much time you want to commit. To complete the six volunteer hours needed as a DJ in training, students can attend the one-hour weekly meetings, write for the station’s print publication, Vinyl Tap, or assist with the station's library hours, in which current members and trainees catalog the CDs sent to the station by various artists and record labels. Students must then complete two training hours that encompass in-studio work and a crash course in tech. This “crash course” teaches the trainees how to work the boards, recognize problems with the computer and solve transmitter issues and other problems. After completing all volunteer and training hours, potential DJs get to try their hand at being on-air through a test hour.
An official mentorship program was begun six or seven years ago, in order to make it easier for current DJs and DJs-in-training to get to know one another, and for those interested in becoming DJs to be able to learn the ropes.
“So when you’re coming in as new DJ you have a mentor who guides you through the process,” said Ferry. “They teach you how to do the boards, and they administer what we call a ‘test hour’ to make sure you’re ready to be a real DJ.”
After successful completion of the test hour, new DJs are then able to create their own show and pick a time slot that they will have for the whole semester.
Now that you’re part of the team
"All the DJs get to select whatever they want to do,” said Ferry. “If you’re just starting out you have to play some of the music we select at the meetings, some of the A-List stuff, so about half of your show has to be A-List. Aside from that, it’s entirely up to you what kind of music you want to play. We leave it up to the DJs to see if they want to do a news show, a talk show, anything with music -- you can do pretty much anything you’d like; you just have to follow the PSA guidelines and do the radio station identification.”
Now in his third semester of DJing, Carson Powers ‘15, like many of the DJs at the station, chose the theme of his show based off of one of his preexisting interests.
“My show’s called The Long Ride Home, and there’s a lot of meaning to it,” said Powers ‘15. “There’s spiritual meaning to it, but mostly it’s because I ride a longboard. I’ve kind of adapted the meaning to have different variations on what it means to me.”
When asked what they think they have learned most about themselves and about producing radio, Henry and Ferry agree that the experience has allowed them to grow as individuals.
In the three years she has been participating at the station, Henry says overall her music tastes have expanded greatly.
“I think my music tastes has grown the most,” said Henry. “I listened to ‘indie music’ in high school, but I had no idea really what was out there and I think being around people who don’t listen to the same music as you has really expanded how I look at music and how I appreciate it.”
Ferry, on the other hand, learned that numbers aren’t everything.
“We have numbers we can look at to see how many people are listening over the Internet, which is not exactly a great characterization because it doesn’t include anyone who is listening over radio,” said Ferry. “In the beginning, I would focus on these numbers as some kind of gauge for my success as a DJ, but over time I realized that’s really not what I should be doing and that the way to do the best show is to do a show that I really like and something that I can be proud of.”
Aside from broadcasting live on air and online, WCWM 90.9 FM also hosts free concerts once a semester. One such concert is coming up on April 25; the free event will include seven to eight bands with a variety of styles to suit various music tastes.
For more on WCWM and to listen live, visit http://web.wm.edu/so/wcwm/index.html.