Student radio shows celebrate musical interests, creativity

91.3 FM WVKR, Vassar’s independent radio station, allows student DJs and its listeners to explore an array of genres and to connect with listeners who are not necessarily associated with our college. Photo By: Spencer Davis
91.3 FM WVKR, Vassar’s independent radio station, allows student DJs and its listeners to explore an array of genres and to connect with listeners who are not necessarily associated with our college. Photo By: Spencer Davis
91.3 FM WVKR, Vassar’s independent radio station, allows student DJs and its listeners to explore an array of genres and to connect with listeners who are not necessarily associated with our college. Photo By: Spencer Davis

Friday night, I found myself recording a halting PSA under the DJ handle “Mediterranean Rose.” Until then, I thought of the radio station as an elusive hideout that my friends disappeared to at all hours of the night to record. Shelves of CDs covered the walls, and a couple of couches welcomed radio tag-alongs such as myself. After botching my premier radio appearance by saying on-air “a bunch of numbers” as opposed to the correct thing to say, which would be each individual number, I scanned the titles and the overall mass. I loved that physical music makes up the studio where it is enjoyed and celebrated. My friends finished up the show and we re-entered a Vassar Friday night.

After meeting Angela Brown ’16 that night, I approached her to gain a more formal understanding of the radio culture at Vassar. We quickly nailed down the basics: She co-hosts with Tomás Guarnizo ’16, a close friend since the beginning of their freshman year who enjoys a similar taste in music. Angela (or dj johntapscott) and Tomás (or dj madcow)’s 9 to 10 a.m. slot on Tuesday morning focuses on Bossa Nova, a genre of Brazilian music that is a fusion of samba and jazz and directly translates to “new trend.”

When asked about the process of gaining approval for airtime, Brown responded with one word: “intimidating.” The extensive interview-process follows lots of forms and the submission of an hour-long mock playlist. One also shows their dedication to the radio programs by working four hours on other radio shows and reviewing two albums featured on another radio station. Angela prepped by reading biographies of her favorite musicians and researching her music tastes.

The beginnings of their radio show, titled “Bossa Nova and so Much More,” proceeded formulaically. Angela described to me the amount of planning that went into creating a rhyme and reason for each track and the organized themed days: This Tuesday! A Boogaloo special! Only after some time on the air did she began to feel comfortable, and once she decoded the soundboard, the extensive planning seemed unnecessary to a successful and engaging show. Soon, Bossa Nova began to play all sorts of music, allowing the connections between songs to provide as much of a dialogue as the songs themselves. Tracks no longer stacked homogeneously based upon genre or artist but comprised a new whole.

Thus, through stringing together original lineups, radio hosts become musical curators who guide listeners. Lars Odland ’17, whose hosts “Planeta Tropicalia” under the handle dj glitter, said, “I’m able to influence the music on campus, and that’s a fairly big responsibility. People are able to hear new music from me, and I enjoy being able to provide that service to them. Though my listenership is fairly small—my show is at 1 a.m.—I hope that someone heard a song they liked or became interested in the genre that they didn’t listen to before.”

According to Angela and Tomás, waking up for a 9 a.m. extracurricular is taxing, but once in the station, the pair enjoy their show, and their choices of music welcome in Tuesday mornings. Dancing and laughing about past shows creates an environment of ease and inspiration. Airtime represents a new way to get creative. Unlike other art forms, radio draws a veil between the artist and the audience. Vassar’s soundproof recording studio, nestled into the tallest tower of Main, removes the creative process from its reception. Hosts cannot see how many people tune into any given show, nor can they alter their set based upon the audience’s reactionary cues. Angela laughed as she recalled saying to Tomás, “Who’s even listening to this? Let’s just play what we want to play.” Although the “Bossa Nova” team knows their show has listeners, the distance between their audience and their work allows Angela and Tomás to comfortably experiment. Radio’s dual qualities of the public and private inspire honest work as radio hosts pursue their passions candidly in front of others.

This intersection of interests behind closed doors extends to Vassar listeners: Who is listening to Vassar radio? “Our 5 p.m. time slot in particular is great; we get to soundtrack the drive home from work for all of the Hudson Valley. There’s one listener who calls us every week on his commute home. Things like that make the show worth doing,” said Tim Brown ’16, or rather, DJ Pop Vulture, a host of WVKR’s “The Teen’s English.” Many people listen, but much like the producers of the show, the listening happens in intimate and individualized settings, such as in one’s car or from their dorm room.

Time slots also hugely dictate when listeners listen to what. “The Teen’s English, for instance, airs on Wednesdays from 5-6 p.m. and is the station’s designated time to air “80’s UK jangly guitar pop.” “Planeta Tropicalia” airs on Saturdays from 1-2 a.m. and airs ‘60s and ‘70s Brazilian music. Late night slots will not get much traffic, as most people either immerse themselves in homework or go out. No one’s awake to hear an early morning slot. An afternoon slot could attract more casual listeners, aided by a speaker pressed to a dorm window blasting Bossa Nova across the quad. Angela believes her fan base comes mostly from friends and family and even locals in Poughkeepsie ,but that Vassar Radio lacks a community: “People need to reconsider radio as a medium.”

And it is not just the listeners who benefit from campus radio shows: “I realized that having that commitment would force me to discover music that I otherwise would have never heard,” stated Brown.

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