VC faculty makes waves on WVKR

Professors take to the WVKR booth to explore their interests in music as well as talk radio. Their shows feature a combination of interviews and musicality. Photo By:
Professors take to the WVKR booth to explore their interests in music as well as talk radio. Their shows feature a combination of interviews and musicality. Photo By: Sam Pianello
Professors take to the WVKR booth to explore their interests in music as well as talk radio. Their shows feature a combination of interviews and musicality. Photo By: Sam Pianello

Thomas Hill is a Chaucher Scholar and one of Vassar’s art librarians. He also hosts The Library Café on WVKR 91.3 FM, making him one of the Vassar staff member with radio shows. He interviews scholars—often Vassar professors—about their recent work. He states that “One of the things librarians and libraries do besides collect materials for people to use is build community. So I thought it would be a way to do that.”

In regards to radio as a medium for information, he continued, “Books don’t think, they’re just dead objects and you know… for whatever we do here to become knowledgable there has to be discourse. So stimulating people, stimulating discourse is part of what we do.” Hill explained the first show he did three years ago, stating, “Brian Lukacher here who teaches art was my first interview. I remember us walking down the main drive here over to the main studio and both of us wondering ‘is this a bad idea?’”

Hill has similar ideas as Jay Lancaster ’15, general manager of WVKR. Lancaster described student-hosted shows, “It’s very exciting to watch student programs find their footing, because the first few times you’re on the mic it’s like ‘I don’t know what to say.’ But people figure it out.”

He explained his interest in radio, “There’s something about it. You’re listening to someone over waves that are going through the air. There’s something mysterious about it. In an interview that I did with a German media historian, Wolfgang Ernst, he talks at the end of that interview a lot about radio.”

He continued, “He’s absolutely fascinated with it. He likes to listen to short-wave and just listens to the odd kinds of sounds that get into the signal from weather patterns or from signals bouncing off clouds and that kind of thing. It’s strangely, in some ways it’s a very physical medium, radio waves, in that way.”

Hill posts all of his recordings on his blog and receives about one thousand downloads per month. Many of his listeners are scholars, faculty who want to learn about on-campus research, and the prison population. He has received letters from a number of prisoners praising his show: “Usually it’s a letter saying ‘I listen to your program and keep up the good work.’”

The popularity of radio seems to be growing. According to Lancaster, “I think we took on probably eight to 10 freshmen shows this semester which is pretty remarkable with our limited  scheduling. A lot of those kids are dedicated to doing 3 to 4 a.m. slots on the weekends for their first semester because there’s no other place we can put them in the schedule.”

Hill explained his theory on the survival of radio through the invention of television, “If you look at the way radio was before television it was an entirely different medium, it was a medium for drama to a great extent. Now there’s a lot of talk radio, but not this kind of talk radio. I don’t know if they feel people’s attention spans can’t handle it. But, yeah, I think radio is going to be around for a long time. It may change—I hope it’s around a long time because it’s a great medium.”

Hua Hsu, professor in the English department, has a mixed-genre show called “Blowy Shirts” that plays on Wednesday afternoons. In an emailed statement, he said “I discovered college radio in high school. I have this really vivid memory of tuning into KSCU, a local station, after noticing a station sticker on my friend’s binder. I tuned in one day while my mom was driving and heard the most amazing songs. The DJs seemed just like me.”

Hsu’s interest in beginning his own show grew after his collgege graduation. At first he did the show to stay in touch with friends—he chose time slots that could be heard by friends in both California and New York. Eventually, he said, “It became a way to force myself to go through all my old records and CDs.”

In between songs, Hsu browses reviews from previous Vassar students, which gives him a glimpse into how students viewed artists that we now consider classics, “Like what some cooler-than-thou kid thought about Nirvana in 1991 or Animal Collective in 2004. It’s a great record of changing fashions and codes.”

For both Hill and Hsu, radio is a way to explore interests outside of work. “It keeps me alive,” Hill explained. It gives him a chance to talk to some of the leading scholars in the country, like Robert Darnton, the director of the libraries at Harvard, and Betty Eisenstein, a Vassar Scholar who focuses on the history of the printing press. Next week he’ll be interviewing Chuck Henry, president of the non-profit CLIR and former director of the Vassar library. From their website, CLIR is an “Independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning.” They’ll talk about the CLIR, Henry’s experience directing a library, and the way that colleges fit into the exchange of information. Library Café airs from 12 to 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

Radio provides an outlet for staff, community and students. For some it is enhancing scholarships, or getting the chance to share music with the people who happen to be awake at 3 a.m. Hsu said that for him, “There’s something really restorative about playing songs you love really loud in the studio.”

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