In an age of customizable playlists and endless music options offered by outlets like iTunes and Pandora, students who work at WRGW, GW’s student-run radio station, say the station faces a big question.
Is anyone listening?
The station – which switched from the AM frequency to live Internet streaming in 1999 – broadcasts seven days a week from 8 a.m. to midnight, and boasts a total of 56 programs with names like Funkadelic Freestyles, Political Pulse, and Fluff on the Needle. The station is currently celebrating its 80th year and just received a “Woodie” nomination for best college radio station from MTVu.
Students who work there say the station has a hard time tracking its listenership, but all indications are that few people tune in. Andrew Feldman and other student hosts and DJs said instant messages, e-mails and blog comments are the only way they know if people are tuning in.
“In some ways it’s disconcerting,” Feldman said. “So it’s an honor when you get off the air and have people comment, because then you know it’s not dead air.”
Still, staffers are turning to new forms of social media to promote their shows and get more listeners in a digital and social network era.
The Political Pulse show, for example, has its own Facebook page, Twitter account and Web site to keep listeners up-to-date on upcoming guests and topics of conversation.
“Using new media… is really adding to the prestige of the show,” said Feldman, who co-hosts the show.
Of course, for some diehards at WRGW, listenership is only an added bonus to working at the station. They love DJing not because they think people are listening, but because it’s a creative outlet to play new music and discuss everything from sports and sex to campus and national news.
“The best part is being able to have my own show where I can expose the public to new and exciting types of music that they otherwise wouldn’t hear,” Chris Colley, director of the station’s music department, said.
Colley added, “I always have 15 to 20 friends listening and anyone random is just an extra bonus.”
While Nomi Kaplan, the station’s general manager, said that broadcasting online and using social media tools makes it easier than ever before to pay attention to WRGW, several students interviewed on campus say the station’s online-only status is more of an inconvenience.
“You have to go out of your way [to listen],” freshman Tyler Watts said. “All my radio back home came from being in my car.”
Another student questioned the value of radio programming.
“People want to pick what they want to listen to,” junior Simone Freeman said. “Not have other people pick it for them.”
Those involved with the station say they are facing the challenge of creating relevant programming for students who are constantly attached to those ubiquitous white ear phones and living in an era dominated by TV and streaming Internet.
“I would definitely like to try to find a new innovative way to make radio relevant again,” junior Jamie Benson, director of the station’s hip-hop department and host of Funkadelic Freestyles, said.
Listeners or no listeners, student hosts say they will continue to share their passions over the airwaves, proving that creativity and a desire to communicate and relate to your peers never goes out of style.
“Radio is a blast,” Feldman said. “It doesn’t have to be a job; it can be a hobby, a place to meet friends, and it can last a lifetime.”