When people tune their radios to WRUR, UR’s student-run radio station, they have always expected to hear a wide variety of all types of music and entertainment, but this might be too much of a good thing. At times it has included shows made up entirely of dog barks or the noises from a Nintendo game. So the WRUR staff is in the process of making many changes. The end goal of these changes is to have a much more popular and professional radio station.
The changes began with fears last year of legal action against the station, due to occasional dead air or profanity. “Last year there was a lot of concern about getting hit with an FCC fine, but this year all our ducks are in a row,” general manager of WRUR and senior Seth Berkowitz said. “We weren’t in trouble because we were doing anything wrong, we were in trouble because of [an FCC crackdown].”
But those concerns made WRUR look more closely at how the station was run, and it came to their attention that their ratings were very low. “We’re tired of being a station no one listens to,” Berkowitz said. “We got tired of how inconsistent our product was from year to year.” He joked the summer was so badly organized that “we did a bad job of keeping the two or three listeners we had.”
So for the past year, WRUR has been going through changes. It partnered with WXXI 91.5 last year, bringing several hours of National Public Radio to the station to avoid having to run ads. And over the summer those changes reached the rest of the station’s programming.
The new rules are not finalized, but the FM station will be more selective. “There will be some changes to what you are allowed to play and how you are allowed to play it,” Berkowitz said at a WRUR interest meeting on Sept. 2. “There are a lot of shows that aren’t really suitable for FM.”
But Berkowitz stressed that they weren’t trying to get rid of the edgier shows. “We’re looking into the Internet, we’re looking into cable broadcast for people who don’t fit our higher standards of professionalism.” There will be an alternate format for disk jockeys whose shows do not make it onto the FM station.
This alternate format is needed partly just for shows whose content couldn’t air on FM, but it’s also needed because WRUR will be made more competitive simply by time constraints.
WRUR has been airing “Morning Edition” from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and “All Things Considered” from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for a year now, but in addition, daytime programming between them will be in a more popular format. “During the day, we will be playing in a [more preferred] format,” Berkowitz said. This means that shows like blues shows or reggae or other, less mainstream interests will only be able to play after 6 p.m. and before 5 a.m.
The partnership with WXXI will take up several hours of the day, but will have many benefits. “WXXI is donating lots of equipment,” Berkowitz said.
WXXI employees have also begun to teach WRUR members more about broadcasting. A new class, CAS 208, has been created. “We’re going to have DJ training from Scott Fybush, former host of ‘All Things Considered’,” Berkowitz added.
Despite the fears of some WRUR members, Berkowitz stressed that the relationship was a mutual one and WRUR would remain entirely student-run. “We have control of the situation,” he said.
Many students who commented agreed there was room for improvement at the station. Junior Kim Colern felt it needed more publicity. “They should have better advertising,” she said. “[They should say] things like, ‘If you like this type of music it is on at this time’.”
“Internet streaming would be better,” senior Jeremiah Barkley said.
Senior and former DJ Carlos Rodriguez agrees. “[I would] use it more if it was on the web,” he said. However, far from the changes currently under way, he feels that the problem would not be solved by adding more popular music. “A good variety is the main thing lacking.” He listed Spanish music, hip-hop, and reggae as genres he would like to hear more of.
Even though WRUR remains student-run and not-for-profit, some feel it is becoming too formal or too homogenous. At the interest meeting, during a question-and-answer session after Berkowitz explained the changes, one person in the crowd asked, “Why do we need listeners?”
Levesque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.