It’s always a little uncanny to hear the distinct voice of my entrymate Anthony Evans ’16 reverberate off the walls of our common room on Monday nights when I know he’s a couple thousand yards away. Evans isn’t on my cell phone’s loudspeaker or on television – he’s DJing on the student-run radio station, Williams College FM, or WCFM, and people all over the country, like me, are tuned in to listen.
WCFM was established in 1943, but its history is very nebulous. According to General Manager Wade Phenicie ’14, the station was “broadcast through some aspect of the utilities of the College,” and was originally located in Jesup Hall, then the former Baxter Hall, before moving in 2004 to its current location in the basement of Prospect Hall. Though the members of the station’s board agree that broadcasting from the current Baxter Hall in the Paresky Center would give them more exposure, they love their current setup in Prospect – a modern, high-tech broadcasting studio that cost a quarter of a million dollars to build.
Over the years, the deep-rooted radio station has amassed quite a collection of music. “We have thousands of CDs and records, including a lot of rare and priceless stuff, like original LP [record]s,” Phenicie said. On top of their vintage material, the WCFM board receives many free albums from aspiring artists who “view us as a medium through which they can project interest in their music,” Phenicie said. Once in a while they “get crazy stuff in the mail. Two days before Claiming Williams Day, we got a really racist CD from an Australian white supremacist named Johnny White Rabbit. It was called Anti-Racist is a Code-Word for Anti White,” Personnel Director Will Hayes ’14 said.
Though the President and Board of Trustees of the College own the station, it is technically licensed as a community station. As such, some of the 80 plus active DJs and talk show hosts are professors and people not affiliated with the College. These include “a couple townies and [Chair of the Department of Religion Professor] Denise Buell” among others, Phenicie said. The station’s presence is definitely felt in the community at large. Contrary to popular belief, Ephs and their parents and friends aren’t the only WCFM listeners. The station broadcasts throughout Williamstown, North Adams and Clarksburg, and, when the weather is very nice, can even reach the Berkshire Mall. WCFM has received calls from listeners in North Adams, and have heard their tunes playing in the speakers of local business Ephporium. “We love being a place for the whole community to get together and we love giving that opportunity,” Phenicie said.
Up-to-date with modern trends, WCFM is accessible through both the conventional airways at 91.9 FM, and online. Online streaming allows for a much wider audience – students’ parents can listen from all over the country and around the world. But they’re not the sole international audience. A man from Italy emailed the board explaining that he collects stickers from radio stations all over the world and requesting one of their own. Figuring that stickers were cheap to produce, and reluctant to disappoint, WCFM created and ordered small rectangular stickers plastered with their logo, and mailed one to their fan in Italy.
WCFM has ties to Malaysia as well, with their rival station WCFM Malaysia. WCFM Malaysia is reportedly Malaysia’s “number one” station, and streams their show live online using the same program as the College, Showcast. According to members of the WCFM Board, their stream is very low quality, and they play anything from “ethnic local stuff to Lady Gaga,” Phenicie said. Videos on WCFM Malaysia’s website in the past have included “awkward raps and a flutist with a fog machine,” Hayes said. “It’s always a good day if you beat WCFM Malaysia,” Phenicie said in reference to measuring online listenership. Members of the College station have the ability to see how many online devices are tuned in to their show, with a 20 minute lag, and the numbers vary widely according to the time of day. The WCFM Board hopes to make bonds with their sister station in Asia, and are always pleasantly surprised and usually very amused when someone from the other WCFM comments on one of the links posted on their website.
WCFM is a public community station operating under the rules of the Federal Communications Commission and as a result members follow strict, sometimes quirky, rules. Hosts are not permitted to swear on air, and can only play songs with swearwords in them between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and only after playing a disclaimer at the show’s opening. It’s illegal for WCFM to play advertisements, but it’s required to make two public service announcements every hour. “They’re each about thirty seconds long and fairly comedic,” Phenicie said, and range in subject anywhere from the weather to an event happening on campus. However, the DJs aren’t allowed to share their personal opinions – they can’t tell you to go to an event, only that it exists – and are forbidden from saying prices unless it’s related to a non-profit organization. WCFM Board members have also instituted some rules of their own. No drinking or smoking is permitted in the station, and the heads of WCFM tell their members to play multiple artists and refrain from simply playing one album for their entire time on-air; creativity is encouraged.
Some DJ hosts go above and beyond these guidelines. Gabrielle McPhaul-Guerrier ’15 posted a link on WSO to a website she created mimicking the former connections website, “Like a Little” with a promise to read aloud her favorites on her radio show. “I got the idea to spoof ‘Like a Little’ for my Valentine’s Day show just because I wanted a way to make my show more interactive and I know how much people I know loved ‘Like a Little.’ I try to do a lot of fun, different things on my show. Last spring I had a show with Alice Stears ’15 and we tried to do a dating show, and it was a complete fiasco. This semester I have a morning show, so I try to keep things a little more low-key. Sometimes I read weird things I find on the internet over the air, or invite friends to be special guests, but mostly I just try to play good music and hope someone besides my mom is listening,” McPhaul-Guerrier said.
The team at WCFM isn’t confined to their studio in Prospect. Last Friday they hosted their annual event “Workin’ 9-5 at WCFM,” during which they broadcasted from Baxter Hall, using a remote transmitter to transmit back to Prospect and from there to the greater area. “That’s always a fun event. People take out their iPhones and pull up Shazam [an app that recognizes songs playing and reports back the song title and artist name] when they hear a song they like,” Phenicie said. “People were walking up to us and requesting songs, and in general DJs were pretty good at playing songs that were appropriate to the moods of Paresky as the day went on,” Phenicie said. WCFM also hosts all-campus parties, including the Club Sandwich party, complete with six-foot sandwiches courtesy of Subway, and the laser-themed Major Rager party to which people wore glow-sticks and glasses, to name a few from years past.
In recent news, WCFM has been allocated money by College Council as well as Wood, Spencer and Currier Neighborhoods for a concert they’re in the process of negotiating with their chosen band, TOPS. Staying trendy, the station collaborated with WSO to install a handy little fixture on the bottom of the WSO page that lets Ephs tune in as well as see the last two songs that have played. “As a media organization that uses the Internet to distribute our programming, we are overjoyed to have been included in this campus’s student Internet hub,” Phenicie said of the new gadget. “This is huge for us in terms of visibility.”