Spotify and Pandora can send personally curated streams of music to your phone. So what can a radio station offer?
Plenty, say the students who operate Amherst’s radio station, WAMH, which broadcasts original student programming 70 hours a week.
For starters, there’s nostalgia: “It’s this old-fashioned, massive machine that broadcasts over the airwaves, and that’s just fun and interesting,” says Jacob Gendelman ’20, DJ and chief operator.
As the DJs see it, the station is a pure example of an autonomous student organization offering a platform for creativity and a home for student voices. You see this when you walk into the studio in Keefe Campus Center and pass through a common area covered in student-penned graffiti. Overhead in this sea of doodles is the signature of the rapper Cardi B, who performed at Amherst in 2016 (after which she tweeted, “Amherst college was lit”).
“You’re in a space that is of and for college students,” says Matthew Ezersky ’22, who, with Annie Martin ’22E, serves as events director. “There’s something authentic—which is a word that our generation seems a little obsessed with—about the WAMH studio.”
Martin transferred from Emerson College, which boasts a large professional station and a more student-focused, web-based station. She says WAMH combines the best of both: “It’s a creative environment that isn’t as high-stakes. It’s a space where you don’t have to be perfect at everything you do. You can mess up and you can experiment, you can try things.”
In 2015, the station signed an agreement allowing New England Public Radio to air WAMH programming on 89.3 FM from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. In exchange, NEPR provides technical assistance and training. The agreement resulted in an explosion of student interest, with 26 new DJs signing on.
Today, more than 40 Amherst students have shows on WAMH, says Chirag Malkani ’20, general manager. The current lineup includes programs featuring classic rock, folk, rap, hip-hop, jazz, punk and indie. Most programs throw in talk, be it news, sports or humor.
“We talk about whatever we’re thinking,” says Gendelman of his own show, Percolating on the Back Burner. “It’s a two-hour hangout time during the week, when we get together, play good music and talk about silly things.”
“I often will play whatever I’ve been listening to at length,” Ezersky adds. “So, my first show this year, I had a couple of songs from Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps album, which I’d been listening to all summer.”
DJs compile their own Spotify playlists, or simply plop a vinyl LP onto a turntable. The station has made a commitment to keeping—and expanding—a collection of physical media. At the same time, it requires any general music show to devote a quarter of airtime to music released in the past three months.
For Malkani, the best part is seeing the ON AIR light and knowing “that people are actively listening to you as you’re broadcasting. I think that’s a lot of what endears people to doing college radio. Otherwise it would just be a podcast, right?”
Photo by Maria Stenzel