Atlas Finch ’20, a DJ at WAMH, the student-run radio station at Amherst College.

In an age when applications like Spotify and Pandora can send a personally curated stream of music to your smartphone, what can a radio station offer?

Plenty, say the students who operate Amherst College’s radio station WAMH, which broadcasts original student programming 70 hours a week.

For starters, there’s a kind of 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 WAMH’s DJs see it, the station is a pure example of an autonomous student organization providing a platform for creativity and a home for student voices.

You see this immediately in the WAMH studio in Keefe Campus Center. On the way to the broadcast booth, you pass through a common area covered in student-penned graffiti. Overhead in this sea of doodles and slogans is the signature of the rapper Cardi B, who performed at Amherst in 2016 (after which she tweeted, “Amherst college was lit”).

That “irreverent commentary” on the walls says something, says Matthew Ezersky ’22, who, with Annie Martin ’22E, serves as WAMH’s events director.

“You get the sense that you’re in a space that is of and for college students,” he says. “There’s something authentic—which is a word that our generation seems a little obsessed with—about the WAMH studio.”

“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,” says Martin, who transferred here 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, providing studio experience and freedom: “It's a creative environment that isn’t as high-stakes."

“I think there’s something very empowering about having two hours of radio time on a real radio station over real radio waves to say whatever you’re thinking and play whatever you want,” add Gendelman.


In 2015, the station signed an agreement with New England Public Radio allowing NEPR to air its programming on 89.3-FM from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. In exchange, NEPR provides technical assistance to the college station, along with training for students. The agreement resulted in an almost immediate explosion of student interest, with 26 new DJs signing on.

Currently, more than 40 students have shows on WAMH, says Chirag Malkani ’20, general manager. Individual programs usually run for two hours. “Most people who want a show, get a show,” he says.

The current lineup includes music programs featuring classic rock, folk, rap, hip-hop, jazz, punk and indie. The station is committed to broadcasting new music. Its production manual requires that any general music show devotes a quarter of airtime to music released in the past three months. Most programs throw in talk, be it entertainment news, sports, politics, humor or just plain banter.

“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.”

The station also organizes concerts. Aaron Bushnell ’21, who serves as general manager with Malkani, sees more of them in WAMH’s future.

DJs compile their own playlists using tools such as Spotify, or simply plop a vinyl LP onto a turntable. The station has made a commitment to keeping—and expanding—a collection of physical media.  “You’re looking over at that shelf and rifling through things, you’d find something that might catch your eye,” Gendelman says. “It’s artistic and has value in the same way that a print does.”

And 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?”