Convergence is a term every communications student knows. It’s the coming together of different media to expand what each one could do alone. News channels are writing articles online. Newspapers are creating video content.
But what about radio stations? What was radio like before the internet took over, and what will it be like in the future?
Dennis Proulx, dean of students at Castleton University, has fond memories of his time being a DJ here as a mass media major in the ‘80s. With the college radio station, WIUV 91.3, being less than a decade old then, he remembers when getting your voice on the air was exciting, new, and very sought after.
“Back then, we probably had 40 DJs running and it was very competitive to get a slot,” Proulx said. “My first slot, my first semester freshman year, was 6 a.m. Saturday morning. The most glamorous of slots you could possibly get was 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning,” he said sarcastically.
But Proulx didn’t let that keep him from enjoying his Saturday morning shows –
before going right back to bed.
“Just that thrill of turning the station on, you know? Warming up the transmitter and whatever, putting the first LP on – it was very cool,” he said. “And it kept me from going out too late on Friday nights, so it actually helped my studies I think, in hindsight.”
Robert Gershon, the radio station’s faculty advisor from 1977 to 2013, has his share of memories as well.
“A favorite is the time the station manager gave a big speech about keeping offending material off the air until 10 p.m. and then went out and played ‘Too Drunk to Fuck’ on his own show at 6 p.m.,” he said. “But mostly my fondest memories are just the students. They were among the finest people I’ve had the chance to work with. Excited and exciting, smart, knowledgeable, you name it.”
Three decades later, Will Chmielewski and Toné Sawyer, now recent graduates and former WIUV executive board members, reminisced about their first shows as freshmen in 2013.
“Ah, the golden years,” Chmielewski said jokingly about his first time as a DJ. “They actually were really amazing.”
“That’s really what we called them,” added Sawyer. “We had 72 hours per week filled up with live DJ’s.”
Radio at CU was seemingly just as popular then as ever, despite the still steady decline of radio listenership across the nation. This is partly due to the efforts of one dedicated student, according to Chmielewski.
“We got one amazing person in here that revamped this place, sold it as something new on campus, and everyone wanted to join,” he said of former student Zach Scheffler.
“And everyone did join,” said Sawyer. “And I was stuck with 9 o’clocks on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” he said. “In the morning, not at night.”
But just like Proulx in the ‘80s, Sawyer knew it was worth waking up a little early just to get his voice on the air. That was the start of a five-year-long career at WIUV, leading him through every single position on the executive board, often more than one at a time.
“Some of the highs was just being on air and being able to speak freely about whatever I wanted to,” he said. “Other highs included picking out whatever music I wanted to play. I played a lot of questionable stuff, you can ask Will here. But whether it was popular at the time …”
“It was not,” whispered Chmielewski.
“ … It was not,” Sawyer continued. “I liked it, therefore I played it. And I wanted other people to like it too.”
And essentially, guys like Proulx in the ‘80s and Sawyer and Chmielewski in recent years, propagated the genre of music know as college radio.
These stations were an important aspect of the radio industry, offering newer and more experimental music at the cost of consistency. They were the go-to stations for discovering what’s new on the music scene.
“IUV was first to play REM, U2, all the punk guys, etc. And they had blues, jazz and reggae when no one else would touch them,” Gershon said.
College radio continued to be not just about what’s played, but the fun of playing it. Radio was still alive and well for Castleton in 2013, and it was a sight to see.
“It was really an amazing time when the station was huge,” said Chmielewski. “You’d be a DJ here and people would know who you were.”
“We were like local celebrities on campus,” said Sawyer.
But WIUV’s popularity wouldn’t stay, and just like its commercial counterparts, it began to find less and less support from the community. Each year, old DJs and staff would graduate and move on as fewer new ones joined.
According to Sawyer and Chmielewski, mismanagement and internal conflicts may be the cause for WIUV’s quick decline after 2014. But a bigger issue within the industry itself has left more than just this station struggling.
“It’s not something that’s really as popular as it once was based on the new means of communication through podcasts, through online streaming, through XM, Sirius and radios like that,” said Chmielewski, who now works professionally as an on-air DJ in Poultney. “I work in it and I don’t listen to it that much.”
With the convenience and personalization of on-demand music streaming services, traditional broadcasts aren’t seen as the best option for many consumers.
“Even though I did radio here for five years, I rarely listen to the radio. I don’t own a radio. I honestly am not planning on owning a radio,” said Sawyer. “I feel like it’s a dying medium.”
Sometimes there’s more to a station than just music and talk though, and the reason for its decline may be more complex than just competing business.
“One thing that goes unnoticed in this transformation is the way that radio, like local newspapers, are the eyes and ears of a community. It’s not just the alternative media that hurt them, it’s Amazon that hurts retailers who no longer advertise,” Gershon said.
Despite fewer listeners, many from both newer and older generations feel that radio isn’t on its way out, just on its way to something new.
“I think, like everything, it’s changing because there are so many different ways that you can reach people through a medium like radio,” said Jordan Lumsden, a senior journalism major who is interning at a radio station in Rutland.
Some believe local stations, just like local newspapers, may continue to have their place on a smaller scale, and offer something that can’t be found online.
“If you’re listening to Spotify … it doesn’t give me a sense of place. It doesn’t give me a sense of what their values or their priorities of the community are,” Proulx said. “I think you lose your sense of where you are, in which community.”