Massachusetts Daily Collegian

WMUA eyes its future amid a series of significant changes, controversy.

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(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

No matter what day of the year or hour of the day, students and community members within 25 miles of Amherst can tune in to WMUA, the radio voice of the University of Massachusetts.

A staple in the Pioneer Valley for more than 65 years, the station has experienced massive growth to become one of the largest student organizations on campus, broadcasting an eclectic mixture of music, news programs and live sporting events.

Recently, however, the station has faced criticism from community members due to planned structural changes that UMass administrators announced in December. The decision to restructure came after an external review of WMUA was conducted by a four-person team of media advisors.

One advisor, Gregory Adamo, an associate professor in the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University in Baltimore, said that he and the team suggested WMUA expand its board of directors, rewrite its manual and limit community programming to 24 hours per week, which the station plans to do starting this spring. He also suggested the University hire a fulltime advisor to assist the students.

In particular, the decision to limit community programming has sparked a rift between students and community members, who feel their influence is being restricted. Some community members, which are non-student members of the station, asked for a University investigation into the Vice Chancellor’s office in response to the decision to restructure the station.

A petition that has more than 2,300 signatures is also circulating online to “Keep Polkas Alive” at the station, which significantly reduced its weekend polka programming this spring. The station’s polka programming was well-received within the Pioneer Valley, as was “Focus,” a 50-year-old public affairs show that was also cancelled.

Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

But Adamo believes the changes will be to WMUA’s benefit.

“Students should be a priority,” Adamo said in a phone interview. “I’ve always been convinced that college radio stations should be student-centered … I think the students will get a better experience through more decision making and the radio station will operate more smoothly.”

Growth over the years  

Since WMUA was first formed back in 1948 it has experienced several significant changes. It all began when World War II veterans returned to UMass to earn their education under the GI bill. Many had extensive radio knowledge and decided to come together to operate a station on the fifth floor of South College.

WMUA officially launched on Nov. 21, 1948, broadcasting at 650 AM according to a UMass press release. In 1952, the station moved to 91.1 on the FM dial, making WMUA one of the first college-run, non-commercial FM radio stations in New England.

Since then, WMUA has been operated out of Marston Hall and then the basement of the Campus Center, where it currently resides in the Scott J. Bacherman Broadcast Center.

According to the press release, the center was named after a UMass alumnus who served as WMUA’s program director from 1973 to 1975. It was under Bacherman’s leadership that WMUA instituted 24-hour operation with paid management staff.

Even after his death in 2002, Bacherman’s family and friends continued to help shape WMUA into what it is today by funding its remodeling, according to General Manager Andrew DesRochers. The station’s annual budget of more than $100,000 is derived primarily from the Student Government Association, along with selling ad space and donations received throughout the year and from an annual fund drive.

Following renovations that were completed last year, WMUA gained the most up-to-date equipment that DesRochers likened to the equipment used by very well-known, professional radio stations like National Public Radio.

DesRochers said in a phone interview that WMUA aims to have the highest-caliber facilities possible, “so if someone does land in a broadcast position after they graduate, they will instantly know how to operate” the technology.

According to both DesRochers and Chauvin, many of the students involved in WMUA are journalism or communications majors who enjoy complementing what they are studying. However, many others come from very diverse majors.

“We have people from all over campus who are interested in producing content for us,” said DesRochers. “We have people from the sciences and from the arts. It’s a very interesting blend of people that are coming together through the station.”

Currently, WMUA is led by four executive members, like DesRochers and Chauvin, and 11 department directors. Between DJs and all of the people who help out at WMUA events, DesRochers estimates there are upwards of 75 unpaid regular volunteers, a group made up of both students and community members.

Chauvin’s position as programmer requires that they fill a semester’s schedule of roughly 100 show slots. Interest in WMUA has been so high, Chauvin says, that the schedule is 100 percent full for the spring semester without having to include any automated programming, something that hasn’t happened in roughly a decade.

Additionally, each semester WMUA holds DJ training seminars. Last semester’s turnout of about 100 participants was the largest the station has ever seen.

“Think about that,” Chauvin said. “One semester of graduated DJs would fill an entire schedule.”

The future

With such an overwhelming number of students eager to work with WMUA, DesRochers and Chauvin hope the station’s restructuring will allow for more student involvement. Other college radio stations – such as WHUS at the University of Connecticut and WRIU at the University of Rhode Island – operate a second, separate radio stream entirely online in order to accommodate growing numbers of DJs.

WMUA said in December it will begin to implement its programming changes in January and is in the process of writing a new station manual. These changes have faced criticism – hosts of “Focus” used airtime during its final show Sunday to question the decisions by student leadership – and some long-time members have publicly questioned the station’s future.

Despite the recent controversy surrounding WMUA, Chauvin looks to bring positive energy into the station and focus on what they anticipate will be a bright future.

“I see us being known for good things, and not this generation of department directors being known as the people who dismantled WMUA,” Chauvin said. “There are good things ahead, people just need for look for them.”

WMUA received its first award last year from the College Media Journal, which DesRochers likened to the “college radio form of Billboard.” The station won the “Small station, big idea” award and was nominated in the “Most creative” category.

Chauvin also looks forward to WMUA’s intensified concert schedule, which includes the upcoming Valentine’s Day concert featuring Eskimeaux, Told Slant and Florist. While in the past WMUA only put on one large show each year, last semester alone the station organized three concerts, something that DesRochers aims to continue in semesters to come.

DesRochers described his goals for the station going forward as being two-fold.

“The first is to increase our brand reputation as being a top college radio station in the area,” he said. “Second is to continue to foster an environment where students feel welcome coming in and learning and growing as the future broadcast representatives not only on campus but in our nation.”

Chauvin added that one of their goals is to “create a safe space for people to come in and share their art or whatever work they feel comfortable creating.”

Shelby Ashline can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Shelby_Ashline.

1 Comment

One Response to “WMUA eyes its future amid a series of significant changes, controversy.”

  1. Red Rocket on January 19th, 2016 7:27 pm

    Lies. The WMUA of Focus, Polka, Celtic Crossings, 9 Volt Heart, Wiggly World, and other great programs doesn’t fit the UMass Incorporated’s demand for complete and total control of university branding and messaging. It’s a corporate takeover of sorts, and with it comes the corporate mentality: Undemocratic, homogenized, bland, and stupid.
    The administration played DesRoschers and Chauvin like a two-dollar banjo. They didn’t arrange this dirty deal. They couldn’t arrange breakfast. Those burros won’t figure it out until they’ve graduated. WMUA will die on the vine over the next three years.
    The EComm and the Vice Chancellor’s office I can see are as pleased as punch they’ve destroyed a once-vibrant community radio station. They’re smiling like they don’t give a tinker’s cuss about how they’ve just walked themselves away from $30 grand a year in fund drive money. They say the SGA has gunny sacks o’cash they can’t wait to hand over to ‘MUA.
    Okay.
    But when the budget crunch comes in a couple of years and Stufjan Stevens records and on-air flatulence contests won’t cut the mustard, don’t come crying to the public hat in hand.
    WMU…who?

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