Big shake-up at a small radio station

You’d think a university wouldn’t need to tell everyone they were making their campus radio station more “student-focused.” But the University of Massachusetts, my alma mater, is doing just that with WMUA. This spring, the airwaves on 91.1 FM will have no more than 24 hours per week of non-student programming. This comes as a review committee checks out the controversy which led to the ouster of non-student DJ Max Shea and faculty adviser Glenn Siegel last spring.

For all this to make sense, you have to understand a little bit of backstory of the station.

Even as the radio voice of UMass, WMUA has enjoyed an awful lot of community involvement over the years- as in, tuning in meant you might hear a fellow student or you might hear a townie. Blocks of programming included jazz, world music, and even polka, so we aren’t talking about a typical college radio station that was playing Snow Patrol circa 1998.

Though the station was largely funded through student fees, community members always felt part ownership. It hasn’t been unwarranted.  Community DJs ate up time during the non-student-friendly hours when classes were being attended (early on weekdays) or hangovers were being nursed (weekends).  The signal from WMUA stayed strong through winters and summers because non-students felt like they were a part of the action.

My own show, Politics as Usual, was a student-produced Sunday morning outlier from 1998-2000. I was scheduled back-to-back with the late Ken Mosakowski, a nice older guy who would be cheering on Bernie Sanders each week if he hadn’t passed away some years ago. He was always remarkably nice to me despite our political differences, and I was really happy that I got to bump into him – by complete chance – on the day I graduated. Listening to the beginning of his show as I cleaned up after my own was fun and I learned a good bit from him about local politics. It was a benefit to have these folks around the station to serve as mentors.

Ont the other hand, the mission of the university – and, by extension, its radio station – is education, which means giving students the microphone. Reaction to UMass’s decision to focus on student-produced programming  drips with entitlement and self-importance:

At a press conference in the Bangs Community Center, community members said they are frustrated that mediation was not offered after they raised concerns about student leadership … 

Louise Dunphy, spokeswoman for the task force and host of “Celtic Crossings,” said she is particularly frustrated with what she sees as a “total absence of moral leadership” at UMass, pointing to a meeting she, Sax and community representative Maria Danielson attended Tuesday morning with Associate Chancellor Susan Pearson and Enku Gelaye, vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life.

“The very worst of our community played out in the chancellor’s office yesterday, when Associate Chancellor Pearson and Vice Chancellor Gelaye told us they would release a statement to the press soon while they had already planned a presentation with the students who have participated in conduct directly in conflict with university policy,” Dunphy said.

If I was a  student, or a parent writing checks to UMass, I’d wonder why the hell the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs is spending time meeting with a bunch of Amherst-dwelling hippies whose biggest beef is that their weekly volunteer world music radio show might get cancelled so that some Communications major can spin the Decemberists and Band of Horses for three hours. Pearson and Gelaye were right to dismiss these issues because they are non-issues. It’s disappointing to see adults getting so involved in the workings of a student radio station.

But like so many other things that UMass does, this has the potential to backfire. After all, the fact that no one listened to WMUA when I was a student had more to do with the advent of MP3s than people turning away from jazz or polka. College radio was the place to hear edgy, rare music once, but by the time the century turned people found that stuff online. Even back in 1997, older students told rookies like me that radio station jobs weren’t going to be easy to find as national syndication services edged out the old-school DJ-spinning-records model.

As both a reflection of UMass campus life and a training ground for real careers, WMUA may not be particularly relevant anymore. They can set aside programming blocks for students, but will the students actually want it anymore? UMass could find itself stuck with a choice: reinstate the dual student-community focus of WMUA, or be forced to shut the station down.

Hopefully, the students will come back – because even if radio is a dying medium, it’s still pretty cool to have a show.

One thought on “Big shake-up at a small radio station

  1. Yes, but I am not Louise Dunphy. I regret having anything to do with those loudmouth community members. They poisoned the well for me. They made every administrator they encountered after the sackings angry at them. Two years later I continue to podcast my program. UMass will never have to answer for their wrongs in re: WMUA.

    Why was WMUA so vulnerable? Because Glenn Siegel did not know how to run a radio station. He knew how to run a jazz concert program. He knew how to run his mouth. That was about it.

    I wanted more students on the air. I wanted better-trained students on the air. I wanted more diverse and higher quality music on the air. I wanted a lot of things, but Siegel & Co were too lazy and incompetent to deliver. In fact, when Siegel know I was on to him for shirking his job and telling lies, he explicitly made ME the whipping boy for the station’s problems. I tried to make that rat’s ass of a station a better place for 22 years. Creep Leninist college kids and creepy, money-grubbing administrators backed them up.

    I was the last hope WMUA had. The University made its decision two years ago. WMUA will not last until the end of the decade. The university will sell its license to NPR or some other interest, and UMass will have NO radio station for the first time in sixty-eight years.

    Your culprits of the events of two years ago were Glenn Siegel, Enku Gelaye, Maryanne Seiffert, Haley Chauvin, and Sue Pearson.

    Mind you, I had to wait an entire two years before I could call it safe to comment on the subject. My two-year banishment from UMass only ended this summer. I was banned because Haley Chauvin, the programmer, and her confused/hysterical woman-child friends felt “uncomfortable” with a man over 30 being on premises.

    My friend Louise Dunphy might be shrill and bad-tempered, but she did not cause the problems. Hysterical PC student-dictators and the overpaid administrators who pamper them were the cause of the WMUA disaster from soup to nuts!

    Yours truly,

    Max Shea

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