Take a look at the roof of the library the next time you’re in the middle of campus. If you have the right angle, you’ll see a small antenna strapped into what looks like an orange life vest. That antenna is WMCN’s, and it pumps out six watts of broadcasting power.
Six watts is about as small as a radio station’s power can be – for reference, KCMP (The Current) broadcasts at 100,000 watts and KUOM (Radio K) goes to 100. Broadcasting power determines a radio station’s broadcast range. Thus north of campus, WMCN’s frequency can be heard a few blocks past University Avenue, and to the Mississippi River in every other direction.
Having a small broadcast radius isn’t necessarily a disadvantage if we use it properly. As a representation of Macalester to surrounding neighborhoods, our radio station should provide an outlet for voices within the Mac-Groveland community, and broadcast the best ideas (and music) that our campus has to offer. Right now, the station is underutilized. We have more than 150 DJs (most of them with interesting shows), but no consistency. Hour to hour, shows are rarely alike, and listeners have no reason to tune in for more than an hour, for which time they likely to listen to their friends play music.
College radio stations are giving up their frequencies left and right, in favor of online-only streams. To my knowledge, WMCN is one of only three college radio stations left in the Twin Cities with a frequency. There are real advantages to ditching the antenna, including lower operating costs and freedom from censorship. However, the informal consensus amongst current WMCN staff members and DJs is that we shouldn’t give up the frequency, the thought being that broadcasting over the air gives a radio station more legitimacy.
By extension, this desire to hold on to our our frequency means that we want to continue to offer our content to a relatively small, local community. The problem is that our programming is inconsistently relevant to anyone physically located in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood or even on Macalester’s campus. This makes us unaware of (or unwilling to acknowledge) the privilege that comes with going to a school willing to front the bills for mostly unsupervised student-run groups. Essentially, considering our densely populated urban location, WMCN selfishly keeps a sought-after frequency off the market, depriving groups that could do community radio properly from an outlet to broadcast. The way we run the radio station right now makes us entitled.
In its current state, WMCN makes a great internet radio station. But our frequency and license to broadcast, and the desire to hold on to that license, means that we have an obligation to provide programming relevant to our community, on-campus and off. If we are going to impose ourselves on the people of Lexington-Hamline, Mac-Groveland, Highland, Summit Hill, West Seventh or any other areas where WMCN’s frequency can be picked up, we need to have programming that is representative of what is happening at and around Macalester.
We should seek to break down barriers between Macalester and those who live and work around it. WMCN doesn’t consistently do that right now, but there are easy fixes. This summer and next semester, WMCN is changing how it schedules shows. In addition to phasing out one-hour shows, we are going to implement block scheduling, which is standard procedure for radio stations. Though student shows will still make up the majority of WMCN’s programming, we hope to give prime time slots to orgs, academic departments, identity collectives or any group on campus that wants an outlet for its ideas (or just wants to play music with a theme). This will make programming a little more consistent on a day-to-day basis, which is what we need if we want to build an audience for WMCN.
It is time for those involved with WMCN in any regard to seriously consider the responsibility that comes with being given a license to broadcast. It is also time for Macalester as a community to take more ownership of its radio station. Applications for Fall 2015 radio shows are available now at wmcn.fm/apply, and are due by April 30.