Campus News

WSUM celebrates 15 years on-air with more programming, community events

WSUM turns 15 Feb. 22 and continues to grow with plans to add more programming in the future. 

Image By: Alicia Shoberg

When WSUM went live at 2:22 p.m. on Feb. 22, 2002, it marked the first terrestrial radio broadcast by an official UW-Madison student radio station. That moment was the culmination of an almost 10-year struggle lead by Dave Black, then a journalism doctoral student, and Dr. James Hoyt, a former chair of the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

As the student-run radio station prepares to celebrate its 15th birthday with a weekend of community events, that struggle continues to impact both the station’s current operations and its plans for the future.

Although the station’s official birthday is Feb. 22, the celebrations will begin Friday at 5 p.m. with a three-way battle of the bands, followed on Saturday by an on-air trivia competition from noon to 9 p.m Saturday. The weekend will conclude with a takeover of programming by station alumni on Sunday, many of whom have gone on to careers in radio and television after leaving WSUM.

Its mission statement, created as part of the Federal Communication Commission license application process the station underwent in 1995, illustrates how the station’s roots continue to play a role in its operation.

“We had to use the mission statement a lot in our legal proceedings because we were accused, literally, of being a play-toy for university students,” Black, now WSUM’s general manager, said. “We had to commit that mission to memory and I've made sure it's posted around the station in two very prominent places.”

The three-part statement instructs station members to “act in a service and outreach capacity,” and tasks the station with being both “a teaching and learning community” and “an alternative source of information,” three goals which staff say continue to guide every aspect of the station’s operation.

Community service is an important and potentially overlooked component of the station’s “Snake on the Lake” concert held annually during the first week of September.

“It's free because it's our way of saying thank you to the community by bringing in really cool music and we do it during welcome week so freshmen get a sense of the cool things we do at UW-Madison,” Black said.

The station will soon add a second stream, available online, to supplement the current terrestrial broadcast channel. In addition to doubling the amount of programming offered, the second stream will not be subject to FCC language regulations, opening it up for different genres of music.

“Right now the majority of our programming is indie rock, alternative indie. Once 10 p.m. hits, we have our hip-hop block, our punk block on certain nights of the week,” Station Manager Aleesa Kuznetsov said. “Now we can have that all day and bring more people from those communities, not just the indie hipsters that are all over Madison.”

In her role as station manager, Kuznetsov has emphasized the importance of improving WSUM’s diversity and inclusivity, including organizing a diversity training for all staff members and station DJs.

“On a campus that we all know is not the most diverse it can be hard when most of our DJs and staff are white,” Kuznetsov said. “We do have a good amount of diversity and we're always striving towards that and it could be better. The second stream will help a lot.”

Both Black and Kuznetsov said no matter what direction the station takes, the focus will continue to be on the creativity and independence that have defined WSUM for its first 15 years.

“Regardless of what happens with technology going forward, this will be some kind of multimedia platform,” Black said. “It just has to be a place where the creativity isn't all squeezed out of it by some administrative strangulation or takeover by an administrative department.”

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