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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Thursday, February 29, 2024

WSUM tower alters student radio

In a bridge between the east and west Towers residence halls on State Street lies an office. It buzzes with people working hard to produce quality programming for WSUM, Madison Student Radio. Some UW-Madison students may find it surprising that their campus does, in fact, have an operating music station, because for several years it has been without a radio signal and has relied solely on Internet broadcasting from the station's Web site, . Over the four years that WSUM has been in existence, there has been a continuing struggle to implement radio broadcasting, although a license was given to the station by the Federal Communications Commission to allow for broadcast. 




As the struggle to start the station for the students of UW-Madison moved into its second year, the students once again petitioned, this time for building a radio tower in Montrose. More than 8,000 signatures were gathered, according to the WSUM Web site. In September 1997, WSUM finally started putting out programming over the Internet when those behind the station realized that the official launch date on the FM band would be pushed back once again. The 'netcasting' was not only an important way to prepare on-air talent, but it was something to fall back on, to ease the fear of those who thought the station would never get off the ground. 


The present: battle over the tower

If the license has been granted by the FCC for broadcasting, why can you not tune your FM radio dial and hear broadcasting from WSUM? The answer, although complex with legal proceedings, is simple in nature. The station has been authorized to be on the radio band at 91.7 FM and was licensed for 5,600 watts, but the necessary tower has yet to be constructed due to lawsuits filed by the town of Montrose, the site for tower construction.  




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According to the WSUM Web site, the FCC has very strict engineering rules, which restricts the station to a four-square-mile area in Montrose, approximately 20 miles southwest of Madison.  




'When the FCC grants anyone a license, it is not only saying you can operate a station, it guarantees to protect your signal from intrusion,' said WSUM General Manager David Black. 'According to current FCC rules, we would be intruding on someone else's signal if they allowed us to simply throw a transmitter on top of a building on campus.'  




The primary legal proceedings have surfaced because residents in Montrose do not want the tower to be built in their town. 




'The reason given is that 'a playtoy for university students' doesn't justify the unsightly tower,' Black said. 'Many reasons have been stated, including aesthetics, local control, dislike for students and what they are likely to broadcast and a disagreement with how the station will be run.' 




Residents of Montrose fear the character of their town will be altered by the tower. 




'[The residents of Montrose] believe that the tower will negatively affect the rural character of their community, and that the developmental land use is not consistent with what they believe the land should be used for,' said LaMarr Billups, special assistant to the chancellor. 'Since we are an agent of the government, a state university, we applied for the conditional use permit, which has been approved. That allows us to put up a structure.'  




On April 19, the Dane County Board of Supervisors affirmed the decision of the Zoning and Natural Resources Committee to issue UW-Madison a conditional use permit. An appeal was made to the Dane County Board of Adjustment by the town of Montrose on the grounds that the permit expired during the legal battle. The appeal was defeated by a 3-0 vote by the Board of Adjustment. 




The tower is expected to be constructed sometime this fall. 




'A lawsuit has been filed by the town of Montrose, but the judges haven't ruled whether the suit has standing. There has been no ruling or no date has been scheduled yet,' Billups said. 'We are proceeding, and if we get the contract signed, we will start building the structure and keep moving down the path.'  


The future: effects of the tower

When the tower is built and FM broadcasting goes into effect, changes are expected to take place for the station and the programming.  




'I think we are always trying to improve and expand and get better. Radio stations by their very nature change very quickly and we certainly expect more people to be involved here and we will offer more curricular activities, as well as noncurricular,' Black said.  




When the tower is constructed and FM radio broadcast is implemented, the listening audience of WSUM is expected to increase.  




'I expect exponential changes. The numbers right now are dismally small'single digits most of the time,' Black said.  




'We are not reaching the potential number of listeners we can reach once we broadcast over the air,' said Heidi Kong, WSUM station manager. 'Though some students can easily access our programming through the Web with their high-speed Internet access on campus, many members of the community cannot because they do not have the Internet connection necessary to enjoy our programming. Until high-speed Internet access becomes more widespread and accessible, the best method to reach our audience is through the radio.' 




WSUM has two main broadcasting departments: music and talk radio. The music programs feature a variety of genres and styles of music, from country and rock to electronic shows and experimental music. The talk department also has a range of programs, such as WSUM news and sports talk. 




'WSUM's music policy is pretty open and unrestricted. We have no formatted playlists, no rotation like many radio stations have. We try not to duplicate the programming of existing radio station in the Madison area,' said WSUM Music Director Greg DL. 'The music and format will not change greatly once we broadcast on the radio, but we are obviously looking at different ways to improve.' 


The past: before the tower

The history of radio broadcasting on the UW-Madison campus does not start with the creation of the current WSUM Internet station. In 1952, stations were created in the dorms and remained there for over forty years.  




According to the WSUM Web site, for the entire existence of WSRM in the Southeast dorms there was no actual radio broadcasting involved. The station's signal was transmitted by the electrical circuit in the building and served only the dorm buildings. This was also true of the Lakeshore dorms' station from 1952 to 1984, first called WMHA and later changed to WLHA. Later on, WLHA switched to low power FM, which was illegal. In 1993, an anonymous complaint was sent to the FCC regarding the use of FM by the dorm's station, which resulted in the end of WLHA broadcasting. Both stations were part of the residential dorm system, and were neither endorsed nor supported by the student government or the administration of UW-Madison.  




In the summer of 1993, the student government at UW-Madison, then called the Wisconsin Student Association, was disbanded after the right-wing 'Kill WSA' party was elected by the students. When the 'Kill WSA' party was elected, there was virtually no student government platform until 1994, when the Associated Students of Madison was chosen to be the constitution.  




'Priorities of ASM were to get a broadcast voice for the students on the airwaves,' Black said. '[ASM] had the classes of '94 and '95 commit the money necessary for start up, for construction of the tower and the equipment. Every year ASM has been very supportive.'

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