The live room in the middle of the WMUC radio station is usually uninhabited and open, but every Sunday night it thuds to the beats of Third Rail Radio.
A made-for-live-music WMUC program in its 14th year, Third Rail Radio gathers bands to play on air every Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m. Its next show will feature B.S.R., Hollywood, The Electrocutions, Radical Discharge and The Pilgrim. Sean Ye, a senior architecture and studio art major and Third Rail co-director, says the show is electric, as described by its namesake: the “electric-hot third rail” on a railway train.
Often, the diversity — and unpredictability — of Third Rail’s shows makes for an even more engaging live experience, said Christian Baer, a 2009 university alumnus and former live music director for WMUC.
“Some nights, we’d have a bunch of rappers come in,” Baer said. “Other nights, we’d have metal bands play with kind of more indie bands. Every show was unique in that way. You never really knew what you were going to get.”
Third Rail has previously hosted artists such as singer-songwriter Elliott Smith and pop-punk band The Get Up Kids. The co-directors described their experiences working with the different bands each week as once-in-a-lifetime. For instance, co-director and senior psychology major He Wang was given a producer credit on a collectible vinyl put out by the band Deceased after the band made a live recording at the WMUC studio. The vinyl is now worth $100, he said.
Third Rail’s practice of interviewing its guests between songs makes it a one-of-a-kind experience, Baer said.
“You really get to learn some background about the band you’re listening to,” Baer said. “Students will come in with an iPod and throw some stuff on, and you never really know what you’re listening to, or anything about the actual artist. But in this case, you actually get a chance to hear from the artists themselves — more about them and their music.”
Third Rail helps to put WMUC on the map, Baer said, because of the high-quality recordings produced from the live show. Senior environmental science and technology major and WMUC music director Chris Palardy said that although Third Rail shows aren’t always well-attended in the studio, the show is one of WMUC’s most downloaded programs online.
Matt Ibach — guitarist of Acid Queen, which has played on the show more than a dozen times in the past five years — said Third Rail’s easygoing atmosphere fosters a good vibe for the musicians and listeners alike.
“It just feels like you can liken it to playing a house show, in a way, where everyone’s on the same level,” Ibach said.
Ibach said Third Rail’s ability to produce live shows featuring a diverse lineup of bands each weekend is “remarkable,” and sets the show apart from other college radio shows.
Wang called live music a “different experience,” and Ye added that although the music industry is changing to more Internet streams and downloads, the value of live music is one that will stand the test of time.
“I think people will always like live music — that’s never something that’s going to go down,” Ye said.