After waiting patiently for two years to see what would happen to their beloved radio station, the staff of student radio station WMUC 88.1 got some good news Monday: They’re still on the air.
The last student-run college radio station in the Washington area caught a big break when they discovered that Baltimore’s WYPR didn’t overtake their frequency after the NPR affiliate finished increasing its signal strength by 5,500 watts March 17.
“We are definitely relieved,” said ScÃ¶tt Maxwell, WMUC’s general manager. “We just want people to know we’re no longer in danger and that the future of the station is, more or less, secure.”
Two years ago, the station’s signal seemed to be in jeopardy when WYPR announced it was going to increase its broadcast coverage, a move that some thought would force the 71-year-old WMUC off of the 88.1 frequency.
Legally, the comparatively tiny 10-watt WMUC station must accept any interference they receive from more powerful signals. WYPR also received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to go through with construction for their upgrades.
However, WMUC’s staff has had an inkling for some time that their station, which broadcasts in College Park and can be heard in Silver Spring and Washington, was safe.
About a year and a half ago, after the initial threat from WYPR, the station hired du Treil, Lundin & Rackley, Inc., an engineering company, to run an evaluation on how the Baltimore station’s upgrade would affect WMUC’s coverage. The results showed WMUC’s signal would possibly be weakened, but not necessarily wiped out, said faculty advisor Steve Gnadt.
However, there was no way to truly tell the effects of the change until the power went on.
“We felt pretty confident that we weren’t going to get knocked off, but we just had to wait and see,” Gnadt said.
WYPR president Tony Brandon called Monday to officially notify WMUC that his station was fully operational on their strengthened signal. Since the music was still playing, the college radio station knew they were in the clear.
But WMUC’s signal has shrunk slightly, and broadcasts that used to reach Laurel now only extend to the Capital Beltway, Gnadt said. However, the staff is still overwhelmingly content when they imagine what could have been lost.
“There was kind of an uproar two years ago,” Maxwell said. “People were saying, ‘Oh, this is the end of WMUC,’ and other things. But it looks like we’re safe now, and we’re really happy about that.”
However, the news that WMUC is staying on begs the question: Do students care?
Talking to students in the South Campus Dining Hall, it’s easy to get the impression that no one’s tuning in. Most said that they had never listened to WMUC before and most said they wouldn’t listen to it in the future.
Some students had no idea the university even had a radio station, even though it is housed in the same building they were sitting in for lunch.
“Oh, so that’s where all the music comes from upstairs,” said junior hearing and speech sciences major Ciara Lee. “Sometimes I walk by and hear music, and I wonder why people are playing music up there. They should publicize it more or something.”
However, even people who don’t necessarily listen seem to agree on the importance of having a student-run radio station.
“I think that there should be a radio station on campus for students to express their own opinions,” said freshman international business major Xenia Strunnikova. “Maybe we should start listening,” she said to her friends.
Having their own FM frequency is important to students, Maxwell said. The fact that advertisers know that the radio station is actually on the airwaves allows WMUC to offer tickets to shows and host their own events.
“One of my favorite things about having an FM radio station is that it gives us legitimacy,” said junior Paul Krolian, business manager for WMUC. “We just lucked out.”
Regardless of who is listening, the radio station has the opportunity to focus on upgrades of their own. Currently, WMUC is evaluating the cost of various options of increasing their coverage, including switching frequencies, Gnadt said.
That would suit WYPR just fine. They’ve offered to help WMUC change frequency multiple times to clear 88.1 for themselves.
“We think it’s great [that WMUC is still on], but it could be better,” Brandon said. “Although a frequency change would be to WYPR’s benefit, it would also help WMUC increase their broadcast coverage. All our discussions are aimed at a win-win situation.”
The DJs at WMUC expressed relief at the official announcement during a regular meeting of the radio staff. More than a few fists pumps accompanied several shouts of “Hell yeah!” when the staff heard that they still were on the air.
“It’s been hanging over our heads,” Krolian said. “I spend all my extra time at the station because it’s what’s most important to me at school. I’m just glad we didn’t have to put up a fight to gain back what would’ve been taken away.”