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Middlebury Radio Speaks Volumes

By DOMINICK TANOH

The first WRMC show is still memorable. On a chilly September morning, my two co-deejays and I shook ourselves out of our beds, trekked to Proctor , and climbed to the WRMC studio. Excitement kept our heads up as the bell tower struck 4 AM in the morning. We slipped our headphones on our heads, opened our playlist, and became radio rebels, beaming out to all three of our listeners in the Greater Champlain Valley.

Since 1949, WRMC has offered the same excitement to generations of Middlebury College students. Outside of the broadcast booth, events such as Sepomana , the Grooveyard, and S.O.S Fest give the radio station a unique and powerful influence on the live music scene on campus. In order to better understand the structure and misconceptions surrounding WRMC, the Middlebury Campus sat down with the station’s general manager Meghan Daly. The following interview has been edited for clarity.

Middlebury Campus [MC]: What would you say is WRMC’s role on campus?

Meg Daly [MD]: I think WRMC plays a very interesting role on Campus, because it’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, student org on campus. We often have about 150 DJs per semester, but not so many people will show up to every weekly meeting. So I think it’s hard to say what WRMC’s role is because it kind of flies under the radar despite being such a huge org and broadcasting to the entire Champlain Valley. Another part of our role on campus is providing concerts for people. That’s our most visible role.

MC: With events like Sepomana, Grooveyard, and S.O.S fest, WRMC definitely does feel like one of if not the source for live music here on campus. With that kind of responsibility, do you think WRMC does a good job inviting people that appeal to a broad cross section for the community?

MD: That’s another good question. We do want to find acts that will appeal to everyone, but at the same time we want to attract acts that normally wouldn’t come to Vermont. For example, I couldn’t see an act like Noname coming otherwise, because there is not a huge hip-hop scene in Vermont. We’ve booked artists who’ve responded to our emails asking ‘where is Vermont?’ As much as we want to appeal to everyone, there is an intentionality to be bringing artists who are underrepresented on this campus. An act like Noname was the perfect balance of both.

I think sometimes WRMC has a reputation of bringing super obscure artists, but that’s never the intention. We bring them because we think it will be a really good show, and we’re limited by budget too.

MC: Can you talk more about the funding you get for these events?

MD: All of our funding for programming will come through the finance committee. Any profit we do manage to make off of sales will go into are gift accounts to use for things like snacks for a gen board meeting. Suffice it to say that we don’t get as much funding as MCAB, so that’s why they will usually put on bigger concerts than we do. But we just kind of find an artist we like and reach out to their booking agent with dates. I’ve made [the requests] very personal in the past if it’s an artist that I feel very happy about. Often times we’ll get a response like ‘all right, they can come for $10,000’ and we reply that we have maybe a thousand. And they’ll do that. So they highball us quite a lot. But I’m definitely proud for the acts WRMC has brought in the past. I think there have been some pretty special shows in the mix.

MC: When seeing the executive board of WRMC for the first time, I think many people carry the assumption that most if not all of you are culturally tied to the Mill. In your words, what kind of culture do you think WRMC perpetuates for itself?

MD: So… I ran for general manager actively trying to work against that. I’m not part of the Mill, even if I guess I look like it. But, I think two of our board members live there and others have in the past, so it’s not an unfair assumption at all. The board is largely part of this White hipster culture which often congregates in the Mill, at least in years past. My policy has been that we’re not going to have any events in the Mill because I want to break that relationship between the two because I think it does a disservice to both organizations. People who might want to be part of WRMC but dislike the Mill might be scared off by that and vice versa. I think they should be two very distinct organizations. I don’t know when they got so fused together. It’s not a relationship that I want to encourage. But that’s the general impression of WRMC on campus and we’re still trying to figure out how to dispel that notion and not make people feel WRMC is the most pretentious thing ever, especially because there are times in the past where it has been. It’s a tricky thing figuring out the relationship between WRMC and the Mill and convincing people that they are two different things.

But the flip side of that is that when anyone brings a counter cultural artist, people will just call that pretentious. Sometimes it is trying to fill an alternative niche on campus, because sometimes that is necessary. People might want to see something different.

MC: What is it about these two orgs that creates such a feedback loop between them?

MD: I’m not too sure what the Mill’s purpose is, but I think it focuses on people with alternative tastes. A lot of people in WRMC have similar tastes for the alternatives. And in the past, our bigger events have been at the Mill so the first time people were introduced to WRMC was at the Mill. A lot of the board has historically been part of the Mill. It makes sense that a lot of people in an art’s house would like music, so it’s natural. But I don’t think the conflation serves either.

MC: How does WRMC go about finding a balance between its alternative tastes and DJ’s who might want a more mainstream style program?

MD: Even though WRMC does tend to gear towards the alternative, we’ve always had a lot of pop shows. This year we’ve tried to be intentional about disregarding hierarchies of taste and saying no genre is inherently better than any other unless it’s blatantly really offensive. But we’ve always had really diverse programming. For example some people are going to start live casting Middlebury Union football games for us. It’s a misrepresentation of WRMC to say that it’s only the alternative, but that is its reputation. I hope that people don’t think they have to seek out a really obscure genre for a good show. Often the best shows just have a cool concept.

MC: When you have an org whose leadership is part of very select groups, does that feed into the perpetuation of its culture and who gets the best times?

On our application, questions of whether you know anyone on the board are to help us remember if someone was really excited about the radio or music in general. It’s helpful  in that respect, but I can also see why people might think ‘oh if I don’t know someone on the exec board, what does that mean for me and my show?’

MC: What do you want people to associate WRMC with?

MD: It’s easier to say what I don’t want them to associate us with: pretentious hipster culture. I’m not trying to shirk responsibility for that since WRMC has perpetuated that in the past and probably still perpetuating in ways I’m not aware of and for that I’m sorry and I’m working hard to try not to. I don’t want people to look at radio as something for the hipster weird kids. I want it to be for everyone. I selfishly want people to love radio. I think a big thing is trying to make the music scene at Middlebury more cohesive because you have the Gamut Room crowd or the WRMC crowd and the acapella crowd. All of us are equally invested in the music scene so I think trying to partner and collaborate with them will hopefully be helpful.

MC: What does inclusivity in radio look like?

I think a huge part of it is making WRMC a comfortable space that they can be in without worrying if they’re cool enough. Also there’s a mission statement of no racism, sexism, queer phobia, and just not being a bad person. There have been instances in the past where offensive things were said and we’ve had to talk with people about why it’s not ok. It’s definitely a topic that we’ll be exploring a lot this year. As a general manager I want to be as directly engaged with the question as possible.

MC: Where is WRMC going?

MD: As far as where things are going, I kind of want to flip that back on the DJs because I’m only one person and the board is only 10 people and it’s really up to the DJs to say if they want to engage with that or not and I’m not faulting people who don’t. But the executive board can only do so much to shift the culture and it has to be a collaborative effort between everyone.

I just hope WRMC feels like a fun thing for people to do and that people are interested in it and curious about it. In the past it seems like WRMC could be an unhealthy environment for the amount of time people put in or unhealthy attitudes about music or coolness, but this year I want it to feel like place people are happy to be involved in and they don’t force themselves into it. Obviously, my dream as someone who is absolutely in love with radio is that other people will absolutely fall in love with radio, but that’s my selfish dream and that’s not what needs to happen. I just want people to have a good time and treat each other well and get something out of it. We’re not trying to take over the world. We just want it to serve the people well. It’s something for the 150-200 DJs who feel good spending a few hours a week doing this thing.

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