Exhibit Showcases Campus Radio Station WMUC
An exhibit documenting the rich history of the University of Maryland’s radio
station opens Friday, September 20.
“Saving College Radio: WMUC Past,
Present and Future" showcases the student-operated station that has served as a
training ground and creative outlet for students since 1948, making it one of
the nation’s longest continuously operating college radio stations. As a
platform for alternative programming, WMUC remains the only alternative music
station in the D.C. metro area.
“Radio stations are hubs of cultural activity and embody local traditions
and culture,” says Laura Schnitker, curator of the exhibit and sound archivist
at the University Libraries. “In addition to being the voice of the campus
community, WMUC is important because it provides an alternative to commercial
Top 40 or talk radio.”
Offering the student perspective of key historical
events and campus happenings, the exhibit draws from more than 1,800 audio
recordings as well as reports, administrative files, brochures and photographs.
Materials in the WMUC Collection are part of the University Archives and
document cultural, music, sports, and news programs.
Among the highlights
of the exhibit are: early 1970s audio recordings of Vietnam War protests on
campus that drew thousands of demonstrators; a station ID, or short on-air
promo, that John Lennon recorded for a WMUC deejay at the press conference
accompanying the Beatles’ first U.S. concert at the Washington Coliseum; station
IDs recorded by other celebrities including Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, Phyllis
Diller and Frank Zappa, among others; and information about Yesternow, the
station’s first ongoing program to both feature and target African Americans and
other student communities.
The exhibit underscores the UMD Libraries’
efforts to preserve the university’s student radio heritage. Robin Pike,
manager of digital conversion and media reformatting, leads a team of
specialists working to digitize the station’s audio recordings and print
materials, important to the university because they are unique, at risk and
irreplaceable. Quarter-inch, open-reel audio tape, for example, will be
preserved according to national standards and practices and ingested to a
digital collections repository, ultimately to be made available to researchers.
Preserving the items is especially challenging, she says, because of the
rate at which the media degrades.
“We don’t have much time left,” says
Pike says. “Most magnetic audio tape has approximately 15 years left before it
degrades beyond a point where the content can be saved.”
One way to
restore open-reel tapes so that they can be played and digitized is to bake them
in a special oven at 120 degrees for one to two days. The oven, she says, is
similar to those used in science labs, with heat lower than that of a toaster
oven. “We only get a few chances to play and digitize the tapes after baking
them,” Pike says. “This doesn’t preserve the items, but it does temporarily
University-sponsored radio started in the early 20th
century, often by engineering departments seeking to provide students with
broadcasting experience in the experimental medium. After World War I, about 200
licenses were granted to educational institutions. By 1938, however, fewer than
40 college stations were still on the air due to the rise in commercial networks
and the increasing value of airwave space.
WMUC mostly emulated
commercial radio until the 1970s, when new FM technology and the freeform
movement offered more experimental approaches to broadcasting ushered an era of
experimental, free-form radio.
Schnitker, an ethnomusicologist, hosts
a Thursday-morning WMUC radio show Bohemian Challenge. She appreciates
firsthand the significance of college radio. “It’s such a valuable creative
outlet, not only for those involved in its production but also for the
listeners,” she says. It really is a public service.”
wide-ranging collection of resources documenting the history of radio and
television broadcasting, the University of Maryland Libraries is the home to the
National Public Broadcasting Archives and the Library of American Broadcasting.
Admission to “Saving College Radio: WMUC Past, Present and Future” is
free and open to the public during the Maryland Room Gallery’s open hours
(Monday - Friday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Wednesday 10 a.m. – 8pm, Sunday 1 p.m. - 6
For additional information about the exhibit and opening go to:
or contact Laura Schnitker at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-405-9255.
The University of Maryland Libraries comprise the largest academic
library system in the Washington D.C.-Baltimore area. The eight-library system
supports the teaching, learning and research needs of University of Maryland
students and faculty.