WJSC: Sitting here in limbo

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WJSC: Sitting here in limbo

Mariah Howland

The sounds of silence mostly

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Radio Johnson, or WJSC, sits mostly unoccupied in the entrance of Stearns Student Center. Plagued by delayed technological updates and a lack of consistent student and staff support, the station endlessly plays one playlist, repeatedly cycling through the offerings.

The problems have been daunting. For example, Irving Payne, the technician hired by the school to upgrade the radio station and then train students to maintain the new software, fell very ill and left for medical reasons last fall. This left students with new tools but no knowledge of how to use them. On top of that, as soon as the software was installed and Payne had to leave, students went on Thanksgiving break. A few weeks later, the semester was over.

Despite a lack of student support, WJSC can afford to continue running. The station receives its money from the Student Government Association. This money is acquired through the Student Activity Fee, which every student, excepting EDP students, must pay to attend Johnson State College.

WJSC received $5000 to cover operating costs and FCC licensing for this year. The money used to purchase and install the software came from institutional funds.

As to who is charge, the answer is unclear. “I guess I am technically in charge of WJSC and Krista Swahn is the overall authority figure,” said Jon Willson, previously an SGA Treasurer and Senator, “The problem with this is that neither of us has any radio expertise whatsoever. We also have a lot of other time commitments. She oversees Student Activities and the SGA, and I’m a Break Away leader, so WJSC doesn’t top either of our priority lists. If WJSC were off the ground and running, I would technically be the operations manager at this point, but I’m sure that’s up for negotiation with Krista.”

Another managerial blow struck the station when Faculty Librarian Joseph Farara stepped down after many years as faculty adviser. Willson said that Farara cited family obligations as his reason for leaving.

Poor communication between the station and the IT Department also hindered progress. WJSC needed updated automation software, which was purchased. According to Willson, however, IT did not respond to installation requests until winter break even though requests were thought to have been submitted since the beginning of August. “Waiting for the automation to be properly installed killed much of our momentum as far as attracting students,” Willson said.

Krista Swahn, Director of Student Activities, explained that no one was at fault for the communication problems. “Out of the blue, I couldn’t use Help Desk. It took a month or two over the summer to figure out why I couldn’t enter requests,” she said.

Eventually Swahn had to be re-entered into the system from scratch. “In the meantime, I asked for help with the work order to have the software installed ASAP,” Swahn said. “I assumed that meant my work order had been submitted, but it had not. I thought I had done everything I needed to do, and they thought that I would submit the request when I could access Help Desk. It was a complete misunderstanding on both sides.”

So far Willson and fellow student Bridget Conway have discovered how to play basic playlists, and are hoping to have live shows up soon. Conway herself has her own show, “The Kitchen Sink,” which runs on Fridays from 10 p.m. to midnight.

“As of right now, I am the only DJ in the station with a show,” Conway said. “We as a station are trying to make sure we understand how to properly operate the system. It functions to the extent that we can broadcast shows. Right now we are working on making sure our recording booth is up to date so we can start recording and broadcasting promos and PSA’s.”

At one time, WJSC was prominent on both the campus and in the town of Johnson, with town residents DJing side by side with students.

JSC President Barbara Murphy remembers when there were morning talk shows where she herself would occasionally join a student DJ to discuss happenings around the campus. Over the years material has changed from talk shows, to music, to political shows. And yet, even back then, there would be times when there was so little activity that there was concern with whether or not there was enough aired material to avoid fines from the FCC.

However, the current decline in radio activity has been part of a long, slow, slippery slope. “Things fall off the radar for the wrong reasons,” Murphy said. She said that one reason JSC has a strong student newspaper is that it is part of the journalism major, wher as there is no current area of study dedicated to the radio station.

Assistant Professor of Writing and Literature Tyrone Shaw hopes that will change.

“I see WJSC as a potentially invaluable resource for the college and the wider community, and I think, given a few years, the station will be more vibrant, more responsive to campus and community needs, and just plain more exciting than it been in my nearly 20 years here,” he said.

Shaw said there is an obvious place for WJSC within the new Communications and Community Media major, which when it is launched in fall 2012 will feature three concentrations – Print and Web Community Journalism, Photojournalism, and Public Relations. “I see a fourth concentration, Community Broadcasting, within a couple of years,” Shaw said. “This concentration would focus on radio, drawing on an array of stations excelling in community radio for both inspiration and expertise.  To do this, we will need to build eight courses specific to radio broadcasting, and that work will begin, I hope, next year.”

Swahn is planning to initiate training sessions with students before the end of the semester. “We’re going to figure out how we’re going to identify whom we’ll be training first,” she said. “Logically we’d like anyone who has been a DJ before, but there are a couple of student groups who would like to use it as well. We’ll be retraining returning DJs and new folks as soon as I can get together with Jon to put together a training schedule.”

Murphy is optimistic as well. “I’d love to see a radio station that was very active with student leadership, and one that is open to the community,” she said. “I think it would be great to have a variety of music, and also have talk shows, either interview format or a panel discussion. I think the possibilities are wide open.”

“It’s been a tough slog, but we’ll get there,” said Shaw. “A radio station is complicated, and I give huge kudos to Krista, Jon, Bridget, Joe Farara and anyone else out there past and present who have struggled to keep it going until this all comes together. And it will come together.”

Willson hopes that anyone interested in being part of the radio stations’ resurrection will contact either him or Swahn. “I would love to extend an invitation to any willing student that can devote the time and effort necessary to getting WJSC up and running to do so,” Willson said. “Please come talk to me or Krista. If that student can make WJSC their number one priority outside of the classroom, then they will inherit a fully functional station that is only lacking in technical support.”

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