Hidden in plain sight: WJSC free-form radio seeks staff and audience


Students walk by it every day and don’t give it a second thought: Johnson State’s radio studio. Opposite Common Grounds in Stearns, DJs sit in the WJSC studio and broadcast anything from American roots music to sports talk shows to two-hour shows dedicated only to ’90s music. For some, it’s an invaluable part of the community. Others don’t even know it exists.

“I think [my favorite thing about the station] is the ability to communicate your enthusiasm for — in my case because I play music — certain kinds of music,” said Joe Farara, faculty librarian, previous club advisor to the radio station and current disc jockey. “And it’s a way of exposing people to some of the things I’ve learned and sharing it with them.”

Farara’s show is on Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m., and he plays American roots music. That includes mostly regional music from all parts of the U.S., like conjunto and norteno music from the Texan-Mexican border. People can stream the station online or tune into 90.7 to listen. “I play stuff you’re not going to hear anywhere else in Vermont,” he said. “I guarantee you that.”

Brittney Malik, an SGA member and a sophomore, started working as station manager this year. “What I want to push is that anyone can do it,” she said. “You can do whatever you want with your show. Just come in. I’ll teach you how to do it. Just don’t swear and you can talk for two hours if you want to about random things.”

Josh Lemay, a senior and a disc jockey with a show on Fridays from 4 to 6 p.m., expressed a similar sentiment. “I guess it’s a very free station,” he said. “Basically, as long as you follow basic FCC rules, you can do whatever the hell you want. You want to play The Wall in its entirety back to back? Yeah, go for it.”

“My show is indie and alt rock with some pop thrown in occasionally,” he said. “And David Bowie because I always have a David Bowie song.” He has been a disc jockey for the station since the fall semester of 2013, but there are fresh disc jockeys afoot, too.

Patrick Bell, a freshman whose show started recently, originally wanted to have a sports talk show but found that the station already had one. Now he’s designed it to be a mix of music and sports and some current events.

“If [WJSC] was a bigger program, it would probably get the time and effort [to make it more successful],” Bell said, “but there’s not a lot of people who are hugely committed to it, so it’s tough to keep it going as a well-functioning machine.”

Farara, having been part of the radio station for so long, was able to give some explanation for the lack of attention and popularity.

“When I came here, it was actually a club, and it was a popular club,” said Farara. “Over the 1990s, student participation started to dwindle. I think there were all kinds of reasons for that, but one of them is, particularly as we started to turn the corner to the 2000s, I think people started listening to more personal ways of getting music.

“I think that the whole idea of radio as a communal experience was less and less familiar to people as internet technology started to take over. So I think that was one problem,” he said. “The other problem was that when we were electing officers, students would often come and vote for their friends, and their friends may [have been] great people, but they were not necessarily good or dedicated managers. So that drove participation down even more.”

Farara wasn’t allowed to do the work necessary to keep the club running because he was only there to advise, even as students stopped doing the work themselves. As a result, the club was dissolved. Farara then had to step down as advisor due to personal reasons.

“We were kind of adrift for a couple of years,” he said. “When I was hiring for the circulation supervisor position, the fact that Jeff [Angione] had a lot of radio experience was an important factor in considering him as a candidate because I knew that we needed somebody like him to take over the station and keep it viable.”

The consensus is that Angione, now the advisor although it is not a club, is an integral part of the station.
“One of the great things that Jeff did when he came in was to change the automated playlist, which had been put together without really a whole lot of thought about the audience,” Farara said. “Jeff really diversified what it is we play, and the fact that people get to hear stuff they don’t hear anywhere else on the radio… It’s a great way of promoting the college and the cultural opportunities that are available through us.”

“I love music and I love radio,” said Angione, explaining why he wanted to be the advisor. “[The station] is a good outlet afforded to students and community members to express themselves. It’s free form community radio… [Free form] means that there’s no format. It can be anything.”

Angione is also the person people tend to contact when they are interested in getting a radio show, although they can also ask the station manager. Not only that, but he was the one who encouraged Malik to take on the role of manager.

“[My friend, Dana and I] went in to Jeff,” Malik said, “and we asked, ‘Hey, how do we start a radio show?’ He was like, ‘Well, these are all the things you have to do.’ And out of the blue, in the same meeting, he was like, ‘Hey, do you want to be the station manager?’… [Being the manager] has its bumps, but I like it a lot and I’m glad that Jeff sort of pushed.”

Despite Angione pulling the station together again, participation on campus is low. Malik reports that the highest number of people streaming over the internet is around 30, and there isn’t any way to track how many people listen over the radio.

Angione asserted also that the station suffers from lack of awareness: “The problem is, I think, most students don’t realize it’s even there. A lot of them don’t listen to radio anymore, even though they can pick it up on their phones through TuneIn radio. I think that’s probably its biggest weakness.”

He admitted to needing outside feedback, asking what else he could do to promote the station and give it more of a presence on campus. The station manager agreed.

“I want more student involvement,” Malik said. “That’s what gets a radio station up and going. There’s a lot of community members who have radio shows right now. We’re starting to get more and more student involvement, but it would be really great to get more students interested because once they do get involved, I feel like the campus would be like, ‘Oh, man, we have a radio station. We should listen to it.’ There are bigger opportunities that could happen with the station, like we could do live streams of sports events or events that are happening on campus. We could do stuff like that if people were more involved and interested in it and knew—because a lot of people don’t even know that we have a radio station. It’s like, ‘What is this room in the side of Stearns?’ That’s the radio station.”

She wants to really become familiar with the station this summer and then really try to draw in the freshman in the fall.

“Like everything else here,” Farara said, “I think students need to get involved.”

Programs range from the Sports Talk show Monday through Friday at 12 to 1 p.m. to Silk and Steel Power Hour x3 with Lance Hall from 6 to 9 p.m. Most shows run in the evenings. You can find more information at the JSC website.