Vassar Today

Don't Touch That Dial

By Micah Buis '02

Radio at Vassar just got even better. Already one of the few college radio stations that is completely student-run — with no professional general manager — and where any student, regardless of major discipline or musical interest, can submit a demo tape and nab a spot as a DJ, WVKR-FM 91.3 now benefits from a new, state-of-the-art broadcast studio. And the results have been overwhelmingly positive.

After a studio renovation project that had Vassar radio temporarily located in a dorm room in Main House, in early February WVKR moved into its new broadcast studio. “DJs are commenting on how noticeably better their shows sound with the new equipment,” said program director Sean Anderson ’03. “Running a show is much more efficient and easier now. The renovated studio features equipment that would be in any commercial radio station nowadays.”


Emmy Bean '02
Emmy Bean '02

DJ Emmy Bean ’02 plays music from all over the world on her show Foreign Exchange.

At the center of the excitement is the new analogue broadcast console. While the studio modernization included new shelving units for CDs, carpeting, and other cosmetic repairs, the console — simply called “the board” by those working at the station — is the real baby for WVKR. With improved features, such as 23 channels, the ability to broadcast and record incoming telephone calls, and sliders rather than dials, the console replaces what Anderson described as “industry standard from the ’80s.” “The new console has basically brought the station up to modern standards,” agreed Rachel Kent ’02, WVKR’s general manager. “The old system was essentially antiquated when purchased in 1995. It consistently failed at meeting the demands of the DJs and the kinds of shows being produced.”

Since its humble beginnings as an AM station in the early ’70s, Vassar radio has regularly undergone improvements. On the air as WVKR-FM by 1975, the station began transmitting from the top of Main Building. This on-campus transmission continued until 1994 when it began transmitting from across the Hudson River in Mt. Zion, New York. With the power boost this transition allowed, WVKR transformed itself into a station capable of broadcasting to five states. And WVKR’s Webcast via RealAudio on the station’s Webpage,, has expanded potential listenership to global proportions.

But the station still has a few kinks to work out. Both Kent and Anderson noted the imbalance between the way the station serves the community and its on-campus presence. “In some ways, the ties between the greater community and the station are better than those between the station and the campus,” Kent believes, indicating that one-third of the approximately 70-person WVKR staff are community DJs. The station also demonstrates its dependency on the community through its September pledge drive, where each year between $20,000 and $25,000 is raised simply through listener phone-ins. “The community contributes generously in this drive and consistently expresses their appreciation for the diversity in programming,” said Kent. “While most commercial stations are geared toward one audience, as nonprofit, independent radio we can be flexible and cater programming to community interests [e.g., there is one show entirely in Polish]. The community listeners are responsive to this diversity.” Still, Kent feels that “the motivation to have a diverse station stems from Vassar’s own diversity.”

Addressing the delicate (and often difficult) balance between town and gown at WVKR, Anderson said, “We often have to ask ourselves if this is simply an educational opportunity for Vassar students or if this is a real radio station that serves the community. We are physically located on Vassar’s campus and receive some of our money from Vassar, but most of our listeners are from the community. We have a responsibility to both of these factions.”

Emmy Bean '02
Emmy Bean '02
To help achieve a better balance, WVKR has recently added a publicity/promotions director to its staff. This student promotes campus awareness of WVKR and attempts to interest more student organizations in the services the station can offer. In this way, WVKR hopes to increase its presence on campus without weakening any of its responsibility to or dependency on the community.

Now somewhat spoiled by its new broadcast studio, WVKR still looks to the future. Kent laughed as she admitted, “We would really love a new production studio now.”

Buis, VQ editorial assistant, recently graduated with a degree in English and a correlate in art history. He hopes to live and work in London.

Photos by Will Faller.