May 2017
Macalester radio station booth

Community building is a trademark of college radio, and it certainly is for Macalester College’s station, WMCN. Dave Collins, Macalester College librarian and a WMCN broadcaster, has been helping with the station for nearly 30 years, starting when he was a student himself. “The station engages a large amount of students. It broadcasts across campus and the station covers a large chunk of hours,” Collins said. “To broadcast this much the station has 70, 80 often upwards of 90 students involved. In that sense, it’s one of the larger groups on campus — not to mention the listenership.”

Thirteen of Minnesota’s Private Colleges have college radio stations; all of them are student led with a focus on serving the campus community. Some are long running stations that started as early as the 1940s, others are recent additions utilizing new online steaming platforms to provide radio to their campuses. Stations have a range of music, talk radio and sports broadcasts that often stream or play 24-hours. Many of the older radio stations have added streaming to keep up with the modern listener.

WMCN  is one of the older stations, broadcasting since 1961 and as a student-run station, things can be interesting. The station has focused on supporting and promoting students including their bands. Collins remembered a unique technique to get student bands on the air. “Bands would play in the student union right outside the radio station doors — often there was a mic hanging over the balcony catching the concert, perhaps unbeknownst to the band,” Collins said.

College radio is changing with the times — WMCN now contends with podcasts and Spotify. “A couple years ago at the station training someone had mentioned that they didn’t own a radio,” Collins said. “That’s was a reality check for me.”

WMCN now gets the majority of its listenership from online streaming — but live radio isn’t going away. “The idea of broadcasting on the air is going to be increasingly a new thing for people; anybody can create a podcast and put it out there but there’s something special about doing it live on air,” Collins said.

“There are parts of the station where it’s the same furniture and equipment as 30 years ago but for each incoming class of students it’s brand new,” Collins said.

College radio has been in the news recently with Minnesota Public Radio turning 50 years old this year. The network was started on the campus of Saint John’s University by faculty and a former St. John’s college radio station manager.

By Tom Lancaster