Local National Public Radio outlet WAER-FM 88.3 captures that excitement for new sounds by bringing students into the station on Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. for the program Real College Radio (RCR), as they spin musical upstarts that aren’t heard on the pigeonholed genre-specific commercial stations. Before RCR, which will soon celebrate its first anniversary, local ears were unable to locate tracks by Portugal. The Man, WolfMother, Young the Giant and bands such as those playing at the 219 Takeover! on Saturday, Sept. 17, including Beach Fossils, Widowspeak, The London Souls, Sophistafunk and The Vivian Girls.
WAER general manager Joe Lee loved the RCR concept, which would allow the station to unite with the student-run Syracuse University station WERW, now streaming online at www.werwradio. wordpress.com. “We decided to partner and create a program that would highlight music that you would typically hear on a college station because I think that is missing in this market,” Lee says. “There isn’t really a non-commercial entity that is playing music that features up-andcoming, breaking, little-known, emerging artists, whatever the term is you want to put on it. There is a void to fill there and that’s the direction we decided to go in with this program.”
Although WAER is primarily known as a jazz station, Lee thought the musical stretch wasn’t too much for the station’s audience. “We have some eclectic music programs on the weekends,” he says. “And what we’re trying to do is position ourselves as public radio for music lovers. So it fits well with the public radio demographic, which is folks who listen to public radio and have a keen interest in learning and discovering new things, including music.”
Lee says the audience feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for the program, which kicked off last fall. Marina Zarya, a former producer of RCR and now a graduate student at Syracuse, helped Lee brainstorm the idea while she was WERW’s general manager. Then she began picking the DJs, who had to submit soundcheck samples from their radio shows on WERW, which were then critiqued by Lee. There are currently 10 DJs who rotate among two Saturday shifts, from 8 to 11 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Zarya still DJs as well and sees the benefits on both sides of the sound waves. “We definitely wanted our students to have access to a professional studio like WAER, so part of the goal was very educational,” she says. “It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some of these kids to do a show on an NPR station. And radio nowadays, it’s all kinda the same thing. There’s a lot of Top 40, country, classic rock, they all have automated playlists and play the same music over and over. The point of radio is to bring new music and new cultural awareness to the community, and the best way is to get young DJs who are in touch with the music.”
Lee and Zarya both noted that several DJs are not broadcasting majors, just students who are extremely passionate about sharing their musical tastes each week. Yet responses to the program have been comparable to those garnered by professionals. Louis D’Adamio, a DJ and co-executive producer of RCR, has noticed the feedback: “During our Saturday programming we constantly get people calling in and telling us they love the show, they love how we are trying to change the radio and that they haven’t heard radio this good since the 1960s.”
Lee expects the program to keep growing as long as there’s an audience to support it. Part of the growth plan includes reaching out to students and the community through events such as the 219 Takeover! concert, which is sponsored by Real College Radio, WAER and the Syracuse New Times. “I thought it would be a perfect vehicle for us to get recognition for RCR,” Lee says.
Zarya agrees that the event is an ideal complement to RCR. “We definitely want to build our audience. We want to get involved with different things going on in Syracuse because the community is really growing here and there’s tons of music events and cool places opening up, interesting people and new students,” she says. “Our goal is just to keep expanding it and become a bigger presence in the Syracuse community and especially in the university. In crosspromoting with the 219 Takeover!, our goals are the same: to bring new music to Syracuse. And that’s what Real College Radio does.”