Radio stations at CMU and Pitt gain national recognition

Carnegie Mellon's WRCT-FM (88.3) won Soundtap Madness 2013. At Pitt, WPTS-FM (92.1) was honored with an mtvU Woodie nomination


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Radio stations at Pittsburgh's two largest universities recently won accolades in national contests that recognized not only the best stations, but also their reach.

Carnegie Mellon University's radio station WRCT-FM (88.3) drew on its loyal cult following recently to win the intercollegiate radio competition Soundtap Madness 2013, which calculated station listening time over 12 days.

Any college radio station with a large listening base was eligible to participate in the Soundtap competition, and this year WRCT went head to head with the country's top 64 college stations, including University of Chicago's WHPK, Harvard University's WHRB and Columbia University's WKCR. In the final round, WRCT beat out Rice University's station KTRU with a collective listening time of 3,387 hours.

"Winning the Soundtap competition was an indicator of our really strong audience base. We have very loyal fans, and they're the ones who helped us win the whole thing," said Allison Cosby, WRCT general manager.

In other kudos, the University of Pittsburgh's student radio station WPTS-FM (92.1) recently was among 10 top radio stations honored with mtvU Woodie Award nominations. The station, which evolved from WPGH, founded in 1957, offers commercial-free progressive music and culture across a wide variety of genres from folk to EDM to Viking metal. The winner of the Woodie was KSUA at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

Pittsburgh City Council will honor the Pitt station and its long history at the school with a resolution Tuesday.

CMU's WRCT has broadcast cross-genre tunes around Pittsburgh since 1949, but unlike most other college stations, it draws on an eclectic fleet of student and non-CMU Pittsburgh community members to host shows promoting their own music tastes.

WRCT DJ Michael "Zombo" Devine, 50, of Lawrenceville, for example, has spent 11 years with WRCT, and his show, "Zombo in Your Brain" -- which airs from noon to 4 p.m. Fridays and features a medley of disco tunes, punk rock, electronic mashups and indie rock -- is a testament to the station's diversity.

"At WRCT you can really get a sense of the DJs' taste. At other radio stations, you're told to play everything in the style of the radio station. I mean, even a computer or a chimp could do that," Mr. Devine said. "Even though it has a really nice cult following, I like to think of WRCT as Pittsburgh's best-kept secret."

Although WRCT receives funding from CMU's Joint Funding Committee, it runs uncensored by the university as long as it abides by FCC regulations, Ms. Cosby said.

In its glass-walled DJ station in the basement of CMU's University Center, WRCT also houses one of the largest university radio record libraries in the nation -- one that dates back to the '60s.

"Having access to all those old mediums is really cool. You get to feel like you're such a part of history. I mean, you're playing the same record that some DJ might have played in the '70s, and it becomes a meaningful part of the radio experience," Ms. Cosby added.

Despite the driving role that CMU students play in running the station, older WRCT alumni and Pittsburgh community members have been integral in preserving the station's history.

"The student DJs are coming and going, but the community DJs create the consistency of the station. The non-CMU people kind of stay around and create personas and niches for their shows that shape the station as a whole," Mr. Devine said.

"Our mission statement and our goal is to provide programming you can't get anywhere else on the radio dial. Some of these older DJs say, 'We've always wanted to have our own radio show' -- a lot of them are alumni or people who used to work at the university who have been around Pittsburgh for 20 to 40 years," Ms. Cosby said.

Mr. Devine said he believes that Pittsburgh's history with radio is a strong contributing factor in the loyalty of the college station's older Pittsburgh fan base.

"Pittsburgh has an incredible history with DJs and radio. Through the '50s and '60s, DJs were more popular than bands," he said.

As it looks to the future, WRCT hopes to involve the greater Pittsburgh community even more through collaborations with local businesses and dance party events that engage those beyond the CMU circle.

The station offers live-streaming at wrct.org, a website that also features articles about new albums and interviews with artists.

tvradio

Noel Um: num@post-gazette.com.


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