Wednesday, April 12, 2006
40 years later and the beat continues at WXOU
By Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer
|Jake Reading, program director at WXOU in the late 90s, works in the old studio in the Oakland Center. |
Enter the basement of the Oakland Center and you will hear it — the sounds of free form radio flowing from the speakers in the ceiling. Since WXOU radio station took up permanent residence in the Oakland Center, its diverse sounds have echoed through the halls exposing students to music they may otherwise have never heard. This year, WXOU is celebrating the station’s 40th birthday, reflecting on its history and planning for the future.
“When I got here, the station was really just a bunch of kids playing with equipment over a loud speaker in the Oakland Center,” Assistant Professor of Communication Tom Discenna said. Discenna, a 1988 OU alumnus of the College of Arts and Sciences, returned to OU in 1993 after completing his master’s degree from Northern Illinois, where he worked at a local public radio station. He served as faculty adviser of WXOU from 1993 to 2000.
Over the years, the station has evolved from a carrier current-based station only heard in two residence halls to an FM station that broadcasts free form radio around the world via the Internet.
“Free form radio, if done well, exposes you to new stuff. And you can use the Internet to find out about it,” said Mike Murphy, CAS ’01, former co-host of a WXOU show from 1999 to 2002. “Plus, frankly, there are three to four stations at any given time that do popular music and it’s hard to tell the difference between them. A student radio station should be, at least, distinct.”
In 1966, two students who were members of Radio Oakland, the radio broadcasting student organization at the time, began broadcasting via carrier current from a student’s room in Van Wagoner Hall. The station then moved to a storage room and broadcast a signal only heard in Hill House and Van Wagoner Hall.
Two years later, after much of the equipment had been stolen, the radio station moved to Vandenberg Hall and received $700 from the Radio Oakland student organization fund. Students then began broadcasting with 27 watts of power from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. In 1969, the power was increased and the station was available campus-wide from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Beginning in 1974, the station moved locations again, changed call letters and developed an advisory board to make sure it was meeting the student body needs. The station also started to receive funding from the student activities fee.
Discenna arrived at OU just in time to help the station jump from broadcasting strictly from a speaker in the Oakland Center to applying for an FM broadcasting license from the Federal Communication Commission. The process of getting the antenna in place and the station broadcasting took longer than expected, but in September 1996, the station began airing on 88.3 FM under the call letters WXOU.
“We had a very good student general manager and a good engineer so we kind of knew how to put it all together and what we wanted on the air,” Discenna said.
Due to FCC regulations, the radio station’s signal is limited in various areas and is not available to residence halls students or much of campus. However, in April 2005, WXOU reintroduced Internet broadcasting, allowing the station to reach an even bigger audience. The station had broadcast online in 2001, but had to cease Internet broadcasts due to high fees, which since have reduced considerably.
WXOU will make another enhancement sometime this summer when it installs the equipment that will enable the station to broadcast 24 hours a day.
While WXOU has changed over the years, the mission has stayed the same — to provide information and entertainment to OU and the surrounding community through diverse programming, reflecting the culture and interests of students and the university community, while teaching students at the station.
“Some of our students have gone on to careers in radio, but the more important thing for the station is that the students come in and learn about what they want to say and how to say it,” Discenna said.
For Murphy, who majored in journalism and is now in his third year of law school, getting involved with the station didn’t mean he intended to make radio broadcasting his career. Along with a friend, he thought being on the radio might be fun, but he also ended up taking something away.
“I have found that it definitely improved my public speaking skills, which is useful for almost any job,” Murphy said.
In recent years, students have become interested in getting involved with WXOU after what current faculty adviser Christine Cronauer, special lecturer in communication, explained as a rough time for the station.
|DJ Cynthia Kassab entertains WXOU listeners on Thursdays at noon. |
“When WXOU became FM, there was a real excitement for the radio station, but then things changed. Oakland University, two years ago, was at risk of not having a radio station,” Cronauer said.
The current staff came in and encouraged students to get involved again and made WXOU a place students want to visit.
“It was someone just taking charge. It’s really the staff that turned things around,” Cronauer said. “Our schedule is basically full. That’s unusual.”
The focus on the station also has shifted.
“We have started focusing on campus-related ideas,” said general manager Rob Frank, adding there is now a campus news show, coverage of the basketball games and more interaction with students and staff. “We have a strong working relationship with all student organizations and have more support from them.”
WXOU is open to all students who would like to get involved regardless of their major.
“Radio has an appeal no matter what major you are. We have a diverse staff,” Cronauer said. “We’re a tool for the students, a tool for the community and we are open to the public.”
For more information on WXOU or to get involved, contact the station at (248) 370-7273 or email@example.com or visit the WXOU Web site.