For college radio station and University of New Hampshire staple WUNH, the music never ends as it calls for community support and donations over its annual Marathon Week, running this year from midnight on Sunday, Nov. 11 to midnight on Nov. 17.
The week-long event marks the non-commercial alternative station’s one time out of the year it is legally permitted to directly ask its listeners for donations, acceptable through cash or check over the phone or text, or through credit card on its recently-renovated website; the station accepts donations year-around.
WUNH Business Manager and junior finance major Teddy McNulty – who manages the station’s finances, budget and relationship with the Student Activity Fee Committee (SAFC) – told The New Hampshire the station relies on local donations from community members and local businesses to stay at “100 percent,” as it cannot advertise directly over the air. He added that although donation levels over typical Marathon Weeks have been consistent in recent years, they are lower compared to years’ past as part of radio’s overall decline in listenership.
“The reason we do it, much like most public radio stations or non-commercial stations, is that we need to keep this operation running smoothly and providing the best possible content to the people, which is what we do, which is what our values are,” McNulty explained. “And so, by having Marathon Week, we’re able to keep the station afloat and keep the station running perfectly, and close the gap between our school subsidy and actually how much revenue we make.”
Over the course of the week, DJs are given handouts listing the prizes and donation levels, as well as reminders to promote Marathon Week and donation opportunities every one or two songs during their talkbacks instead of the normal three-song-long gap. Prizes donators can win range from WUNH-branded stickers and pens at $10 to t-shirts and a water bottle at $70; for those who donate $91.30 and above, donors receive all previous prizes plus a special WUNH tote bag.
In addition to DJ outreach in the booth, the station encourages nearby volunteers in the station’s headquarters on the first floor of the Memorial Union Building to pick up one of three phones out in the station’s lobby to deal with additional callers who would normally be put on hold on other weeks if more than one listener were to call in.
In spite of the occasion, WUNH’s show schedule remains mostly unchanged over the course of the week with the exception of the executive board working to keep the station playing 24 hours a day for the week. Unique to Marathon Week was “Exec. at Night,” which played at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 11 and saw the station’s executive board announce Marathon Week to listeners, how they could donate to the station and the various prizes donators can win if they donate.
Per McNulty, another highlight of Marathon Week – as well as one of a typical week’s most popular shows – is Saturday’s “Polka Party,” scheduled from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., where polka music and polka-themed shirts reign supreme; McNulty called the show a “cult favorite” among WUNH fans.
WUNH Events Coordinator and senior humanities major Rachael Moss, host of the Tuesday morning show “Who Are We and Why Are We Here,” explained that the main duties of an on-air DJ – playing FCC-approved songs and avoiding dead air, among other responsibilities – become even more important during Marathon Week, as she and other hosts attempt to “connect with our listeners” and encourage them to support what they enjoy.
“I try to remind them that everyone who works for the radio station is a volunteer, and that, you know, independent art is a relatively rare thing,” Moss said, “and if you have been enjoying it consistently as a sort of service to the public, then it’s worth taking a moment to sort of give back.”
Moss, who hosted recent alternative tracks and a discussion with her guests about the recent passing of Stan Lee and bullet trains on Tuesday, acknowledges how hard it is to persuade most listeners to donate in general, especially when the content they receive on WUNH is free to consume. Nevertheless, she stressed the importance of the week-long event and community support in general, given the expenses that come with running a non-profit college station despite university funding.
“I myself am taking steps to make sure that WUNH not only continues far into the future but also adapts to the times,” Moss said of her commitment to the station in making sure it does not become “obsolete.”
“That’s sort of the fear with radio, that it’s sort of going out of style and it’s not really needed anymore. But I’m working to make sure that this radio station in particular is offering services that can’t be taken away from the community.”
And it’s not just the DJs that share this sentiment.
“For my profession, when I’m older, I’d like to be on the radio, so that’s why I’m, like, starting my path for,” junior communications major Riley Nadeau said on her first day of WUNH training on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Nedeau described her experience as “very fun” as she discovered new songs and how to operate the equipment, adding that it is not her first exposure to the medium; her aunt works for iHeartRadio in Connecticut, and Nadeau aspires to do what she does.
Nadeau told The New Hampshire that Marathon Week and the potential for increased donations from the community benefits the station and student opportunities to experience radio firsthand, calling the occasion “a good thing” and one she would promote on a show of her own.
Although McNulty does not yet possess 2018’s numbers in terms of donations, he reported that, in past years, WUNH made between $13,000 and $16,000 in donations over Marathon Week.
“I think that it shows we have a dedicated base of people who enjoy the radio station,” he said. “I mean, radio as an art form is obviously going down in popularity, but the people around here really love WUNH and what we do for the community as far as providing people with music you really can’t hear anywhere else with freeform radio, with the opportunity to give exposure to underappreciated artists, which is not found anywhere else, especially in commercial radio.”