If you’re driving around the Seacoast and tune your car radio to 91.3 FM, or you pull up “wunh.org” on your computer and click play on a live stream, or you happen to walk down the dimly lit basement hallway of the Memorial Union Building (MUB) and come within a 10-foot radius of the door marked by a neon sign, you’ll hear the music of the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) own radio station: WUNH-FM, “The FreeWaves”—a student and community operated musical bridge between UNH and the outside world.
WUNH just experienced its busiest time of the year, hosting two back-to-back specialty events: Vinyl Week from Nov. 10 -17, and Marathon Week from Nov. 17 – 23.
Staff members and DJs are constantly busy, filtering in and out of the WUNH station, sifting through records, eating sushi from Union Court and working on their computers. Walk into WUNH and you’ll spot walls covered in a collaged assortment of band posters and desks scattered with CDs sent from promotors and record labels. With a DJ always on air in the room next door, the simultaneous muffled sounds of a live show can constantly be heard alongside the crystal-clear feed from the speakers overhead.
“[Vinyl Week] is a great week because so many DJs are coming into the station collecting vinyl to prep for their shows, so the station is always full of life,” junior psychology major Sophie Topouzoglou said, who often uses her airtime to showcase her favorite artists that include underrepresented bands comprised of women and other gender minorities.
Vinyl Week is a semi-annual event that has been a part of WUNH history for over 30 years. The prevailing rules of Vinyl Week are such: no top 40 music off of the Billboard Hot 200 from any year can be played—and it has to be manually played off of a record. This means DJs head into the office hours ahead of time in order to sift through the racks of vinyl, pull out and screen applicable records to make up their show.
“Vinyl Week is something special,” senior business major Teddy McNulty, WUNH’s current general manager, said. McNulty hosts two shows – one general programming and one focusing on punk music – on top of overseeing and managing the station behind the scenes. “Vinyl junkies, like myself, adore vinyl week, since it gives us the chance to return to a different, more tangible form of audio broadcasting.”
With over 60 DJs – from college students to community members – WUNH is an eclectic group that serves to provide listeners with variety. The station follows a “60/40 rule,” restricting DJs to play a show that is 60 percent new music that has been released within the past 10 weeks and 40 percent of anything they choose. Typically, a majority of the music is digitally broadcasted, with DJs referring to a binder chock-full of new, applicable music that they can choose from for their show that is created weekly by undeclared sophomore music director Braeden Hale.
During Vinyl Week, however, the normal routine of DJs is shifted. The station is filled with records that were sent back in the 70s and DJs have to search through these racks, or bring records from outside the station in order to find music to fill their show. They aim to avoid popular artists like the Beatles or Bruce Springsteen to search for more unknown music—or at least Beatles’ deep cuts. This process is a challenging feat for some DJs.
“Lots of people who like new music just prefer to avoid vinyl,” explained Hale, though some DJ’s broadcasted shows clearly utilized records that had recently been made, such as Lauren Hellman’s show “Vinyl Week I’m Spooked,” featuring the 2007 album “In Rainbows” by Radiohead, or Sam G’s show “Heavy and (decidedly) Eclectic Vinyl Week Tunes,” featuring a track from the 2017 album “Emperor of Sand” by Mastodon.
Many people assume that in the new era of streaming, vinyl is of the past. An employee at “Strange Maine” record store in Portland, Maine, explained that popular bands like Radiohead are rarely sold at record stores because their peak of fame came amidst the CD era.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), however, recently released a mid-year report that predicts that records will outsell CDs in 2019 for the first time since 1986, an impressive feat all under the veil that streaming makes up 80 percent of U.S. Music Industry revenues. With the rise and fall of CDs and the resurgence of vinyl, the station is being sent more and more records.
“Teddy [McNulty] and I love to play Vinyl Roulette,” Hale, the host of the show “Sidewalk Rock,” which is a mix of anything from indie to metal to electronic, said. “We pick random albums out of the stacks and play them. It’s so fun, especially if the album art is cool—or if the album art is awful. Exploration is the best part.”
Delving into deep cuts steers college-aged DJs away from cultivating their shows using Spotify algorithms that are geared to provide them with music they will like, and instead encourages a process of trying to find music by experimentation.
“On a regular week I listen and prepare in the week leading up to my show by using Spotify to create playlists and preview music,” said junior studio art and education major and assistant music director at WUNH Catrina Marr, who hosts a show called “Curveball,” a variety show featuring rock, rap, ambient, folk and funk music. “In contrast, for Vinyl Week, I’m in the station browsing shelves and previewing stacks of albums weeks in advance. I do a LOT of listening and experimenting leading up to Vinyl Week.”
Not only is the planning process for Vinyl Week strenuous, but once the show is up and running DJs have to keep up with the demand, with active listeners calling in and supplying requests.
“Everything about the week is physical, deliberate and unique for each DJ; the previewing, picking, playing and properly putting away of vinyl that goes into every broadcast during Vinyl Week requires the attention and devotion of the person behind the board,” Marr said. “Which is why the week is so rewarding and special for both DJs and listeners.”
John Prendergast, a 56-year-old music obsessed DJ who has been at the station since 1984, has had the unique ability to get to know the team of student DJs that come in and out of WUNH for the past 35 consecutive years.
“[Vinyl Week] changes my show because I’m inclined to play more contemporary music, whereas most everyone else is reaching back further into the past,” said Pendergast, who runs a specialty show “Tuxedo Junction” consisting of American Popular music from the mid-20th century from 1925 to 1975.
Junior English major and host of the show “Cartons and Planes” Nikita Serdiuk emphasized that despite the stressful nature of Vinyl Week, there is a unique opportunity to provide listeners with a special show.
“Records are definitely more fun,” Serdiuk, who usually plays electronic music during his show, but found a hidden gem compilation record in the station and enjoyed mixing it for the entirety of his two-hour slot. “We have three turntables and you can actually play from more than one at the same time.”
With shows from “Polka Party” to “Rock is Dead” to “Pre-Scientific Fractals, Rhizomatic Meta-Loops and Other Semisonic Post-Capitalist Backspatter,” the station houses a variety of different music.
“I love to find new music, especially from unknown artists or bands,” McNulty said. “As a DJ at WUNH, I get privileged access to a goldmine of music spanning from the 1930s to last week, with a lion share of our music being sent to us by promoters and record labels. My music taste has expanded immensely since becoming a DJ—my favorite bands have all been discovered through WUNH.”
As a non-profit, non-commercial college radio station, WUNH is up against outlets ranging from reigning big commercial radio companies to the growing streaming services that provide music and podcasts. The station recognizes its need to rise above these inhibitions by alleviating financial burden. However, receiving no financial support from advertisements, the station depends on generous donations from its listeners to cover the myriad of costs such as electricity, equipment, maintenance, subscriptions, storage and more.
“Marathon Week” is a seven-day event where WUNH doles out merchandise – from stickers and pens to ringer tees and reusable water bottles – in exchange for donations of any size from listeners. Members of the station prepare for three months to ensure a smooth week-long event and subsequently spend the following months shipping out and distributing premiums.
“It’s an exciting week,” McNulty said. “Everyone in the WUNH DJ community pitches in to keep us on-air 24/7 (hence, the marathon title) and listeners call and message us to show their support. It really shows the importance of college radio in the era of homogenous, corporate-controlled media that takes over the airwaves. It shows that people in the community really cherish us and see WUNH as an integral part of their lives.”
With official numbers still to be determined, Marathon Coordinator Lauren Hellman estimates the station raised a total of about $20,000, a comparable amount to the earnings of past Marathon Weeks.
“I definitely consider Marathon this year a success,” Hellman, a sophomore art education major with a concentration in graphic design, said. Hellman stepped into the position with a certain level of pressure. “This week decides whether we sink or swim financially.”
“Marathon Week gives us the opportunity to raise money to better our station while giving back cool WUNH promo items to our listeners,” Hellman, who hosts her own show that features a wide range of music from indie and alt rock to post punk and folk punk, said. “We are a non-profit station, but with this money we are able to keep our station afloat and keep our station from being bought out by bigger commercial companies.”
Students and community members recognize the importance of the station, which has become an integral part of the Seacoast community.
“For me, it’s about way more than just music; being a part of the station has made me a better person in all aspects,” Marr said. “It’s helped me broaden my interests, find life-long friends, develop connections to faculty and the community. It’s given me the opportunity to be a better leader and teammate, a place to eat lunch when every seat in the MUB is taken. In all seriousness, WUNH is really a gift, and it’s crazy to think about how different my life would be without it.”
Ten Notable Tracks Spun during Vinyl Week:
1. Slow to build, bizarre and deconstructed rhetorical avant-rock track “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” from the album “For Your Pleasure” by art-rock group Roxy Music was spun by Hayden Stinson during his show “Pre-Scientific Fractals, Rhizomatic Meta-Loops and Other Semisonic Post-Capitalist Backspatter.” This song features an experimental fade out and a fade in that dissolves the structure of a five-minute song completely.
2. Tangy, fast-paced melodic track “North by North” from the 1987 album “Daddy’s Highway” by the kiwi-rock band The Bats, spun by DJ Teddy McNulty during his show “The Trash Can.”
3. “Slippery People” is an especially funky and mildly-spacey track from the album “Speaking in Tongues” by art-funk band Talking Heads, spun by Angelee G on the show “I’m Not Like Other Girls.” The song features a gospel-like choir behind David Byrne’s vocals which all sound oddly far away, placed behind the gentle groove of the instrumentation.
4. Reggae song “I Love Paris” by the band Alpha Blondy and The Wailers from the album “Jerusalem,” spun by Jeff on the show “Mad Lion Reggae.” The song is a groovy love song to Paris and its people that features some low volume wacky piano parts and a contagious call and response chorus between vocals and brass.
5. “Seedy Films,” an electronic speak-sung track from the 80s band Soft Call from the album “Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret,” that features bizarre, almost off-tune melodies accompanied by a chorus of breathy girls singing and laughing, spun by Chris C. with Christofarius.
6. “Thela Hun Ginjeet” by the prog rock band King Crimson – a personal favorite track of mine that is actually an anagram for “heat in the jungle” as the song deals with crime in the city – featuring self-aware audio interview recordings amidst the buzzing instrumentation. Spun during the show “J-Bird’s vinyl extravaganza” by DJ Justin The J-Bird.
7. “Brahms: Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op 24” by Van Cliburn, a beautiful classical piece that features a solo piano line full of little glistening melodic moments.
8. “Bonita Applebum,” by “A Tribe Called Quest” is a smooth track that features three different samples in a blend of easy listening pleas to a fictional character, spun on “Fishbowl: the Sea-quel” by DJ Sebastian M.
8. “Two Words” a track by Kanye West off of College Dropout which features Mos Def and Freeway is a weirdly gothic-ish synth track that features a boys’ choir and brief riffs from a heavy electric guitar, spun by The Operator on the show “Reel to Reel.”
9. “The Less I Know the Better” is a modern psych rock hit from the band “Tame Impala.” This song kicked off Jayce K’s show, an undoubtedly electric start with that isolated riff that starts the song… so good.
10. “Rainbow Connection,” a track sung by Kermit from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of “The Muppet Movie.” This beautiful song is an Academy Award “Best Original Song” nominee and a testament to how truly unique Kermit is as a performer, musician and vocalist. Spun by Claudia on her show “The Balcony.”