Although I’ve been fixated on the college radio crises at KTRU and WRVU lately, I am heartened to see the world of student radio isn’t filled entirely with bad news. This week I spotted several stories about new and old radio stations gearing up for the start of the school year. Amid those tales was an article in the Georgetown Voice about Georgetown University’s online-only station WGTB. With an impressive roster of around 120 staff members, WGTB manages to air live programming nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (save for the wee hours between 2 and 8am).
In addition to covering the station’s plans for the future (a new website and music blog), the piece also delves into the fascinating history of WGTB. WGTB began at Georgetown in 1946 as an AM station and received its FM license in 1960. The station became known for playing edgier music and for allowing radical voices to be heard, particularly during the Vietnam War. According to the piece:
“But all that political attention would eventually be the end of WGTB-FM. Georgetown administrators, outraged at the negative attention the station’s incendiary left-wing rhetoric was bringing to the University, made repeated attempts to restrict the broadcasts coming from the basement of Copley. On Jan. 29, 1979, then Georgetown President Timothy Healy gifted the station’s FM license to the new University of District of Columbia for the cost of one dollar, ridding himself and the University of any troublesome broadcasts. UDC would later go on to sell the station to C-SPAN for $25 million in 1997.”
The article also explains that the station’s role in the local music community was also a critical piece of WGTB’s success, arguing that:
“The station’s radical leftism was undeniably at odds with Georgetown’s Catholic identity, but its absence left a big hole in the music scene…”
After the FM station was taken away from students at Georgetown, the music eventually returned when campus-only carrier current station WROX started up in the 1980s. By 2001 radio transformed again into the Internet station that exists today. The current goal for WGTB is to become more entrenched in the Washington, D.C. music scene and to share that close connection with students and listeners.
It’s an interesting tale, one that’s quite familiar to those who follow college radio closely. What inspires me is that students at Georgetown and other universities have continued to reinvent their radio stations despite threats from their administrations, economic hardships, and technological challenges.
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