I strongly recommend that Radio Survivor readers tune into our thirtieth podcast, in which Jennifer Waits and Eric Klein offer an overview of the changes taking place at University of Massachusetts radio station WMUA-FM in Amherst. This transition reached my ear when management announced that, to make the signal more student focused, WMUA’s polka weekend programming would be reduced from twelve down to four hours a day. This sparked a petition protesting the cuts.
“I’ve been a deejay at multiple stations that had polka shows,” Waits notes. “In the case of the listeners to the Polka programming at WMUA, polka has been on for thirty-six years.”
“It’s the tension between opening up the space for more students,” Klein adds, “and the community that has come to depend on that station for community programming for decades.”
Since then I’ve continued to follow the WMUA situation. On top of the reductions in polka programming, a discussion show called “Focus” has also been cancelled. The program has been broadcasting on WMUA for almost half a century. It’s pretty obvious from this Twitter photo of the show’s last installment that it catered at least in part to an older audience (no disrespect; I’m an “older audience” myself):
— Chelsie Field (@SeaFeezle) January 17, 2016
The changes could have been even more extreme. The Hampshire Gazette notes that U.Mass considered eliminating non-student community programming altogether. Here’s an excerpt from the University’s External Review report, which considered two options:
a) establishing that the only people eligible to work at the station are currently enrolled University of Massachusetts students.
b) remove all current Community on-air slots from the schedule at a date that works best.
Limit Community Members to 24 on-air hours per week.
(The University might want to consider an expansion of these hours during the summer and winter sessions.)
Obviously the administration picked Option II, but even that choice will result in a station with fewer older participants. That’s pretty obvious after watching this YouTube video about polka programming at WMUA.
“I would say that our audience is more of the older generation,” acknowledges WMUA polka programmer Mitch Moskal in an interview. “Probably in my area; fifties and up. But there are a lot of young people who show up for certain bands.”
In the end, the University may find the right balance between campus and community based participation. I really can’t imagine supporting a college radio station that doesn’t foreground the interests and participation of students. On the other hand, I experience it as rare to find a student who has a seasoned take on what’s going on just beyond his or her campus walls, culturally and politically. In any event, in the short term I can imagine how all this feels to WMUA’s older programmers and their audiences. . . .