Back in October, 2016, I had a flurry of radio station visits in the Philadelphia-area, including a night-time trek to new low power FM (LPFM) college radio station WNUW-LP at Neumann University. WNUW’s General Manager Sean McDonald graciously picked me up from WYBF at Cabrini University (see my tour report #122) and drove me to see his nearby station in the Philadelphia suburb of Aston, Pennsylvania.
Part of the overarching Neumann Media program, WNUW is the latest iteration of student radio on campus. According to McDonald, students had been asking for a student radio station for many years and an internet-only station launched in January, 2008 (when he was a student), following an initial radio course in 2007. When the LPFM application window opened, Neumann Media jumped on the opportunity and the school was ultimately awarded a license to broadcast over 98.5 FM.
During our drive, McDonald told me the back story of how WNUW came to be on FM. The university president actually alerted McDonald to the forthcoming LPFM window, passing along some information that had been sent by a consultant. McDonald recalled that after reviewing the details, “…we went for it and it was exhilarating.” Although there were frustrations along the way, he told me “it paid off in the end, because the students were more ecstatic to be on the air and to tell people they were on the air, than to just be on a stream.”
McDonald added the caveat, “… and that’s not to dig anybody on a stream, because I was for seven years, I was stream only. But people look at us differently now because we have an FM station…and to anybody that doubts the power of radio, you should see the faces when we tell someone that we also have our own radio station that’s over the air. Their eyes light up. Their parents eyes light up. It’s more than worth all of the troubles and frustrations that we went through. It’s just legitimized our program and it’s empowered students to do something even better.”
Neumann University has been incredibly supportive of the station’s move to FM and in addition to the license, the station also received a studio in the brand new John J. Mullen Communication Center on campus. Dedicated just two weeks before my visit, the shiny new digs are expansive (10,000 square feet of space for all of the school’s media and communications activities) and state of the art.
In addition to the WNUW studios, there are television studios, a green room, super fancy recording studios (sound isolating Wenger rooms, with “virtual acoustics”), and a multi-functional hall with projectors, robotic cameras, wireless microphones and video hookups. It’s also home to Neumann Media, the “student run media hub at Neumann University. Neumann Media is comprised of 4 parts: 98.5 WNUW, NeuVideo/NeuTube, Neumann Sports Network, and NeuPress,” according to its website.
On top of his role as WNUW’s General Manager, McDonald is now Director of Neumann Media and was deeply involved in designing the communication center addition. As McDonald walked me through the Neumann Media space, he beamed with pride, telling me, “I literally built this thing…this is my baby.”
WNUW launched in late 2015, hosting a big party with live music on the first day of classes that August, followed by its official FCC on-air date in November, 2015 from its former location. WNUW first went on-air from its new building on April 30, 2016, while things were still under construction. McDonald said that they had “really” moved in by the end of July. Although most of the radio equipment had already been in use before the move, they still had a few “hiccups” and had to work out some kinks with a new automation system. McDonald said that it’s actually be a “fun learning curve” and added that it’s been great to watch the schedule grow every week. Additionally, radio classes were taking place in the studio, making for an even better learning environment.
At the time of my visit, live programming started as early as 10am and ran as late as around 11pm. McDonald told me that Neumann has around 2,500 students and is predominately a commuter campus, with most students working full-time in addition to their coursework. There are some dorms on campus, but there are also students who travel home to work on the weekends.
A big goal for McDonald has been to make the station feel inviting to students and faculty from many different disciplines. To that end, he’s recruited nursing majors, sports marketing majors (a few of whom are doing a show about the business of sports), a PhD student from the pastoral care & counseling program, faculty from the English department, and more. He shared with me that,
…I’ve worked very hard to get more people on. Now I’ve got…two professors in psychology. They’re doing a show called ‘This is your brain on politics’ and it’s the psychology of politics, especially right now with this presidential election and they’re breaking down, well, how is the media influencing it.”
Inspired by shows like this, others have asked to get involved with the station and he told me that the English department was looking into doing a program about the history of comedy. He added, “Maybe it took us getting the new facilities, but people now see it and they go, oh, it’s that easy and it’s recorded and I can build a resume and a reel around it…It’s amazing.” WNUW had around 48 participants back in October, the majority of which are students. As evidenced by the programs that I just described, there are also a handful of staff and faculty members hosting shows.
In addition to its public affairs and talk shows, WNUW plays a lot of music and has students managing music submissions. McDonald explained, “…I would say predominantly we are music-driven and we are music-driven from every spectrum…We have a professor that does 50s and 60s jazz on Fridays. He calls it ‘That’s Jazz.’ Then we have students that are country only or pop only or whatever I feel like playing today.” When there isn’t a live program, the station’s automation system kicks in, playing a selection of music that would likely be heard during hosted shows. McDonald said that the range of genres includes “brand new, throwbacks, country, rap [and] oldies.”
McDonald was also the 2016 President of College Radio Day and told me that he’s been particularly excited about the College Radio Foundation’s new grant program for college radio stations. He said that he thinks that the future of college radio is “bright, inventive and out of the box,” adding that he believes that students will “continue to reinvent radio” and that “the unknown is really exciting and invigorating.”
Huge thanks to Sean McDonald for not only the tour of WNUW, but also the door-to-door transport on what was a very long travel day for me. This is my 130th radio station field trip report, with more on the way from my Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and California travels. My most recent field trips can be found on Radio Survivor and a full list of all my station tour reports is compiled on Spinning Indie.
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