Throughout the semester, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville's non-commercial and independent college radio station, WUTK-FM, sees around 45 to 60 volunteers -- nearly all of whom are current students at UT -- walk through its doors.
There are few other organizations on campus, if any, that are as diverse as the crew of volunteers that make up the flesh and soul of this station. STEM majors and liberal arts majors take the airways together. Students that come from completely different worlds work together to "Bring Knoxville New Music First."
Ultimately, all of this hard work through different generations of students throughout the years has kept WUTK at the top in Knoxville; over 100,000 readers of the free weekly independent newspaper in Knoxville, Metro Pulse, have voted WUTK the "Best Radio Station in Knoxville" for nearly a decade and today's students do not intend to lose that honor.
Emily Ross is a double major in journalism and public relations, is minoring in business, and is a two-year veteran deejay at the station. Ross helms the Monday 3:00-5:00 p.m. shift with Matt Bowers, a freshman majoring in biochemistry, who has only been at the station for about a month. While the two come from vastly different worlds on campus, they have both had similar positive experiences working at the station.
"It's just given me a lot of experience because this is what I want to do when I
'grow up'," Ross explains, "I want to work in the music industry and [working at WUTK] has been a lot of fun."
Bowers agrees that the unique nature of working as deejay has been valuable saying, "I've had a couple of different types of jobs before but never anything close to this, so it gives you a flexibility of how you adapt to new situations."
Ross and Bowers are just two of the dozens of volunteers working at WUTK and the WUTK family is just one of the thousands of college radio stations located in the United States and throughout the world. This Friday, October 3, 2014, hundreds of these stations from all around the globe will come together to celebrate the 4th annual College Radio Day.
Founded in 2010 by Dr. Rob Quicke, the general manager of William Paterson University's WPSC-FM, College Radio Day aims to, "Raise a greater, international awareness of the many college and high school radio stations that operate around the world by encouraging people who would not normally listen to college radio to do so on this day."
In 2013, College Radio Day saw participation from over 700 student stations from 43 different countries and even got recognition from President Obama and Vice-President Biden.
Benny Smith, WUTK's general manager, says that College Radio Day is a way to remind various communities about, "The programming that college radio has offered for years and the opportunities that it offers (especially in our situation) as a student lab."
This "lab experience" is what entices so many students to join their college radio station as they can gain valuable and practical experience in a wide range of fields including: journalism, business, sound and video production, public relations, underwriting and advertising, website management, and other fields.
Smith explains that college radio offers listeners something different especially in conservative markets, "I like to tell students that you come to college to learn a lot of things, whether it's academically, socially, culturally, philosophically, politically ... musically? We'll take care of that," says Smith. "A lot of the kids that come to UT come from conservative markets in the South and in Tennessee in general and so they may have grown up exposed to nothing but Led Zeppelin and Faith Hill all their lives," remarks Smith. "So when they get here and get the opportunity to listen to what we offer it expands their mind and makes them realize 'wow, there's a lot more out there than I ever thought,' and then they go out looking for more."
Smith has worked with countless with students over the years and says that the changes that he sees in students are significant. "They grow up and they have to because we are a business; we're not just a lab where anybody can come in and bring thirty CDs or files from their home and play whatever they want, there has to be a method to our madness because we are a business," explains Smith.
Although WUTK is a business, Smith says that he sees students mature throughout their time in the station by learning about and respecting the business side of things while at the same time, "Maintaining their integrity, their creativity, and becoming a vital part of what we do with their ideas and their hard work.
Hubert Smith, host of WUTK's "The Hubert Smith Radio Show" which is part local public affairs talk show and part classic R&B music show, has also worked with a wide range of students throughout his years at WUTK and uses his show partly to help his student producers make valuable connections.
"When I bring in guests of note I make sure they get introduced to my producers and that my producers have an opportunity to ask them questions and get to know them," Smith explains. "I've been able to introduce students to mayors, legislators, city council members, county commission members, people like that; people that [students] may use as a contact or resource as they pursue their degree and career."
Though hundreds of college radio stations across the nation and globe offer students networking opportunities and practical experience similar to what WUTK's volunteers receive, a 2014 piece by Salon's Garrett Martin exposed that the radio signals of many college radio stations across the nation are being sold off to outside interests and decimating the cultural institution that is college radio.
Although some college radio stations do receive strong financial support from the institutions that they are affiliated with, many, including WUTK, do not and rely solely on things like listener donations or local businesses that support stations through underwriting spots.
Ultimately, the value of college radio is too great to lose. College radio stations are intrinsically linked with the cultural and musical identities of the areas they serve and when they go away these areas lose a part of that identity for good.
When college radio stations go away, students suffer as well. Not only because of the practical experiences they will never get to have but also because of the music and other content they may never be exposed to. There is a world beyond Billboard's "Hot 100," and college radio stations often take on the role of shepherds leading the sheep towards the promised land of new and exciting music and artists. College radio also allows local artists to develop a listener base and has catapulted many obscure small-town artists into national names time after time.
So, if you don't already, tune in to your local station on College Radio Day 2014 (and every other day of the year too) because you will be supporting an institution that has made a real and long-lasting impact on music and students for decades and hopefully will continue to in the future. Isn't that something worth supporting?