Further Left of the Dial

Further Left of the Dial

By Anne Baker

College radio has typically been the stomping ground for indie alt-rock crooners with names like Minus the Bear and Bright Eyes. But at Northeastern’s radio station WRBB, DJs are breaking through the standard format. Diverse genres like gospel, ska, jazz, R’B and dance music are now as prevalent on the playlists as the indie guitar hero.

“We do radio to entertain and make everyone fall in love with us,” said freshman music industry major Doug McKeever.

He’s one of the four DJs behind “Freshman Hormone-Induced Dance Party,” a program with a varied setlist that plays the latest tunes from Justin Timberlake alongside The Sugarhill Gang and Wilco. The high-energy show is dedicated to keeping those already up during its midnight to 3 a.m. timeslot on Tuesday night awake.

“We try to do mostly fun and cutesy stuff like dance music, but sometimes we get really tired and play slow music,” McKeever said.

The radio station broadcasts from Curry Student Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and WRBB newcomers are given late night timeslots. To raise awareness and increase their audience, many DJs have turned to creating Facebook groups, McKeever said.

“Indielightful,” an indie music-based program, has also used Facebook to increase awareness and reach potential listeners. With 156 members in its group, it is a veritable success.

“We’re also going to make flyers with really cool drawings on them,” said “Indielightful” co-host sophomore anthropology major Erin Leonard on her other strategy to attract listeners.

Along with her boyfriend, sophomore communication studies major Ryan Seacrist, Leonard will give up an hour of sleep from 1 to 2 a.m. Thursday mornings to bring underground indie music to the insomniacs of Northeastern.

Middler music major Bethany Leavey hosts “Skankin’ to the Beat,” which is a reference to the ska-funk fusion band Fishbone.

“I didn’t want a stupid name for my show,” she said.

Leavey is the DJ of both “Skankin’ to the Beat” and “B for Baretta.” The former plays ska, spinning tunes from The Late Shows to Jimmy Cliff, the latter is home to more “indie-focused” songs.

“I consciously try to put different stuff on,” she said.

WRBB is also home to “Gospel Connection,” Boston’s longest-running gospel program. The show has broadcasted from Northeastern since 1973. Currently DJ’d by KidBro’ Steve and Donald Smith, the show runs during a three-hour slot from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on the weekends.

Although the station is completely student-run, community members are also welcome to host their own shows during the weekends. John Vines, a 48-year-old Northeastern alumnus, hosts “The Jazz Circle” during a three-hour block on Saturday morning.

“I pretty much do this for fun,” he said. “I want to bring more diversity to the station.”

Community members comprise a substantial portion of the radio’s hosts, filling most of Sunday’s talkshow slots. However, the station has strict policies to ensure that WRBB remains student-oriented, limiting the power and influence non-students have on the station’s policies.

“We can’t vote for any proposals or run for e-board or vote in those elections,” Vines said.

Hollis Crichlow, another community member, runs “The Old School Zone,” a show dedicated to vintage hip-hop and R’B. Like other community members, he has a full-time job, and dedicates his free time to the station.

“I work at a hospital,” he said. “This is just a hobby. I like the music, so I stay with it.”

In the ’90s, campus radio stations famously launched the careers of R.E.M., The Pixies and Sonic Youth while simultaneously pushing the alternative rock genre into the mainstream.

In order to get a show, all prospective DJs are required to pass a clearance class familiarizing them with the equipment and regulations, observe an e-board member’s show and submit a sample tape demonstrating their abilities. If it’s approved, the student is able to begin his or her own show. According to the station’s website, the entire process can be completed in a week.

With the advent of the iPod and compact discs, actual radios have become less and less prevalent around college campuses. To remedy this, WRBB programs are streamlined through the station’s website, making them available to anyone in the world.

“We’ve been peer-pressuring our friends from across the country to tune in,” Leonard said.

The station has faced some technical problems recently. Currently without anyone to maintain their website, listeners must depend on www.spinitron.com for accurate show scheduling and playlists.

WRBB is part of the continuing campus radio tradition of exposing students to new musical trends with a variety of programming.

“I think college radio is fun and adventuresome,” Leonard said. “It’s introducing music that a lot of people don’t normally listen to.”

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