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As WRVU steps out, can WMTS step up?

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As WRVU steps out, can WMTS step up? | Radio,WMTS,WRVU,Business,Music,MTSU
Metal. Rock 'n' roll. Bluegrass. Electronic. Old school hip hop.

Turn your radio dial to 88.3FM, and you're bound to hear any of these genres of music. Other times, you might be offered coverage of MTSU Blue Raider baseball or Lady Raider basketball games.

For the past 20 years, WMTS, the university's student-run station, has given students an opportunity to gain some hands-on experience while providing listeners with tunes they wouldn't typically hear on mainstream radio stations.

88.3FM is one of only a handful of independent stations in Middle Tennessee, and that number dropped even further with the loss of Vanderbilt University's beloved WRVU 91.1FM, which went live more than 50 years ago.

WRVU, comprised of a collection of student and community DJs providing knowledgeable banter alongside underground music and local band features, was silenced June 1 by a lease/purchase agreement between Nashville Public Radio and the Vanderbilt Communications Board.

While the sale has been completed – no money has actually exchanged hands, and NPR must garner a whopping $3.3 million in donations to finance the purchase – classical music now fills the radio waves floating into listeners' ears.

This is the perfect chance for WMTS to amp up its power, both figuratively and (hopefully) literally, and become the go-to station for listeners who prefer quality music over bubble gum pop and crooning country.

WMTS faculty advisor Dr. Roger Heinrich says it's not that easy.

"We have 680 watts that we have been designated by the (Federal Communications Commission) to operate under, and to try to increase that wattage is nearly impossible in today's broadcasting climate," he said, pointing out the high cost for an updated trasmitter. "We pretty much cover the area that we intend on serving."

This includes the city of Murfreesboro and most of Rutherford County, including some outlying areas.

Heinrich says that because the station is noncommercial, he sees no real gain in expanding the station's broadcast.

However, as for quality of the product being provided, Heinrich says he'd put WMTS DJs up against any amateur DJs in the country.

He also highlighted the media convergence center that is currently under construction in the College of Mass Communication. Previously, the radio station was located in a different building, out of the way.

"That improvement is already coming. We're bringing WMTS into our building, which I think is going to highlight it more," Heinrich explained. "We have a lot of tours that come through here, and students are going to see other students working in the media center. And I think it's going to cause some buzz."

As a student organization, WMTS is open to students from any major of study. Primarily, DJs come from electronic media communication and the recording industry program – "those areas where you would expect them to come from."

DJ Ron Slomowicz has been broadcasting on WRVU for nearly 20 years – even after his graduation from Vanderbilt.

He attributes the success of a radio station to the community-like listenership, and says the same thing is possible for WMTS in Murfreesboro.

"One thing I would urge students who are passionate about radio is to get friends involved," he said. "I'm involved in radio, and I should know about WMTS. If they're going to be on the station, then part of their position is to get the word out about it."

DJ Ron said this includes distributing flyers on campus and at parties, bringing in local bands to play and sending out emails and social media messages.

"Brand WMTS so it's part of the MTSU experience," he said, adding that business majors could also take on the project of estimating how to grow WMTS.

He pointed out that WRVU suffered from a similar weakness, as most of the fan base was from the community and not necessarily other students.

"There's definitely a hole in the market (right now) and if people want a good college radio station, and if they're aware of WMTS, people might want to experiement with it," DJ Ron said.

In addition to the 30-plus years WRVU has on WMTS, it also broadcasts at 10,000 watts, according to DJ Ron.

"From Baxter to Bucksnort and Bedford County to Bowling Green," he said, quoting one of the station's tag lines.

WRVU also featured community DJs along with those associated with the university. At MTSU, DJs for WMTS must either be students, faculty, staff or alumni.

The experience, expertise and energies they bring to the station is valuable, as is the consistency. Students are on-hand for about four years, max, but residents of the community will typically stick around for years, DJ Ron says, using himself as an example.

Why is student-run radio important?

Coren Cogdell, a former WMTS DJ and graduate of MTSU, says there's a certain value in having student-run radio broadcast throughout a community.

"As a music lover, I thought it was great to have the opportunity to play whatever I wanted on the radio and know that other people were doing that, also," he said.

"I think my first couple of shows were more hip hop, and I played a lot of underground stuff or maybe older stuff that wasn't played on (commercial) radio any more, but I also played a lot of stuff you wouldn't hear on the radio or really good album cuts. And my next show, that was probably even more so because I played whatever I wanted, regardless of the genre, and that stuff was definitely not on the radio – at least not Top 40 radio."

Coupled with the practical experience that Heinrich points out, student-run radio is invaluable.

"It helps them to learn to communicate effectively, to share their musical knowledge with others in the community and gives a sense of ownership, I believe, to our student community. We think of WMTS as student-run radio – noise you can trust."

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July 10, 2011 at 12:48am
WMTS may not be able to increase its power due to a same-frequency licensed low power station in Shelbyville TN, just 30 miles to the south. Not without some serious negotiations, and likely covering the full cost of any possible relocation to another frequency, with the church that is licensed for 88.3 in Shelbyville.
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