The Sound of Emory: An Insight into WMRE

The band of Mothers performs at the WMRE 2016 fall concert in Cox Hall. WMRE puts on multiple events a year for the Emory community.
The band of Mothers performs at the WMRE 2016 fall concert in Cox Hall. WMRE puts on multiple events a year for the Emory community. Courtesy of Ryan Myers

WMRE is Emory’s only radio station. Beginning as a mere idea in the early 1980s, in 1989 the station broadcasted its first show across campus through 590AM. Clear sounds didn’t last long on the AM channel, forcing the station to shift to a cable signal and then the internet, where it can be heard today. The shift in broadcasting also helped the clubs’s shift in production, and in 2008 they moved from the basement of a now-demolished Longstreet Hall to its current studio on the fifth floor of the Dobbs University Center (DUC).

The club is open to all Emory students and encourages a creative outlook on the world, not solely limited to music. The organization biannually produces a magazine covering all things music and culture, Frequency. Each semester WMRE hosts an on-campus concert, Localfest and Spring Band Party, featuring local and national acts. WMRE shows take all forms, from political and sports commentaries to music segments featuring one-person acts or ambient music.

“We really try to be a counter to the mainstream of Emory community life,” said Ryan Myers, college senior and WMRE’s music director. “We really try our best to not stick by the standard form of activities and events.”

Although he now heads up the show Rotation Axis, Myers embraced the irregular last semester with his show Tunes from the Toilet, playing songs that were virtually unknown and therefore assumed to be bad. Myers played selections by Aunt Sis, Diiv and Warehouse.

The variety of shows WMRE hosts allows the radio station to be a unique operation. To function as an alternative, creative space on campus often is an unsaid mission of WMRE, and other college radio stations in.

“College radio has been this central part of a typical college experience. It’s just this space that encourages people to look at intersecting forms of art and a culture that advocates that,” Issenberg said.

The creative potential in spaces like WMRE make it open to all type of students.

“It has a low barrier of entry. I don’t think there is anyone that can’t have a conversation for at least 30 minutes about music they like,” Issenberg said.

This freedom is what drew several of the radio’s current DJs.

“It is a platform; if your application is strong, [you] really have an hour to talk about anything you want,” said Austyn Wohlers, college sophomore and WMRE’s programming director.

College junior Noor Khan and College junior Sue Estes use their show, 80085, to appreciate feminist music and discuss pressing political issues, as well as personal stories related to the female experience.

“It’s just a nice hour where I can just sit there and listen to music that I really like with a friend,” Khan said.

WMRE gains some of its air-way freedom by being an online station. Although it originated as an AM channel, WMRE is now streamed completely online, along with a mobile listening option and access on various social media accounts, including Spotify. WMRE skips regulations around profanity and professional training that other FM college radio stations face.

The shift to online broadcasting is one of several changes that the radio and the larger music industry made in the past decade. Despite some major readjustments, including the buyout of Georgia State’s college radio, WRAS, by Georgia Public Broadcasting, WMRE members aren’t worried about the future. Part of this confidence comes from Emory’s dedication to a dynamic liberal arts education.

“As Emory becomes more progressive and as Atlanta grows more and more, people are going to want to go to Emory and be involved in [the radio],” Khan said. “So many more people are becoming interested in what we do, because it’s hip, it’s trendy.”

Murphy agrees that Emory needs this creative outlet.

“At times when you see arts and humanities get cut constantly, you need [the radio], especially if you come here like me wanting to do art and [be] around people that are socially different,” Murphy said. “It really is kind of sacred.”

Although he doesn’t know who specifically will take over, Issenberg feels he is leaving the club in “much better hands” than when he came, and he hopes it continues to serve an alternative crowd.

“[I want to] make sure it’s place for freshmen and sophomores to come in and have a home,” he said. “If I can just make sure this club stays a sort of community then I’ve done something right.”

Even after members leave, the purpose of college radio will remain.

“It’s going to continue to be a frontier for new artists to be showcased, and it’s always going to be a haven for college students to participate in alternative culture,” Wohler said. “I don’t know if it needs to fundamentally change because every person who comes through is fundamentally changed by it.”

Zachary Issenberg, a member of the Wheel’s Editorial Board, did not contribute to the writing or editing of this story.

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