An air of celebration and the scents of freshly delivered food filled the Daniel Family Commons (DFC) on the evening of Sunday, Nov. 2, as WESU kicked off an official commemoration of the radio station’s 75th anniversary. State Representatives Matt Lesser and Joe Serra presented the WESU Board of Directors with a citation, while Middletown Mayor Daniel Drew and Councilmen Grady Faulkner and David Bauer awarded the station a Proclamation from the City of Middletown.
WESU is one of the oldest operating non-commercial radio stations in the United States. According to President of the WESU Board of Directors Danielle Pruitt ’15, there are approximately 50 community members involved with the station, as well as more than 150 student DJs. In addition to broadcasting at 88.1 on the FM dial,
WESU streams its on-air programming online.
The event began with a presentation of the Olin Memorial Library exhibition, “WESU: Celebrating 75 Years of Community Radio.” Showcased here were historical photographs, documents, clippings, and artifacts. Several items on display were from the Special Collections and Archives at Olin Library, while others were dug up from archives at the station itself.
Immediately following this, a reception opened in the DFC featuring food donated by local restaurants. This led into a presentation kicked off by Ben Michael, WESU’s General Manager.
The WESU Board of Directors presented a video on the station’s history, put together by Production Director Abigail Shneyder ’17. The video featured photos spanning from the station’s founding to the present, archived audio footage, and clips from a video interview with Archibald Doty, Jr., who started the radio station in Clark Hall in 1939.
“I’m really excited to be a part of this,” Pruitt said. “For me, being at the station has been one of the best things I’ve ever done at Wesleyan. It’s been so fun, and it’s interactive. Having a radio show really allows you to learn your own skills in journalism, broadcasting, and all that tangible stuff you don’t often get in the classroom.”
Furthermore, Pruitt and Vice President of the WESU Board of Directors Rebecca Seidel ’15 spoke about the station’s missions.
“Part of our mission is to emphasize the opposite of top forty, because mainstream radio is the same five songs over and over again,” Pruitt said. “But here we really encourage people to find that hidden gem and find something that people may not already be exposed to, and to fall in love, and then spread the love.”
Following the film, Drew came up to the podium and spoke about the significance of independent media.
“I used to be in media myself,” Drew said. “The things you learn and the relationships you develop in university media are extraordinary and it gives you lessons that will stick with you for the rest of your lives…. You guys are here, volunteering and working for the station at a very important time in history, a time when media organizations have been consolidated under the corporate banners of maybe two or three gigantic mega-corporations. The diversity in programming and diversity of viewpoints available to the mass audience out there is limited compared to what it used to be.”
Lesser, who attended Wesleyan and now represents Connecticut’s 100th district in the General Assembly, added how revolutionary he believes the station is.
“This radio station is one of the pre-set radio stations in my car radio,” Lesser said. “I never know what I’m going to hear, but it has done such a wonderful job of supporting this University and the city, bringing the two together. I don’t know what we would do without it.”
Public Affairs Director Laura Werle ’15 expressed her excitement for this acknowledgement.
“It’s very exciting because the 75th anniversary spans two academic years,” Werle said. “It’s nice because both the outgoing seniors from last year and the incoming freshmen from this year get exposed to this special program we’re having and all of the special events, this fall in particular. Especially after all of the work that was put in last year [by board members], it’s nice to have a culminating event like this with so many exciting visitors.”
As Public Affairs Director, Werle explained that she has numerous different roles at the station.
“The FCC requires that we tell them the topic of all of the public affair shows we have, so I do a lot of recording,” Werle said. “But because that’s pretty minimal, it’s nice because I can [help out] wherever there is a spot that needs to be taken up. It’s kind of nice to not have to spearhead things, but to fill in the gaps. I get to have my fingers in all different parts of the board. It’s nice just to feel like I’m helping out when there is no one else available to.”
At the end of the event, Director of the Center for Community Partnerships Cathy Lechowicz and WESU General Manager Ben Michael spoke about the role of WESU in cultivating community engagement.
“I also oversee the Center for Prison Education,” Lechowicz said. “One thing that we’re proud of is that the WESU station program guide is actually prominently displayed in our classroom. It is a constant reminder to me in terms of the service [WESU] provides to disenfranchised populations, whether that it’s that they’re literally removed from our communities or culturally may not have a touch point, and you provide a voice to folks that are often forgotten about. And I’m proud of the fact that [WESU] does that.”
Pruitt added that one of her favorite aspects of working for WESU is its diverse body of listeners.
“The station attracts so many different facets of the community,” Pruitt said. “There are people of all years, all walks of life, all interests. You have people really into music, people really into public affairs and current events, people really into giving advice and stuff like that. Literally anything you would be interested in listening to is available at the station.”