adfklThe loss of WGTB’s broadcast signal is a telling story, one indicative of political divides in the 1970s that embroiled the nation and campus radio’s place at the forefront of that unrest.

After Georgetown Radio, as it’s often called, began as an AM broadcast in 1946 and moved to 90.1 FM in 1960, University President Fr. Timothy Healy, S.J., donated the signal to the University of the District of Columbia for just $1 in 1979. Eighteen years later, the same frequency was sold by UDC to C-SPAN for $25 million.

A CONTENTIOUS PAST

At its peak of generating commotion, WGTB was a beacon of left-wing politics. Staffers would broadcast live from anti-Vietnam protests and Black Panther demonstrations, play advertisements for contraception, vocally back the liberation armies associated with Communist regimes and air shows that served as the roots of the gay community and feminist movement on campus.

As the guidelines of the university and the Federal Communications Commission were — for the most part — disregarded, and the station moved out of the hands of students and into those community members, the station gained national notoriety for its programming.

In 1973, Rep. Harley Orrin Staggers (D-W.Va.) filed a complaint with the FCC after hearing John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” on air.

Then-Vice President Spiro Agnew also had objections to the station’s programming.

“There is little will to oppose Communism in America anymore, [and] the voice of third-world communism is pervasive in academia. WGTB … broadcasts what seems to be propaganda for the third world,” Agnew told The New York Times Magazine.

The station was shut down primarily due to its liberal programming, but reappeared in several iterations throughout the second half of the 20th Century, finally launching as an Internet-only outlet in 2001.

No longer under the purview of the Federal Communications Commission, today WGTB broadcasts 24 hours a day online and offers 112 live shows hosted by over 200 DJs from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week.

Its programming is also available via WGTB’s digital archives, which went live in November 2012 and allow the public to download shows from the past two weeks of broadcasts.

NOTHING BUT THE LOCAL DJ

After spending her first semester on Georgetown’s women’s crew team, Catherine DeGennaro (COL ’13) decided that she wanted a change of pace for the spring. While she had never had time for music in high school, she had always enjoyed making playlists and turned to Georgetown Radio as a way to meet new people.

DeGennaro explained that she wasn’t drawn to the chance of reaching a wide audience. “I had a 9 a.m. slot on Saturday morning, so it wasn’t like I had this huge listenership,” she said.

The more DeGennaro got to meet other students devoted to music, the better she wanted to get to know them. By the beginning of her sophomore year, she was serving as a music director, a position she kept through the winter of her senior year.

Like DeGennaro, most of WGTB’s DJs today aren’t in it for the numbers. Only the station’s executive board can view the number of listeners per show.

“We don’t make numbers on listenership public. If I had to estimate with last semester’s numbers though, I’d say most shows get between 10-15 listeners, with well-promoted shows getting 3-5 times that at least,” said general manager Allie Prescott (COL ’14).

As former General Manager Caroline Klibanoff (COL ’12) noted, for most students, getting involved in Georgetown Radio is about the communal effort.

“You have a set of common interests, but more than that you’re really working on something together,” she said. “Being on the board is like an instant group of friends.”

Additionally, WGTB brands itself as an outlet for talking about music that isn’t available elsewhere on campus.

When Prescott came to college, she pursued radio as a means to explore her own music tastes, which she had always felt differed from the norm and find people whose likings were similar to her own.

“In high school, I had a lot of friends who liked music. I was the orchestra kid; they were all the band kids. I liked classical music, but just in general, I liked very different music from the rest of them,” she said. “I kind of like this different type of music, and I felt that college radio at Georgetown would be the place to find that.”

After one semester as the DJ of “Allie’s Anthologies,” Prescott joined the programming department, reviewing other students’ shows and ensuring that every DJ is following their contract — an agreement which bans cursing during show dialogue, advocating abortion or contraception and penalizes racism, anti-Semitism and rape jokes on air.

A little over two years later and she is the general manager of a 14-member board comprised three females and 11 males.

As general manager, Prescott prides herself on holding people accountable and developing the station’s professionalism. While Klibanoff focused on expanding alumni relations as GM and Prescott’s predecessor AlexPodkul (COL ’13) updated WGTB’s technology and online presence, Prescott has pushed creating better resources for student musicians at Georgetown to the top of her agenda.

Georgetown Radio members have long been leveraging their experience with WGTB to get jobs in the music industry — DeGennaro even switched her major from government to American music culture after joining WGTB — but the university’s music scene leaves much to be desired, according toKlibanoff

“It’s getting a lot better, but without the radio station there, it’s really lacking a place for musicians to come, be supported and find other musicians,” she said.

This is exactly the problem the Prescott hopes to address.

“What we’re really focusing on over the summer and this semester is giving a place for student musicians and student artists … giving them a way to get their names out, give them performance opportunities, give them the media coverage they need,” she said.

This summer Prescott produced a short audio feature about student musician Mary Ellen Funke (SFS’15), or Mellen’s, EP Last the Year. Pieces like this are only part of the type of press kit that Prescott hopes WGTB can help develop for aspiring undergraduate performers.

DeGennaro sees promise in this initiative, as she saw the quality of student musicians skyrocket during her time at Georgetown and hopes that WGTB can help highlight that a strong music community does exist on campus.

“[The music scene] is still small and just being at Georgetown — it’s not inherently what people are going to think about when the think about Georgetown, but it’s still there,” she said.

A GROWING MOVEMENT

Three generations of WGTB members agreed that it’s the people that kept them committed to WGTB, but each also believed that the culture of Georgetown Radio changed during their time as an undergraduate.

When DeGennaro arrived at Georgetown in 2009, WGTB’s board was a very small, tightly knit community of friends who all lived in the same house and hung out all the time.

“In my time on the board, I watched it get a little bit more broad appeal with the whole student body. When I first joined, it was little bit of a more niche group of people,” DeGennaro said.

Part of that change in culture can be attributed to the intentional growth of the student organization. In recent years, WGTB has pushed recruitment and changed its format from two-hour to one-hour broadcasts, efforts that resulted in more DJs — the number grew from 70 to 223 in three years — and a greater diversity of shows.

“We wanted to continue the tradition of eclectic programming by opening up the floodgates a little bit to see what other opinions what other genres we could incorporate into the station,” Podkul said.

It’s this environment that fosters the development of niche shows, like Podkul’s “Nothing But a G-O-DThang,” a Christian rock show that ran for eight semesters. Podkful featured mainstream music the people often don’t know is Christian — by artists like The Fray and Switchfoot — simultaneously generating a cult following and a strong relationship with record companies in the Christian music industry.

According to Music Director Wil Curiel (SFS ’14), the music that Georgetown Radio charts in comparison to other schools via the college radio equivalent of the Billboard music charts — CMJ — is widely unique.

“The music that WGTB charts is usually very different than what you find on the top of the charts atCMJ,” he said. “Sometimes we get the ones coming out of left field, and I think that’s really cool.”

In line with the organization’s history, WGBT’s DJs continue to push the station to expand its content and include more voices. Recent lineups have included classical music, ska and wizard rock (Harry Potter-themed rock music), alongside talk shows by leftists, libertarians and sports enthusiasts.

“It’s this really great exercise in a sort of old media for a lot of people, and those kids, I think, take it seriously in a way that I don’t as a music DJ,” Prescott said. “As a Jesuit university, as this place where there are thousands of people with incredibly diverse backgrounds, it’s awesome that we have part of that on air.”

And WGTB hasn’t lost the long reach nor its cultural resonance of the 1970s. A man from the Ukraine recently asked the station’s management for “neckties” with their design. Chicago-based indie band Kids These Days played their last concert ever at Georgetown. Das Racist gave a concert in Bulldog Alley and played on Conan O’Brien’s show the next week.

However, these recent legends still only exists within the context of the famous performances fromWGTB’s past by the likes of The Who, Bruce Springsteen and the Talking Heads.

“That just blows me away. That we had … Bruce Springsteen in McDonough [Gymnasium]. That just floors me,” Curiel said. “I think we’re trying to keep that up.”

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