Georgetown Radio: Broadcasting Voices Through the Years
Published: Thursday, September 12, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 13, 2013 13:09
The 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.