By Laura Blasey and Jenny Hottle senior staff writers
Monday, Sept. 23, 2013
Originally posted on

It was a colorful display: dozens of handmade fliers in a rainbow of colors, arranged in an organized but chaotic fashion on the back wall of the Maryland Room Exhibit Gallery.

To some, it’s only paper. But to the hundreds of alumni and university staff gathered in Hornbake Library Friday night, the fliers meant so much more: They were symbols of the past, inspiration for the future and a reminder of the year-long effort to put together the university archives’ latest special exhibit: “Saving College Radio: WMUC Past, Present and Future.”

The exhibit opened Friday evening with a reception in Hornbake’s lobby. Between reading old articles and looking back at photos, station alumni and current students shared memories of the hours spent playing music and hanging out in the radio station.

When Jay Kernis, NBC News producer and 1974 alumnus, looks back on his years as the station program director, he said he rarely remembers sitting in class or visiting the dorms. Instead, he recalls the turntables and tape machines in building FF, the temporary headquarters for the radio station.

In his memory, a voice coming from the speakers tells the radio audience that the featured album of the week is Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

“College radio turned out to be a great place to get most of the nonsense out of our systems — a place to experiment, to try things when the stakes were pretty low,” Kernis told the audience. “Some of us were making radio for the audience we imagined in the dining hall or tuned to 650 on their dorm room stereos or transistor radios. Mostly, I think we were performing for each other.”

The exhibit featured old photos and equipment, as well as yearbooks, T-shirts and trophies in glass cases. Attendees could also view material that didn’t make it into the exhibit in the Maryland Room library with the music of artists who had been interviewed by WMUC hosts playing in the background.

University sound archivist and current WMUC DJ Laura Schnitker spent a year collecting and curating the exhibit with the help of the archives staff. She’s become passionate about the station and its future, and she enjoyed seeing the project come to fruition.

“I’m just really happy, mostly with how well-received it’s been,” Schnitker said. “Alumni started to come in and tell their story or say, ‘There’s stuff in there I’ve never seen before’ — that was the best part.”

For Wallace Kleid, a 1967 graduate, the amount of memorabilia was one of the most impressive parts of the exhibit.

“We were in such a throwaway generation. How much did anyone save?” Kleid said. “That kind of stuff could so easily end up in the trash bin.”

Throughout the years, WMUC has fallen on hard times financially. Part of the exhibit’s goal was to raise awareness, though there is still work to be done, said Marsha Guenzler-Stevens, Stamp Student Union director.

Guenzler-Stevens said a work group has been meeting to find a sustainable solution to the radio station’s money woes and the group will continue to meet through January 2014. The WMUC Legacy Fund is also now accepting donations, which will support the station’s costs, including equipment and licensing fees.

In the spring of 2011, the Student Government Association cut the station’s funding in half when student officials realized groups had asked for more funding than SGA actually had. Without funding, WMUC wouldn’t have been able to afford Federal Communications Commission license or pay for other operating costs. Supporters of the station lobbied late into the night and were awarded some additional money, though they were forced to collect donations to make up for the rest of the lost funding.

“College radio is expensive and SGA just can’t do it,” Guenzler-Stevens said. “[The fund] will help ensure there is an MUC family for people today and for the future.”

The WMUC experience is one cherished by current and former DJs and they can’t let it fade away, said Kernis, who helped develop the station’s freeform format.

“There’s a part of my brain that wants WMUC to go on forever to validate our memories,” he said. “If the station stopped, would part of us also disappear?

“But more importantly, I think there should always be an opportunity on a college campus for the storytellers and the music lovers and the misfits to have this kind of life-changing experience, to have a place to go, to find each other and to be themselves.”

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