WNUR 89.3 is Northwestern’s radio student-run station. That much, most students know. But for a nationally recognized student station with a lofty name like “Chicago’s Sound Experiement,” there's got to be more to what the 200-something volunteers do and how their music programs come to life.
According to WNUR volunteer Mike Corsa, Weinberg ’06, the record collection numbers somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000. He estimated that 99 percent of the records in the collection were mailed to the station.
Artists have been mailing the station their vinyl since May 8, 1950, when WNUR first broadcasted from Annie May Swift using a 10-watt transmitter.
“All of it gets played, but probably 5 to 10 percent of it gets added [to the collection],” said Ethan Simonoff, Rock Show producer and Weinberg sophomore. The show has a reputation for playing obscure music. “It’s not necessarily because we’re being super critical, but also because our name is kind of a misnomer for people that send stuff out to all the stations without looking at what music we actually play.”
He explained that the Rock Show frequently plays classical, jazz and electronica music — not mainstream rock. WNUR veterans hold a class for new DJs every week about music history and the roots of rock. WNUR is a non-profit organization, so students don’t use any of the stations funds to go out and buy records from the record store-laden city that is Chicago. Corsa said they currently have a deal with Reckless Records, though, which gives students a certain amount of credit to purchase music from the store while WNUR promotes the store on-air.
Over the years, WNUR’s Airplay show has brought bands, mostly unknown up-and-comers, to play live performances in the station. At least 10 bands performed here within the last month. But more popular acts like The Walkmen and Ra Ra Riot have also been known to make an appearance.
“No two bookings have ever been the same,” Corsa said. “Bands find us for a million different reasons." Although most times bands find WNUR through their website, social media and especially word-of-mouth, sometimes the station reaches out to acts they would like to hear perform live.
WNUR attracts bands because it has some clout — it's one of the only radio stations left that operates on block formatting, meaning the programming is regularly scheduled, Corsa said. Listeners are guaranteed to hear the same type of music at the same time each week. That is increasingly unique in radio culture, where most college and community stations can't guarantee what you'll hear when you tune in.
Their schedule, storied history and publicty attract bands, and getting bands to play means networking. What’s one of the best part of these performances for the station? The publicity WNUR gets afterward.
“We give bands WNUR T-shirts,” Corsa said. “Bands wear them a lot on stage. We’ve actually had WNUR shirts appear on Conan and The Late Show with David Letterman.”
But why is the station so cold?
Corsa said that when WNUR made the move from Annie May Swift to Louis, they encountered construction problems. The way the buliding is set up means that if WNUR maintained a normal temperature, the rest of the building would overheat.
Bands frequently complain about the temperature, and not only on air. He said they mention it on tour, on talk shows and to other bands.
"I've seen bands blog about how cold it was and how everything was so cool about the Northwestern University Airplay performance except that it was so cold," Corsa said.