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Campus View: Thank You, College Radio, for the Experience

Building a student-run station can build a tradition

It all started for WMCO over 50 years ago with Hal Burlingame.

Lisa Marshall, Ph.D., is station manager for WMCO(FM) along with being an associate professor of communication at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. She is also treasurer for College Broadcasters Inc.

In a time when too many stories of college radio stations closing their doors saturate our news feeds, I want to share a happy milestone about the station I call home. I’m proud to be the faculty station manager to a live, student-staffed, year-round educational FM radio station. WMCO(FM) 90.7 MHz at Muskingum University celebrates 55 years on the air Jan. 28, and I couldn’t be more proud of my students and the history of our operation.

Serving the surrounding New Concord, Ohio, area with 1300 watts, we pride ourselves on debuting new music artists in addition to covering local news and Muskingum sports. Aside from working at Muskingum, I am a 2003 WMCO alumna.

As a student learning all I could about broadcasting and leadership, I was able to be a part of the station’s transition to 24/7 operations, see sights of our new academic building, interview alumnus Sen. John Glenn, and celebrate the station’s 40th birthday. I remember that 2001 anniversary well. During a summer alumni weekend event when many former WMCO staffers returned to campus, I connected with Muskie alumni working in the broadcasting business, learned about the first four decades of the station’s history, and most importantly, met the founder of the station, Muskingum alumnus Hal Burlingame.

Burlingame and his story are one-of-a-kind. As a student, he wanted FM college radio at Muskingum after gaining experience working at a local station. Burlingame received favorable permission from the college president to find a staff, programming and a transmitter. Having enough equipment from radio production classes to get the operation started, Muskingum’s first 10 watt transmitter came from Kent State University, a few hours north of New Concord. Since FM radios were not yet common in the early 1960s, the campus bookstore had to special order them for the community to purchase for $19. I never get tired of Burlingame telling the story, especially the part where students weren’t permitted to play rock’n roll on the radio.

WMCO has certainly progressed musically, but the founding traditions remain strong. More than 50 years of DJs and student leaders have come through WMCO’s studios. Student leadership is the heart of WMCO. I credit so much of my own management experience from working as an undergraduate in broadcasting. I love seeing my own students discover radio and the countless opportunities college media involvement provides our staff.

Burlingame, now Muskingum’s Board of Trustees president, returns to campus often and meets new generations of WMCO DJs. His “rock star” status within our organization is infectious; students love asking him to take selfies and enjoy hearing him recall the history of starting their station. We proudly celebrate College Radio Day every October, giving thanks to our campus and community who support our mission. Working in college radio is more than being able to announce songs and run a console. It’s about students learning communication skills, confidence, teamwork, and putting the community’s needs before their own. Thank you to Muskingum University for believing in the student experience and supporting our radio operation for 55 years. Happy birthday, WMCO!