The author is student media adviser at Tulane University. Campus View appears regularly at radioworld.com.
During summer and winter breaks at Tulane University’s WTUL(FM), the person behind the mic might be a community member instead of a college student. Through an agreement with the Undergraduate Student Government, the non-commercial radio station has been allowed to invite non-university-affiliated community members to help fill gaps in the programming schedule. While there are certainly some cons to allowing non-affiliates on the air, the good outweighs the bad, and the station has adopted a few policies to ensure that students run the show.
The good points of the program are many. WTUL prides itself on being totally automation-free and non-affiliates were first allowed to join the station in order to help it stay that way. “…They pull a lot of weight at the station during spring/summer/winter breaks when many students are unavailable,” Annie Russell, recent graduate and DJ since 2012, said.
Non-affiliates, along with alumni, and university staff and faculty members, provide continuity and stability at WTUL, as well. While student leadership changes every year, non-affiliates are in for the longer haul and help the station stay on track during the transition periods.
The presence of non-affiliates also acts as a two-way bridge between the community and Tulane University. Current student Jacqueline McLennan said working with non-affiliates “provides a way for me to engage and meet people within the New Orleans community I wouldn’t have normally met.”
DJ Rotten Milk, also known as Don Pentaro, has been a non-affiliate member of WTUL since 2014. He joined to share his love of independent music and to show his appreciation of the station. “As someone who listens to the radio a lot but often lacks the financial means to contribute support, I feel good about the opportunity to support WTUL with my time,” Pentaro said. WTUL is funded by both Tulane University and community supporters, and its listener base draws heavily from off-campus populations.
“It’s important that non-commercial radio offer the opportunity for audience members to become involved,” Pentaro said.
One of the greatest benefits of allowing non-students to join the staff has been the ties that have developed among them and students.
“The multi-generational friendships are a huge perk of DJing at WTUL,” former General Manager Liz Elliot said. “They provide excellent mentors for the students starting out.”
As a freshman, Alle Ehrhardt joined non-affiliate Chris Trochez to host a Sunday cheez show (WTUL-speak for new age music), and they remain close friends several years after her graduation. Ehrhardt said she selected the show “not knowing I would end up getting to do radio shows with someone who would be one of my closest friends and mentors for the rest of my life. Some Sundays I showed up for the music, but every Sunday I showed up to check-in or talk with Chris.”
Trochez’s philosophy is representative of most non-affiliates at WTUL. “It's important for the non-affiliates to remember this is a student-run organization … I have always lived by the rule that I serve at the pleasure of the general manager of WTUL. One day a student may want the show I do and if so I will smile and graciously turn it over.” Making sure that student priority is understood by all is critical to making the blend of student and non-student staff work for WTUL, and certain rules and policies ensure that the station remains student run.
WTUL adopted an official student priority policy that states that currently enrolled students have priority over alumni, staff, faculty and non-affiliates in getting a show at the station. The policy allows for some “legacy” shows that are highly valued by WTUL listeners to be hosted by long-standing DJs but students are encouraged to co-host such shows. There is also a cap on the number of non-affiliates that can participate at WTUL. No more than 20-30 members of the 200-member organization may be non-affiliates. Allen Gale, alumnus and host of WTUL’s Boppin’ in The Big Easy with Big Al for more than 20 years, feels the cap is a logical step. “If there were too many non-affiliates, that would put a damper on student participation at WTUL.”
Finally, although non-students are allowed to hold some leadership positions at the station, they are not allowed to vote on station matters. Hunter King, WTUL technical director and non-affiliate, said that not interfering with the station’s decision-making processes is an important way to keep things student run. Students often turn to older staff members like Hunter for advice and guidance, but they then make decisions on their own.
“College radio is a strange thing because your leadership usually has a 4 year expiration date … more realistically 1 or 2,” King said. “While that comes with a mountain of problems, it also is its defining feature, and is precisely what keeps it fresh and interesting.”
WTUL’s use of non-university-affiliated DJs during breaks was mentioned in an April column.