Facing a dry advertising market and a stagnant listnership, officials of Harvard's radio station realized last spring they couldn't afford to replace their antiquated broadcasting equipment. Then WHRB's trustees informed them that they had better get the station back to financial health--fast.
WHRB's top officers took the alumni warnings to heart, consolidating the station's folk, rap and alternative rhythm and blues departments in order to bring the station's programming in line with what they think is its core audience: white, affluent Cantabrigians. Last spring, WHRB started a $1.2 million drive to fund its move to new offices in Pennypacker Hall.
"We're a college station trying to survive and I think people understand that it was a business decision for viability of the radio station," says Station Manager Jeremy A. Raussen '95.
WHRB now broadcasts three solid programming chunks of classical, jazz and rock every weekday with a smattering of country, folk, rap and alternative rhythm and blues on the weekends. According to Rassen, WHRB hired professional sales and programming consultants as part of the station overhaul.
Rassen's decisions, which he says will develop a more loyal listenership, have drawn the ire of a many of his current and former co-workers at the station who criticize him for acting unilaterally and for cutting what they think were the most popular formats. They have also prompted several deejays to leave the station.
David O. Nauen '94, who was a streetbeat deejay in the alternative rhythm and blues(AR&B;) department, says he quit because of the"tyrannical way" the overhaul was carried out.
No survey of WHRB listenership demographics hasbeen conducted recently, according to stationofficials. A number of WHRB deejays charge thatRassen based his programming decisions on hispersonal tastes--not sound economic reasons.
"There is a lot of petty politics behindeverything around it," Nauen says. "[Rassen's]reasoning is totally fallacious because hip hopwas the most sellable music that WHRB played. It'sthe most commercially popular music and it had ahumungous listnership. By cutting it the stationwouldn't make more money.
Enver M. Casimir '94, another former AR&Bdeejay; who also quit, questions Rassen'smotivations.
"I think the listnership for AR&B; was quitesubstantial and it was quite popular," saysCasimir. "To say that it wasn't profitable isludicrous."
According to Alexis G. Averbuck '94, formervice president of WHRB's student administrativeboard, Rassen and other station managers were notinvolved in the alternative rhythm and bluesdepartment, making it a relatively easy target forthe chopping block.
"The department was relatively voiceless in thegovernment, most people had little clue about whatwe played so it made it easier to target," shesays. "It has little chance to survive if peopletried to cut it."
"People in the AR&B; didn't get along with otherpeople in the station," says Casimir.
Casimir says the trustees thought playing rapmusic was risky and encouraged the decision to cutthe AR&B; department, which includes rap music.
"It partly has to do with the perception thatrap contributed to violence," he says. "At onepoint the trustees wanted to cut rap altogetherbecause they thought it was dangerous."