95.3 FM WHRB (Harvard Radio Broadcast), Harvard’s open-circuit radio station, will celebrate its seventieth anniversary this week on April 15. The celebration, featuring live jazz, will unite faculty with dozens of undergraduates. The celebration marks more than a milestone for a college radio station; the anniversary represents the strength of WHRB’s intimate community and its commitment to providing quality programming for Harvard and the greater Boston area.
In an era in which laptops players have replaced a substantial portion of other music playing technology, and programs can be entirely automated, the students of WHRB are committed to incorporating a human element into their broadcasts. The studio boasts 24/7 programming during the school year, resorting only to automated shows on summer and spring breaks. Furthermore, rather than plugging their iPods into their laptops in order to generate sets from readymade playlists, the disc jockeys at WHRB remain true to their name, preferring to play vinyl over MP3 files.
For Joe A. Poirier ’11, comp director and former general manager, one of the elements of WHRB that initially drew him to the station was the extensive vinyl record collection. “I took the door through the libraries, and I saw all the music in the station, and I said ‘I have to do this.’ I have to be able to be around this music all the time,” Poirier says. Tova R. Holmes ‘11, president of WHRB, loves its collection of first- and limited-edition records, saying that about 95% of her shows are played on vinyl.
As part of the station’s effort to bring its audience the highest quality listening experience, WHRB shies away from mainstream college indie rock and Top 40. Instead, the staff prefers to occupy a niche that reaches a broader spectrum of the Boston community. The vast majority of WHRB’s weekly 70,000 listeners come from the greater Boston area. “All of our departments try to do something that is unique. All of our DJs know a lot about their specific genre... People listen to WHRB because it’s the only place they can find what they’re listening to,” Holmes says.
WHRB divides its music airtime between three major programs: Classical, Jazz, and the Record Hospital (underground rock and punk). In addition, WHRB offers news and sports broadcasts, as well as airplay for blues, reggae, bluegrass, hip-hop, electronica, and a number of other varied genres.
David R. Elliott ‘64, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for WHRB and a former disc jockey (a ‘ghost,’ as WHRB alumni are known), feels that WHRB has always been committed to excellence in programming. He explains that in the early days of the station, “commercial radio depended on the largest number of listeners, but WHRB’s intention was always to provide the best music, and the listener followed... and that holds true today.” WHRB’s first radio broadcast, which devoted its time to jazz and classical music, as well as a 15-minute news segment, abided by a formula quite similar to its modern schedule. Rock music was first incorporated into the rotation in the early 1970s.
Originally founded as WHCN (Harvard Crimson Network) in 1940, the station was managed by undergraduate Kenneth I. Richter ’43 and several of his friends from the ham radio club. According to Holmes, WHCN is the oldest continuously running college radio station in the country. Despite being initially funded by The Crimson, the radio station soon changed its name to WHRV (Harvard Radio Voice) and became a self-sufficient entity. In 1957, the station switched from closed-channel to open-channel, opening up its broadcasting to the surrounding Boston area.
In the past seventy years, the station has undergone one more name change, as well as a few shifts in location, including a move from Memorial Hall to the basement of Pennypacker Hall in 1994. A year later, it repositioned its broadcast signal from the Holyoke Center to the top of One Financial Center in downtown Boston.
WHRB boasts a number of prestigious alumni, including Hartford Gunn ’48 of Public Broadcasting Station, Daniel Raviv ’76 of Columbia Broadcasting System News, Chris Wallace ’69 of Fox News, and Alex Ross ’90 of The New Yorker. Hip-hop magazine The Source was also founded out of the hip-hop department of WHRB.
The seventieth anniversary celebration comes in the middle of an exciting Spring season for WHRB. This past weekend, it celebrated its annual Record Hospital Fest, a two-night extravaganza featuring performances by over a dozen East Coast bands that draws ghosts from all over the nation. Later this month, WHRB will host its semi-annual radio “orgies,” during which the station plays a continuous block of programming devoted solely to one artist, time period, or concept.
For those undergraduates involved in WHRB, one of the most important aspects of their college experiences has been the friendships formed from working in the radio station. When Megan E. Popkin ’11, one of the music directors for Record Hospital, reflects upon her experience at WHRB, she concludes that “everyone is doing this because they love it. They love the community and they love the people here... I think I’ve learned the most here than I’ve learned anywhere at Harvard... It’s hard to imagine Harvard without it.”
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