WSLC, Sarah Lawrence’s student-run radio station, has a history much longer than many other student organizations on campus. Over half a century and counting, it’s shifted from its 1940s days as an FM station to a multifaceted station transmitted online via TuneIn. WSLC today, however, continues to thrive in the same ways as before: as a spirited group of individuals determined to bring their passion for music and spoken art to the Sarah Lawrence community.
Thomas Ordway (‘17), general manager of WSLC, discussed the structure of their broadcasted content. “We generally try to accommodate as many shows as possible, while making sure we build diverse programming,” he said. “While most of the WSLC staff will tend to have our own shows, as managers we try to step back and let the programming be shaped by whatever our current crop of DJs and show applications ends up including.”
Every fall, Ordway and the rest of the WSLC staff reconstruct their schedule based on brand-new student submissions as well as shows that WSLC has previously hosted. DJs must reapply at the start of the year to claim their spots.
“People come to us with a lot of different ideas—a lot of music shows, of course, but over the years we have had talk shows, sketch comedy, narrative sci-fi radio serials, and a few others,” Ordway said. He added, “We have a few shows that have been running as long as I've been working here, which I think of as staples.”
Recently, in trying to reach a larger audience, the WSLC team has discussed the option of a wider broadcast—namely, to provide music for the Pub in place of generic radio. “Every year we have talked about this but it hasn't happened yet...[it’s] something I think some DJs are very interested in, and others very much not,” Ordway explained.
Kat Schubert (‘20), as co-host-and-DJ of the WSLC show Kitten High, brought a personal view to the subject. “I think it would be really cool for our show to be played at the Pub, though WSLC has weird hours and sometimes has technical difficulties so that would have to be something that people think about before moving forward,” she said. “It would be nice to reach an audience that way, but we'd probably have to up the quality of our show a little and be more aware of the weird shit we say.”
The WSLC team is also in charge of setting up live shows at Sarah Lawrence, including staging on-campus festivals and hiring DJs and other performers for the blue room. In the last three years alone, SLC has hosted indie bands Girlpool and Darwin Deez, synthpop soloist Porches, and Jonathan Richman of Modern Lovers fame—among several others.
“The [WSLC music manager] is responsible for dealing with music promoters to get tracks for airplay at the station, as well as reporting DJ playlists to radio charts, so they quickly start to see which artists our DJs like, and try to plan the live music booking in accordance,” Ordway explained.
WSLC’s live music shows also highlight a different crowd of SLC musicians than those who work with the music department. By organizing shows for student-based groups and solo performers on campus, Ordway and his team provide an outlet for the passion-fueled hobbyists and independent artists that might otherwise slip through the cracks.
“Over three years there's been a lot of singer-songwriter types, but we're starting to see a community of full bands and collaborative projects growing over the last year or two as well,” Ordway said. “It's been awesome to get to know the DIY music-making community that exists on this campus.”
Which speaks well to the general mindset of WSLC’s team. DJs (and other performers) are encouraged to be as spontaneous and creative as possible—but while still remembering to maintain the solid structure of a broadcasted radio show or concert.
“WSLC strikes a very good balance between taking ourselves seriously and also playing it loose and irreverent, so it's tough to know where to lay down the law,” Ordway said of his own position as general manager. “We want student DJs to be able to work on their own (and we are off-site for most of the time while they are doing their shows) but there are certain equipment setups and workflows that we need to make sure DJs do just because of our obligations as a licensed radio station.”
As a student DJ herself, Schubert described her semester’s worth of experience with WSLC as like being part of “a dysfunctional family.”
“We're not exactly a well oiled machine but 95% of the time (when there's no technical difficulties) everything works out and everyone has a good time,” she said. “And that's really what it's for—[to] make good content and have a good time.”
Peck Trachsel '20