It’s 3 o’clock on a Monday afternoon. The really hard stuff is four hours away.
Down the hall from Dave Sabaini’s office in the WISU studios, disc jockeys Rachel Carl and Ashley Hood ponder what musical mood they’re in today. Carl is leaning toward a retro binge of 1980s punk, full of the Ramones, the Clash and the Cure. Hood prefers spinning some more current Dead Can Drive. To help a reporter unfamiliar with that band’s style, Carl explains that Dead Can Drive plays “industrial Goth,” which she adds, “is just not what our audience likes.” So instead, Hood settles on hardcore rockers Clutch.
Clutch’s “Passive Restraints” CD can be found on Earache Records.
Suddenly the thought behind Sabaini’s “7 o’clock rule” unfolds. It’s one of the few WISU playlist restrictions imposed by Sabaini — the 51-year-old director of audio operations who’s been tutoring fledgling DJs at Indiana State University since 1983.
“No screamers before 7 p.m.,” he explains. “After 7, guys like us want earplugs and Tylenol.”
Sabaini, a fan of classic rock and the blues, and his wife, a classically trained musician, have a vast CD collection in their Terre Haute home. “We have about everything except what we play here,” he says.
And that’s precisely the quaint beauty of college radio. It’s the only place the under-25 crowd can hear edgy groups such as The Diffs, Bouncing Souls and Bad Brains. Kids can’t find that music in their parents’ album stack or on most commercial radio stations.
“You will never have heard of any of it,” says 43-year-old Chris Newton, operations coordinator at DePauw University’s WGRE, “but the kids have.”
WGRE (on FM 91.5), WISU (FM 89.7) and Rose-Hulman’s WMHD (FM 90.7) are three of more than 600 college radio stations in America, estimates the editor-in-chief of the College Music Journal. And each offers “a lot of freedom, a lot of variety, a lot of options and a kind of programming that isn’t dictated by commercial dollars,” says the CMJ editor — known as “Reverend Moose” — in a telephone interview from the publication’s New York City offices. “It’s a breeding ground for new ideas and free-thinking minds and everything you always thought college radio should be.”
Occasionally, older folks call to tell Sabaini what they think WISU shouldn’t be doing. The lyrics sometimes make the station’s telephones ring.
“I’ll say, ‘Was there an objectionable word, or an objectionable idea?’ And they’ll say, ‘Well, it was an idea,’” Sabaini says. “And I have to say, ‘Well, sorry.’”
Despite such complaints, WISU’s ratings and awareness around the ISU campus and Terre Haute community are stronger than ever, Sabaini says. And that strength is linked to a decision a few years ago to switch its musical playlist from an eclectic mix of classical, jazz and blues to what the station now calls “real good rock” through the week and “urban” tunes on the weekends.
That move wasn’t just to please the students, even though it did. The decision, Sabaini says, was practical. A segment of the campus and city community may have enjoyed the sounds of symphonies or jazz trios. But since 1983, only two of the hundreds of radio/TV/film majors who have worked at WISU have gone on to become classical music DJs. The new format, Sabaini says, offers more valuable experience for students hoping to work in commercial radio, where more contemporary genres dominate.
Carl, a senior who serves as WISU’s student station manager, appreciates that.
“Some people complain that we’re getting too close to mainstream,” she says. “But for students, that’s a good thing, because we’re preparing them more for what they’ll do when they get a job.”
Appealing on, off campus
Serving as a DJ is only part of students’ duties at WISU, where 30 to 35 of the 160 radio/TV/film majors work each year. They must also learn how to program a station’s offerings, operate the technology and sell ads. Some are also involved in broadcasts of university sports. Right now, WISU is a hotspot for fans of the Missouri Valley Conference-leading Sycamore women’s basketball team. Rose-Hulman sports can be heard on WMHD. And at DePauw, WGRE also carries several Tigers sports events, as well as basketball and football games involving the four Putnam County high schools.
“We try to be a small-town college radio station,” says Jeff McCall, faculty adviser at WGRE.
Jon Coffin, a senior with a political science major and a minor in mass communications, moderated a Greencastle mayoral debate. And in 2004, the modern WGRE studios provided one of only two face-to-face meetings between congressional opponents John Hostettler and Jon Jennings.
“That’s one of the ways we reach out to the local community,” Coffin says.
And they’re accessible. When university classes are in session, a live DJ sits behind the microphone 24 hours a day. That’s a rarity. Most radio stations — whether college, public or commercial — carry some sort of automated programming, especially at night. A song request or call about the weather at 4 a.m. lets WGRE know real people are out there listening to real people on the radio.
“They make mistakes that teenagers make,” says Newton, a 1985 DePauw grad. “But they don’t blow the station up, and they don’t have the FCC calling us.”
Heavily formatted commercial stations seldom feature such glaring mistakes. But, as McCall puts it, “That’s what people like about us. It’s a charm. When we’re good, we’re really good. And when we’re bad, we’re really bad.”
So far, the good seems to outweigh the bad. Last fall, the Princeton Review ranked WGRE as the fourth best college radio station in America. Its 800-watt signal carries 30 to 40 miles and seems to appeal to more than just the 2,200 students at DePauw. The music — WGRE calls it “college alternative” — is a prime attraction. Like WISU, this Greencastle campus station receives handfuls of CDs by unheralded, independent bands hoping for some airplay. A committee from the 150-student staff listens to as many as possible and picks the best for the playlist.
In the WGRE music room filled with old vinyl LPs (yes, the station still has a turntable, just in case) and CDs, Coffin picks up a random mail package, tears it open and finds an album submitted by the band Elephant The Black Magic Show.
“I’ve never heard of them,” Coffin says. “But who knows, they might be good.”
Cutting-edge is its edge
Therein lies college radio’s power. Names on those stations’ current playlists such as Death Cab For Cutie, The Killers or Egghead could become the Green Day of tomorrow.
“People come to us with music, because we’re a station expected to break new music,” Newton says.
That concept anchors WISU too. “That’s really our number one job,” Sabaini says.
WISU gets lots of CDs from independent labels, as well as self-produced works by local and regional bands. Though groups with a national following or some past mention in College Music Journal get some preference, songs and albums by locals aren’t disregarded, Sabaini says.
“I tell the kids, every time you listen to a CD, you’re holding somebody’s dream in your hands, and very possible their life’s work,” he says. “And we can’t be cavalier about that.”
Although its staff is smaller than WISU and WGRE, Rose-Hulman’s WMHD offers a wide-open forum for new music. Unlike the DePauw and ISU stations where students are usually majors or minors in radio, WMHD relies on 50 members of the engineering institute’s radio club to handle its broadcasts. But it lures these future engineers to dabble in radio with one key enticement.
“We tell people, ‘You can play whatever you want,’” says Rachel Young, a senior and the program director. “And they’ll say, ‘Really? Whatever I want?’”
And so they do, with live DJs typically on duty from 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Like WISU and many other college stations, WMHD fills in off hours with pre-recorded or “automated” music shows produced by the students. But while others purchase the software to record those programs, WMHD created its own software.
When DJs such as senior Brooks Borchers or sophomore Leven Browne are on the air live, they’ll work from a song playlist they came up with on their own, and do some homework too. Their program schedule also includes some specialty shows hosted by professors. David Voltmer has spun bluegrass songs for more than two decades. And metallurgist Pat Ferro hosts a popular heavy metal show. “He plays metal and talks metal,” explains Borchers, the general manager.
But their staple is a style that now has its own name — college rock. It might be grinding guitars and screaming, or the Talking Heads-ish quintet Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah, or the offbeat warbling of the White Stripes on “My Door Bell.” Commercial stations might play these same songs after they’ve filtered through college radio and into the mainstream, as they sometimes do. But for now, young people have this music to themselves.
“Occasionally we get requests for mainstream crap,” Young says, laughing with her fellow WMHD staffers. “But we’re like, ‘We don’t have that album right now. Bye.’”
Mark Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or 1-800-783-8742, Option 6, Ext. 377.
College radio stations
WISU-FM 89.7, Indiana State: Broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 13,500 watts, with college rock on weekdays and urban music on weekends. Staff includes ISU radio/TV/film majors. Station first hit the airwaves on April 1, 1964.
WMHD-FM 90.7, Rose-Hulman: Staffed by the WMHD Broadcasting Club with a power of 1,400 watts. Format includes college rock, as well as specialty shows including bluegrass and heavy metal. Station began broadcasting in early 1972.
WGRE-FM 91.5, DePauw: Ranked fourth best college station in America in last fall’s Princeton Review. Staff at 800-watt station includes mass communications majors in the private university’s Center for Contemporary Media in Greencastle.
It’s 3 o’clock on a Monday afternoon. The really hard stuff is four hours away.
Busy sidewalks … Dec. 6 ‘Miracle on 7th’ event brings crowds downtown
Christmas Music Schedule
Schedule of Events
‘Someday at Christmas’ with Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack coming to ISU Dec. 11
Sandy Hackett’s famous Rat Pack is coming to Terre Haute to ring in a swingin’ holiday season with its critically acclaimed show “Someday at Christmas.”
Hailed as “extremely strong and hugely entertaining,” “Someday at Christmas” blends the classic charisma of the golden age of Las Vegas with some of Ron Miller’s greatest Christmas hits.
Community Theatre offers up family show ‘Babes in Toyland’ in December
Community Theatre of Terre Haute celebrates the season with the holiday musical, “Babes in Toyland,” based on the operetta by Victor Herbert & Glen MacDonough. It opens this Friday and continues through the weekend.
Heightened Sense of Place: Educators’ efforts helped put geography back on map in schools
Geography transcends dots on a map.
Teachers traveling abroad alongside Terre Haute geographer Dorothy Drummond have experienced the real-life cultures, atmosphere and people existing within those dots. An educator herself, Drummond has organized affordable geography tours of foreign lands for Wabash Valley schoolteachers for many years. The journeys involved more than sight-seeing.
Fade to Black: A few local theaters among last to part with century-old 35-mm film
The projectionist behind the first movie shown in the Indiana Theatre nearly 92 years ago would likely feel right at home in that same booth today.
HEALING WATERS: Team River Runner offers inspiration, opens doors for wounded veterans
Some people say the fun of boating on the Wabash is dealing with unexpected challenges such a big body of water can present on certain days; others delight in the wild beauty at Terre Haute’s doorstep, from bald eagles soaring above trees lining the banks of the Wabash to the panorama of the river itself as it curls through woodland in many places reminiscent of primeval splendor seen hundreds of years ago.
Leaving ‘footprints on the sands of time’
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Had I taken the time to read a street map, I would have been able to walk through Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s historic home four years ago. My daughter, Ellen, and I spent the better part of a day hiking over the grassy hillsides of historic Mount Auburn Cemetery, just a few blocks away from the great poet’s house, and never knew we were that close.
‘Abraham’s Family’: New musical illuminates common ground, value of respect the three Abrahamic faiths can share
At a table inside a Denny’s in Terre Haute on a July night in 2012, a trio of theatrical writers conjured a bold idea.
They considered creating a musical based on the story of Abraham, a religious figure to whom three faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — trace their ancestries.
Musical explorer: Quest to see the world is a full-circle journey for Marshall native Chris Bennett
Marshall lies 5,553 miles away from the mountains of Tahiti, far too distant to see from the French Polynesian island paradise.
The small Illinois town can’t be spotted from Germany, either. Or Los Angeles. Or Croatia.
Chris Bennett has performed in all those far-away places, and many others, but her heart needs no GPS to locate her hometown.
Legends of the Valley: Region has its share of spooky stories and paranormal tales
“It’s creepy and it’s kooky, mysterious and spooky, it’s all together ooky,” the Wa-bash Va-al-ley!
Believe it or not — words similar to the old “Addams’ Family” TV show theme song are not far from truth in describing this region that seems to have a high concentration of the paranormal in its legends and modern-day stories — from documented bigfoot sightings, to a long-distance phone call made from inside a tomb, to a ghost at a cemetery you meet after climbing 100 steps — if you dare to count them!
‘Writing is an act of faith ...’ Visiting writer E.B. White, in Brooklin, Maine
BROOKLIN, MAINE — This town of 820 souls sits in the middle of a wonderful nowhere, its craggy toes dangling from rock ledges that hover above the blue Atlantic. For a place that doesn’t seem to have much going on, it has plenty to see, so one day this summer, my wife and I, a week or so into our New England journey, hoped to find the home of writer E.B. White, who lived nearby for over half a century.
Lessons of the Holy Land: New book explores geographic impact of small, but significant place
The appeal of a book based on the geography of a small stretch of land 4,000 years ago might seem limited.
The key is location, location, location, as a real-estate agent might say.
The focal point of a new release involving Terre Haute authors and editors is a place 50 miles wide and 145 miles long — about 10,000 square miles total, or the size of Vermont. The story of that state in 2000 B.C. might garner a niche audience.
River of inspiration: Adventurous spirit leads artist to paint sights up, down the Wabash
Nancy Nichols-Pethick slogged through knee-deep mud in the woods near New Harmony last month. Her quest was to find the ideal view of the Wabash River and sketch the scenery.
Practical knowledge: Retired Parke County resident dedicated career to values, educational bent Extension offers
Being a “guide on the side” with a desire to serve others recently garnered Parke County resident Mark Spelbring the Indiana Extension Educator’s Association’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Career Award.
‘The road less traveled’: The Indiana National Road Association encourages exploration, preservation of ‘the road that built America’
Its significance cannot be overstated. Its past is our past. Our future will be a product of the opportunities it provided. In a young, thriving nation, it loosened the dam on economic development and provided a route for the open floodgates of prosperity. It was the great migration route west. It holds 200 years of history to be uncovered and discovered.
“It” is the Historic National Road, the nation’s first “superhighway.”
Visiting Emily: 'New feet within my garden go...'
In an early stillness that belied the busy streets just outside the door, my wife and I stood in the cool back porch of poet Emily Dickinson’s imposing old house. It was a humid June morning, one that had turned warm after an overnight rain, and there were few visitors to the home of the strange woman who once said, “I sing, as the boy does by the burying ground, because I am afraid.”
Points of interest along the Wabash: Small towns along southern stretch of river offer peaceful sights, historic stops
A drive along highways running parallel to the Wabash River’s southern miles offers peaceful sights.
Points of interest along the Wabash: A few public access points provide unique peeks at river communities
While giving a presentation on the Wabash to a gathering of Indiana State University’s Osher Lifelong Living Institute in June, river enthusiast Brendan Kearns asked how many people in the audience had been “on the river.”
Points of interest along the Wabash: Parks, diners, nightspots — even ice skating — surround Wabash at Lafayette
LAFAYETTE — Lafayette and West Lafayette share the liveliest riverfront on the Wabash.
The most compelling sights depend upon a visitor’s tastes.
Points of interest along the Wabash: Small northern Indiana towns display Wabash front-and-center
BLUFFTON — A quest to see the white limestone bedrock that gave the Wabash River its name requires tenacity.
The Miami Native American tribe labeled the waterway “waapaashiki,” meaning “water over white stones,” describing the clear river they witnessed in its upper reaches in northern Indiana. Their moniker morphed to “Ouabache” by French fur traders to the pioneers’ Anglicized “Wabash.” The river water appeared clearer in those Native Americans’ days than now, thanks to a murky tint from sediment and nutrients.
Walk of a Lifetime: Writer discovers views fit for a painting while walking the cliffs of Prout’s Neck, home to famous artist Winslow Homer’s seaside studio
Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day walking the Maine seacoast in search of the great artist, Winslow Homer. Join Mike in January for the fifth installment of this series as he visits Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rural New York farm, Steepletop.
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Sustainability hubs will leave the world a better place
There is something powerful that happens when people ban together for greater good. In many cities throughout the United States there are sustainability hubs. While each one is uniquely different, they all have the common theme of leaving the world better than when they entered into it.
TRIED ’N’ TRUE: You can’t tell there’s Velveeta in this fudge
At Christmastime we make sweets, candy, cookies, etc. When we were in State Soil and Water, we would bring cookies and candy for the last night at the meetings. A friend of mine, Marie Bunting, brought this fudge recipe and samples.
Usher in the holiday season with … ‘The Sound of Christmas’
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s Hatfield Hall will usher in the holiday season with “The Sound of Christmas,” featuring Elisabeth von Trapp and the Carolian Brass, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Community School of Arts open house features steel sculpture
Indiana State University’s Community School of the Arts will host an open house from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at Turman Art Gallery in the Fine Arts Building, 649 Chestnut St.
The open house will present an opportunity to meet the teachers, learn more about spring 2014 offerings and register for classes and private music lessons. On display in the Turman Gallery will be artwork created by adult students participating in “Metal Sculpture” and “Digital Photography” classes and children participating in “Saturday Art Day.” There will be a special performance by the “Terre Haute Guitar Club,” and guests can enter a drawing to win a free spring arts class.
Bridgeton to host Country Christmas celebration this weekend
Bridgeton will host its annual Country Christmas celebration from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The shops will be open and full of gifts.
GRAPE SENSE: ‘Today’s Bordeaux’ campaign features more affordable wines
There is an old saying among wine enthusiasts: “The more you drink wine, the more you gravitate toward the French.”
And if you haven’t heard that one, certainly you’ve read and heard people talk about expensive French Bordeaux wines.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: A good bread for dishes like spaghetti or lasagna
I have made this bread for many years. It is wonderful with spaghetti or lasagna. I’m not sure where the recipe came from. We all love garlic bread. If you are just starting to make bread, this is a good one. I have taken this bread to the field, carry-in dinners, just about everywhere.
Comedienne Chonda Pierce coming to Indiana Theatre
Southern charm blended with some sass, wit and a woman’s view of the world’s quirks produce comedienne Chonda Pierce’s “Girl Talk.”
Music, cookies and Santa Nov. 23 at ‘Christmas at the Cecilian’
The Sinfonietta Pops Orchestra concert “Christmas at the Cecilian” sets the mood for the holidays with music, punch and cookies and a visit from St. Nicholas. The concert begins at 3 p.m. Saturday in Cecilian Auditorium at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
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