Language students, town residents hit the airwaves

MIDDLEBURY — When Middlebury College is in session, the school’s radio station, WRMC 91.1-FM, experiences such high demand for radio shows from its student body that it can fill every hour of the week with original programming, and still must turn away aspiring DJs.
During the summer, the complexion of the station’s weekly schedule looks — and sounds — considerably different.
Start with the fact that the majority of students, many of whom double as amateur DJs between September and May, leave town for the summer. That gives Taylor Smith, the general manager of WRMC, a considerable block of time to fill.
“There’s a lot more automation than would be playing during the school year,” said Smith, referring to the randomly generated music that plays when no show is on the air. During the school year, the WRMC team tries to keep automation to a minimum.
But Middlebury College is far from empty during the summer months, as the campus plays host to Middlebury’s language school, a summer program that offers immersive language courses in a variety of foreign languages including Hebrew, German, Italian, French, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and Chinese.
Language school students are all at least of college age, but there is no maximum age limit. Students sign a pledge that they will not speak English while at the school, and will avoid hearing English whenever possible.
This pledge creates an opportunity for WRMC to diversify its broadcasts, which are mostly in English throughout the school year.
“There aren’t many foreign language shows during the school year,” said Smith, despite the fact that the college has numerous foreign language departments.
Each language school has at least one show this summer, and some, such as Russian and German, have two. In keeping with their language pledge, DJs speak and play music only in their language.
Smith has been spending his days working in the station on various improvement projects, and says that although he can’t understand the shows, he has enjoyed listening to them.
“They’ve been doing some pretty interesting stuff,” Smith said. “It’s cool to hear Hebrew music followed by Portuguese followed by Brazilian disco.”
WRMC has a broadcast radius of roughly 30 miles, but can be streamed online at wrmc.middlebury.edu from anywhere with an Internet connection. Smith hopes this encourages people from the community, and beyond, to tune in and enjoy music that they have likely never heard before.
“I think some people are interested in tuning in and hearing (a foreign language) on the air,” said Smith.
But the summer schedule at WRMC is not foreign language exclusive: The station also broadcasts numerous shows from students living and working on campus over the summer, as well as community members interested in hosting a show.
Nate Marshall, a rising senior at Clarkson University, grew up in Middlebury and is living here this summer. An avid DJ on Clarkson’s radio station since his freshman year, Marshall missed the DJ booth immediately when he came home in May.
“I just wanted to get back on the air,” said Marshall, who finds the dearth of quality radio programming in the area disheartening. “(A lot of stations) play the same music over and over again. I feel like radio should be different than that.”
Any community members who feel the same way are welcome to do like Marshall, who now hosts a weekly show on Tuesday nights playing jam and rock music, and take matters into their own hands.
Smith says these new DJs just might find themselves with an engaged audience — and a new hobby.
Community members interested in applying for a show should email [email protected].
Reporter Ian Trombulak is at [email protected].

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