Boosting WXPL's signal

The WXPL radio station

By Randall Leclerc

Fitchburg State has been home to its very own radio station, WXPL, for almost 30 years; but that longevity hasn’t translated into listener interest. The club is currently known for providing music for a number of campus events, but the actual station is struggling to find a dedicated audience. In response to this, General Manager John Gerhardt is getting serious about appealing to the student body.

“We’re experiencing a bit of an identity crisis at the moment,” Gerhardt says. “I’ve realized that without a solid tone and direction, we can’t really have an identity, can’t focus on PR; we’re kind of stuck.”

Instead, Gerhardt says he’s in the process of rethinking WXPL on the airwaves, making it less of a radio station and more of a platform. By pushing to match broadcasts with cultures already plentiful on campus, such as sports, he hopes to increase the station’s appeal to students.

The focus on music is more important to the DJs working at the station than students.

“One of the current trends now is for people to have their own personal music choice that they listen to rather than a broadcasted channel,” says Michael Makoski, Associate Director of Student Development and Operations of Hammond Building.

Considering the low numbers for radio programs, the number of students wearing headphones, and the lack of a stream to the station online, it appears to be a losing battle to win over students through the music taste of the DJs.

This isn’t the first time WXPL has struggled to stay relevant to the college. In the late 1990s, the station shut itself down for almost 10 years due to poor management and disinterest from both listeners and the staff itself.

But in 2007, a group of students led by Fitchburg State alumni Ben Hassey revived the radio station, gaining a space in the Thompson Hall basement to operate from. From there, the club has been more successful from its live music endeavors than its broadcasting. Regardless of quality, the issue is student disinterest.

One logical step would be to stream the radio station live throughout Hammond and other common buildings for students to hear, but there is no network in place to support this. “The old building PA system no longer exists, so that is not an option,” says Makoski. This limits broadcasts to areas with radio, such as the Game Room, and to students tuning in on their own.

So how does Gerhardt plan to address these issues? Through diplomacy. His own radio block, scheduled for 11:30-2:00 on Fridays, intends to reflect his own interest in sports while featuring energized students providing their own commentary on sports both local and regional. If his program can show promise, he can make a stronger argument for bringing those changes to the entire station.

“We’ve succeeded in getting a lot of technical issues solved, so now my focus is on personnel … but it can be hard to unite so many isolated DJs under focused leadership,” says Gerhardt.

The club currently has over 50 DJs residing, responsible for more than 30 broadcast shows. Traditionally, WXPL has a laissez-faire attitude towards anybody that wishes to be a part of it, so Gerhardt believes leadership must come in the form of a cultural sea change rather than a hard restart.

“This year really feels like a fresh start, so we need to keep that morale to try something different,” he says.