A WSCA Story

Even though WSCA was started by many former college radio DJs because they loved the idea of getting back behind the mixing board, that is only part of the story.

From my perspective, even more important is that many people who had zero radio experience also got involved — either because they had been curious about radio in the past, but never had access to the technology before; or because there was a topic they were just totally passionate about, and learned radio in order to tell the world (or at least the local community) about it; or because they saw this cool thing happening in the community and wanted to be involved without ever going on the air. Perhaps it’s because I fit into this broad category that I feel it’s so important.

Hilary NilesGrowing up listening to public radio, I admit I had always imagined hearing my voice on the air — but it seemed so out of reach that I didn’t even know how to strive for it. WSCA made radio accessible in ways I never could have imagined, and that experience opened innumerable doors. I had never stepped foot in studio before the night we went on the air. By morning, I was DJ’ing solo. Within weeks, I wrote the operations manual and was training dozens of volunteers who wanted to start shows. I was a bartender at the time; I now work full-time as a freelance journalist. I regularly report for Vermont Public Radio, and I’ve also sold stories to NPR and even heard my own voice on the BBC World Service. I literally do not know if my current career — which feels like the truest possible expression of myself — would have ever taken shape without the opportunities WSCA provided.

But when I say that the people who had no radio experience matter just as much or more than the former college DJs, it’s more than my own perspective I speak from. It’s the perspective of the people I had to coax into the studio after they froze at the door: A lot were afraid to walk in. Some trembled as they approached the microphone to speak a station ID for the first time. One grown man cried from the host’s seat, he was so terrified and elated and relieved to finally make a dream come true. Meanwhile another DJ was utterly sanguine, having pre-programmed her entire show on her iPod week after week. All she did was plug it in, pipe up for occasional station announcements, and sit knitting in between — until the day her iPod malfunctioned, and she was forced to scramble around the studio, previewing music and switching CDs and managing the mixing board and microphone all at once. She never looked back at her iPod after experiencing the true exhilaration of a live broadcast.

Community radio holds the potential to open doors that people otherwise may not even know existed, much less know how to walk through themselves. People discover new music. People overcome fears and self-consciousness. People learn leadership and communication skills. People fail publicly, and keep going anyway — because there’s dead air to beat, because there’s a community of fellow volunteers who have also screwed up around them, because there’s something they believe in that cannot exist without their contribution, no matter how imperfect it may be. People grow, and the community grows along with them.

So to me, WSCA is about so much more than people having the chance to re-live their past — although that is certainly a beautiful part of the whole. To me, WSCA represents discovery.

Hilary Niles
Former Program Director