Seizing the Sound:

College Radio and Cultural Conflict in the University Environment

by karen cirillo

Over the years, WXDU, Duke University's student-run radio station, has faced discussion concerning its identity and its purpose. Many criticize it for not catering to students interests, while some argue that it is there to educate, not to coddle. Others question the reality of only 1/2-2/3 of the volunteers being of student status, while several recognize the benefits of working with the community and programming with Durham in mind as well. WXDU, however, has an extremely unique character for a campus organization. What is so special about it that draws such a diversity of people to volunteer their time in one way or another? What motivates them to continue keeping the station, that barely has a one-mile radius, on the air for eight months now? What does it offer these supporters to keep it operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
      From first-year students to corporate employee, the DJs and staff members span a wide gamut. I set out to document this community through photography and interviews. I focused on the different personalities of the volunteers and their perceptions and interpretatins of the identity of the station. Hopefully, this can afford a new understanding to those who do not perceive the importance of the station as it presently functions.

My Background
My interaction with WXDU has been on two levels. Since Hurricane Fran knocked its tower down in September, much effort has been made to raise the funds to erect new equipment. As former Vice-President for Media of the Duke University Union (which provides the majority of funding for the station), I was present for many "business" discussions. As a DJ at the station, I have experienced first hand the interaction of the communities. The latter presence raises an issue of objectivity. My Duke experience has been significantly affected by involvement at WXDU. This study in no way attempts to achieve a fully objective and impartial conclusion, but rather it seeks to flesh out what I already perceive to be unique and unusual. For instance, I conducted no interviews with anyone who has departed from the station. The people I interviewed are those who are still involved in the station, and therefore speak mostly in favorable terms.
      Ironically, however, hearing such positive answers in the interviews caused me to question the opposite side of the situation. I found myself growing cynical with some of the answers I received, for they were often almost too optimistic. But even when I began to ask what was bad about the station, or what disappointed them, those questioned had a genuinely hard time uncovering a quick answer. Consequently, the answers may sound rosy and optimistic, but they are truly people's opinions.

For the text part of this project, I officially (meaning tape recorder in hand) met with each person only once. Because of my involvment in the station, I did engage in many general conversations that were not documented but formed a basis for my questioning. The interviews began with a short discussion about the individual DJs' life. We then moved into general questions such as his/her thoughts on college radio, XDU's positioning within the Duke communtiy and within the Durham community, and as mentioned earlier, what was negative about the station. From there I moved in whatever direction we seemed be heading. By the end of the interview, however, I ensured that I raised such questions as "What do you think is unique about WXDU?," "How has the antenna situation affected the station?," and "Why do you think WXDU is necessary?" These questions were stable for all interviews to achieve some layer of consistency.
      In getting these interviews ready for it's presentation stage, it became necessary to edit the results. I removed the questions, but it is still fairly apparent what the individual discussing. Especially, since most people tended to answer the quesitons before I asked them, within the context of another answer. Some answers have been restructured, but I was careful to maintain their context.
      Originally, I was going to visit each dj at his/her show and photograph him/her in the physical radio station. After about ten subjects, I began to grow inhibitted by the small space. How could I keep it creative for over fifty people? I wondered, since I was focusing on the wide variety of personalities there, why was I using a space where everyone basically served the same purpose? I decided to switch to a limited number of people and go to their workplace or home and take their picture in their own personal space. These photos were then coupled with their images from the station..
      There was no set process for me to choose subjects for the limited study. Some of them were selected for their tenure and knowledge of the station, while others represented a new perspective. I talked to both student and community members alike. Many of them are board members because they volunteered to talk to me. This study represents a small cross-section of the station but does not exhaust the diversity.

My experience at WXDU has been just that: an experience. This independent study has allowed me to expand my knowledge of the station by interacting with its members in a more personalized manner than I had before. Although I do come away with a slight cynicism at the present optimism (which I have also retained), I have gained a new respect for the incredible diversity of people that are involved at the station.