Forty years on, the student-run WUMD continues to serve as a sound platform, allowing for success on and off the airwaves
WUMD College Radio gives way for the exploration of creative ideas and provides skill and confidence building to students in any major.
It’s 8 a.m. on a Friday and the WUMD Radio “On Air” sign is lit above the door.
The quiet murmur in the University Center halls and smell of coffee in the air are telltale signs that it’s early. But even before that all-cap red-lettered sign flickered on for the morning’s show, waves of activity were felt around the college radio station’s office.
The living room-style set-up invites students to take in the laid-back WUMD atmosphere. On this particular Friday morning, freshman Nathan “DJ Nate” Clemente relaxes on the couch with black coffee in hand, knit cap disguising his wake-up-and-go hair [“I just rolled off the couch. It’s radio.”] and a Monty Python movie plays on screen.
If that vibe is not hospitable enough, there’s also a note on the exterior door urging onlookers to come in.
As Clemente lounges, Chris “DJ Chris” Thompson types on a computer at a desk across the room. The station may look a bit different from when it began 40 years ago in the university’s R.O.C. (now a part of the Administration Building) — a time when students borrowed music equipment from the science department in order to play vinyl records. But the mission is the same: To share good music and interesting dialogue with listeners.
It’s five minutes to 8 a.m. and Thompson is prepping to go on air. He checks the sound and recording software and scrolls through his phone to quickly browse his show notes. His pre-show routine is done with ease now; you can tell he has a few years of DJ experience.
A computer science senior, Thompson’s a part of the NintenBros two-hour show that’s mainly talk-style with a bit of choice Nintendo game music tracks. Listeners, who access WUMD through streaming or tune-in at the University Center or at The Union at Dearborn, voted the show a fan favorite.
The student-run radio station, which Thompson discovered as an orientation leader, allows him to share interesting news about the multinational video game company, covering everything from Bowser to Zelda.
Thompson and his co-host Noah “DJ Noah” McGuire met in a game design course and bonded over their encyclopedic knowledge of Pokémon, their childhood Nintendo Power magazine subscription and the importance of gaming in their lives.
“Some of my favorite childhood memories come from spending time with my family while we played video games; Nintendo is known from providing that type of experience. I want to write games to bring people together like that,” said McGuire, a journalism and screen studies junior. “Nintendo is a part of many good memories for both of us from when we were little until now. That’s probably a big part of why we’re up before the sun on a Friday morning to talk about this.”
Having the DJs pitch a topic they are passionate about is part of the station’s success. Thompson said Station Manager Ricky Hansknecht’s openness to new ideas and stadio training are reasons why Thompson decided to start — and continue — the NintenBros.
Hansknecht, a junior double majoring in biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering, is basically a gatekeeper who doesn’t only let you pass, he’s also nice enough to hold the door open. He and the WUMD team train all incoming DJs. He also works to bring attention to WUMD’s efforts, including the station's annual Battle of the Bands, where WUMD alumni and 96.3 WDVD-FM producers and morning show hosts — including Blaine Fowler — recently served as judges.
Hansknecht said the station welcomes anyone with an on-air interest.
“While I was a freshman, I stopped in and checked it out. The people were cool, so I thought I’d give it a shot,” said Hansknecht, whose alias is “DJ Ricky Rain.” He created a show about alternative versions of popular radio songs called The Other Side. WUMD, advised by Television Engineer Greg Taylor, also has shows about jazz music in Detroit, rock music and ties to historic events, and freestyle rhyme and rap battles.
“I fell in love with it here and decided to pitch in a bit more and mentor others.”
Hansknecht encourages faculty, staff and students — undergrads, grads and community learners — to come in and get to know the station. He often schedules one-on-one time to talk with could-be DJs to learn what art or cultural area motivates them and is open to nearly any idea, as long as messaging comes with respect and appropriate language.
“WUMD prepares you in many areas — learning how to use sound equipment, creating a show plan, thinking on the fly, presenting your point with confidence, working with a team and public speaking. There’s so much to gain here,” he said. “I can help students come up with a show, but it’s important that they see themselves in the work and care about what they are doing. That’s what helps push you to be great, radio or otherwise. Learning to tune into that motivation is key too.”
And that’s something both Thompson and McGuire echo.
Thompson’s professional goals don’t have anything to do with becoming an on-air personality. Instead, he wants to do game design; he's working on a College of Engineering and Computer Science Senior Design Competition project for a local entrepreneur. And he's previously volunteered his time to design a game to help educate youth with special needs.
“What we are doing here is beneficial no matter what field you go into — business, engineering, programming, whatever your interest,” Thompson said. “Putting that I have a radio show on a resume also opens conversation in interviews and helps me stand out.”
As the show’s second hour winds down, Clemente — listening to NintenBros online and watching the guys through the glass sound stage window — gets off the station couch and motions that he’s heading into the studio. Putting on headphones, Clemente — who wanted to contribute to their conversation about Pokémon Gym Masters [the trainer name for the latest Pokémon game] — jumps in.
His impromptu appearance is so smooth that it may have seemed staged to an outside audience. But an in-studio viewer could see how organic it was.
“It’s just the type of place this is. Everyone is laid back and goes with the flow,” Clemente said. “I don’t have the time to do a full show this semester. So my thing — when I have something to say — is being a show-crashing DJ.” The guys, pleased with the banter with their pop-in guest, nodded in support.
After sharing their latest gaming experiences — McGuire gave kudos to the caliber of players at a recent Super Smash Bros. tournament at the Union at Dearborn he participated in — Thompson delivered the weekly outro.
“Remember to game on everybody.”
It’s 10 a.m. on a Friday. The NintenBros signed off. And WUMD Radio’s “On Air” light goes dark.
But the office door remains open.