[Front photo shows well-adorned door to WSPN studio. Gallery photos show a section of the WSPN music library; and Skidmore students (from left) Monica Hamilton, Simon Klein, Will Scott, Clara-Sophia Daly and Adam Simon. Photos by Larry Goodwin.]
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Most Saturday mornings, anyone near Skidmore College can turn on WSPN (91.1 FM) to hear the cheerful rhythms and lyrics of “Polka Magic.”
On Sundays at noon, Godfrey Smith (DJ Godfada) sends good vibes through the air with his evolving lists of new and classic Jamaican tunes on “The Reggae Show.”
For her first broadcast each month, Skidmore student Monica Hamilton (DJ Harmonica) fills her allotted airwaves with songs created by women artists—because they deserve that honor, not just because Hamilton wants to see a lady elected president.
According to recent Skidmore graduate Simon Klein (DJ Psymon Spine), the outgoing station manager, WSPN remains on-air all year long due to the dedicated efforts of students and “community members” alike.
“It’s all a labor of love,” said Klein—a guy from Yonkers who aired multiple WSPN shows of his own over several years.
A formal student board meets once a month during Skidmore’s academic year, Klein explained, to approve WSPN’s programming and oversee its operations. In fact, student funding is what makes every WSPN broadcast possible.
Klein said the new station manager will be Skidmore student Nell Mittelstead (DJ Cold Brew), who opted to study abroad last semester. As the station librarian, Mittelstead helped arrange the expanding collection of music on WSPN’s shelves.
The station’s low-power signal fades away after about 15 miles in any direction. In addition to FM radios, though, listeners anywhere can tune in by visiting the WSPN website (http://academics.skidmore.edu/blogs/wspn/).
In his time at the helm, Klein found that the “tight-knit community” of DJs makes WSPN more sustainable than other college radio stations. He also said the “non-homogenized” music and commentary itself clearly separates WSPN from local FM stations that tend to inundate listeners with overplayed songs and commercials.
During a recent interview in WSPN’s mellow Jonsson Tower studio, Hamilton smiled and said her “Ay-Oh-River” show on Mondays compared to fellow student Will Scott’s—though “in a less funny way.”
“We all have our different interests and different skills,” added Scott (DJ Wheels), who chose to broadcast “The Dog Talk Variety Hour” on Wednesday evenings.
Hamilton gets excited about her role in an ongoing class archiving project focused on WSPN. It traces the station’s history back to its origins on campus in the 1970s.
For summer break, both Hamilton and Scott returned to their home bases in Massachusetts far from the WSPN control boards.
But that only means—until next semester—more airtime for other DJs, whether they are students who have remained on campus or community members.
If no DJ is available for actual programs, 91.1 can broadcast digital loops that are carefully “curated” by Adam Simon and other student music directors. They also manage the 100-slot “Hot Box” of fresh compact discs sent regularly to the station.
At a chilly Earth Day festival on campus, Simon was among several at the station who organized WSPN’s first live outdoor broadcast, featuring various artists and bands. He said plans are in the works to renovate the main studio and create a new live recording space there as well.
Simon, who had a show called “It’s Cozy Inside” and is preparing for his own trip abroad to India, admitted that Skidmore students are prone to creating a “bubble” around their Saratoga Springs campus.
But he also knows from experience how WSPN “breaches that bubble.”
Simon pointed to the community DJs who act as a vital “bridge” for WSPN listeners. In general, he said, they should “feel respected and at home here.”
“Skidmore College students have been good to me,” confessed Smith of the Sunday Reggae show, which at 27 years old is the second-longest running show on WSPN behind “Polka Magic.”
Students “really got their act together,” Smith added.
With Jamaican relatives in the area, Smith relocated to the Capital Region in the early 1970s. “I loved Jamaican music from day one,” he said. “I’m full-time dedicated to this show. Reggae music is big all over the world.”
Klein, Simon and the others indicated that WSPN’s longevity is further assured by the efforts of Robin Adams, a 2000 Skidmore graduate who now provides key support to student clubs as a college administrator.
Adams “understands the importance of radio,” offered Clara-Sophia Daly, a California native who recently completed her first year of studies at Skidmore. She started a show called “Opposition Radio” and is eager to promote the station’s merchandise.
“WSPN is the best,” Daly said. “It’s been such an important part of my life.”