Displaying items by tag: Nell Mittelstead

Thursday, 30 November 2017 13:05

Skidmore Radio Archive Project

Skidmore College students (left to right) Erin Baright; Nell Mittelstead; Elianne Paley; Henry Cooley; Andrew Knispel; Monica Hamilton and Jillian Siegel. Photo by Lori Mahan. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS – If you are looking for commercial-free local radio, the Skidmore College radio station, WSPN 91.1 FM, is the place on the dial to go. 

In 1972, WSPN became its own operation in the Case Center on campus, and then moved to the Jonsson Tower basement six years later. On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the station’s original charter and floor plans will be part of a multimedia exhibition held in the Case Center.

Nell Mittelstead is a senior English major at Skidmore and the current general manager for WSPN. She will leave behind the archive project as a legacy of her time at the college.

Mittelstead first began at the station as a freshman with her own HotBox radio show. Record promoters send new material to the station’s music directors, who then listen to it and decide what music would appeal most to Skidmore students. Those tracks are then featured on the show.

Mittelstead decided to create an archive exhibition of the station. Monica Hamilton, the current WPSN librarian, is also involved with helping the project come to fruition, among many other helpful students and school librarians.

“It really started off as me wanting to create a physical archive, but my original idea was a scrapbook. Just a small book of WSPN history,” said Mittelstead. “One of the librarians reached out to me because she had been a Skidmore student and had been a part of WSPN. So, we talked and had coffee and then she suggested I reach out to Wendy Anthony, who is in charge of special collections at Skidmore. Wendy had all of these original documents of WSPN when it was being started.”

“The station has become a place for people to share stories and talk about their passions and interests,” offered Hamilton. “I care about the station and am intrigued by all the stories that take place there. It’s a 24-hour station, so we may never know all of the stories.”

Some of the original documents Anthony had were program guides, the charter, floppy disks, old posters, newspaper articles about the station, audio clips from past shows, and floor plans. Other items featured in the exhibition came from within the studio itself, either found in desk drawers or hanging on the walls.

Since the idea came to be, Mittelstead was able to turn this passion project into a class where students could meet and do the archive project for credit in a pass or fail capacity. The archive exhibition is “really multimedia,” she said.

The class consists of five students on the radio board, one DJ, and one student not affiliated with the station at all.

“It’s been cool to work with someone who doesn’t really know what’s going on in the station and get an outsider’s perspective,” Mittelstead explained.

“A successful exhibition in general needs collaboration and opportunity to have feedback from other people,” said Hamilton.

“I’m interested in archive work on my own,” Mittelstead added, “and I felt myself wishing that I had some of that material and those documents. Just to know how WSPN got started. We didn’t really have that in the station, so I figured it would be nice and then just to have a sort of physical document about how a year went on. That’s what I wanted it to be; accumulating stuff throughout the year and making that into an object.”

On Tuesdays from 5 to 6 p.m., there is a WSPN show called “Archive Hour” where some students from the class, including Mittelstead, discuss the project and talk about some of the documents that they are including in the exhibition.

The radio show is “much more relaxed than the exhibition and class,” she explained.

The exhibition itself is described by Mittelstead as “a retrospective of WSPN.”

On Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 5 p.m. in the Case Center, the archive exhibition will be unveiled. To listen to WSPN, which broadcasts dozens of shows to peak various interests, tune in to 91.1 FM or visit the website https://academics.skidmore.edu/blogs/wspn/

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[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.” 

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