By Segan Helle
An inside look at WHRB’s weekday punk rock radio program.
By SEGAN HELLE
It is 2 A.M. on a Thursday night. Ana Georgescu ’20 begins setting up her laptop on a desk fixed with a microphone, a couple computer screens, turntables, and a soundboard. The studio is small and is outfitted with a few chairs and a couch. Above the couch hangs what appears to be Christmas lights. Signs are postered on the walls around the equipment and on a billboard near the couch holding information about “record care,” and a reminder for DJs to “Spinitron everything you play.” A children’s song plays from the speakers with rhythmic accordion and violin backing the vocals of a man singing in Russian. The music fades out and Georgescu speaks into the microphone.
“Good morning, Boston. You are listening to Epicycles and Miasma. I started my show today with a shoutout to my mother, who introduced me to Russian literature and art, with a song called ‘Goluboy Vagon.’”
It is Worldwide Week at WHRB, Harvard’s student-run radio station, and Georgescu has centered her show’s playlist around music from the Russian underground. Preceding her, was a show centered around Chinese and Taiwanese music.
“I already try to have a pretty internationally focused playlist every week, so when I go to look on Bandcamp for kids who put out their mixtapes and stuff like that and people who are trying to get out, I bump into stuff and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is great,’ or ‘This is good.’ Then, you look at the label that they record with and you mostly stay in touch with the label. So, I already knew a bunch of Russian labels going into this,” Georgescu said. “That’s how I chose the theme of this show.”
Georgescu is a DJ on the Record Hospital (RH), WHRB’s on-air department that traditionally specializes in D.I.Y. and punk rock music, running four different shows from 10 P.M. to 5 A.M. Monday through Friday each week. Georgescu is in charge of the 2 A.M. to 3:30 A.M. slot each Thursday night.
DJs for the Record Hospital try to curate playlists for their shows that showcase music that is out of the mainstream, picking artists that they feel deserve more exposure and that their listeners may enjoy, but might not necessarily have stumbled upon themselves.
“We have a set way that we are supposed to go about [building playlists]. I mean the whole point of this is to expose what’s not been exposed before. That’s kind of where the rules come into play. It just makes for better quality air for the listener. It’s not just to be obscure,” Brie Martin ’18, WHRB’s current President, said.
The process of finding music for their shows is a labor of love. Georgescu describes her way of finding new music for her show as “a lot of poking around.” Aside from looking at which artists are signed to specific labels she likes, she combs through articles published about different underground scenes and looks at what people are listening to that seems to be related to artists she already knows about.
“RH tries to play as underground as possible because we take pride in helping new artists. There are two reasons. One: we want to help new artists we think are good and worthy of exposure by offering them airtime they wouldn’t otherwise get. We want to give those artists the platform to have their music known,” Georgescu stated. “Secondly, we care about what our listenership is into. I’m not going to play ‘My Bloody Valentine’ for people who are into punk because they already know that and they can play that on their own on Spotify. I try to show them things [like that] that they would not have found otherwise.”
The station also frequently receives hard copies and samples through the mail sent to them from different labels and artists. Located in the basement of Pennypacker, the WHRB station is a labyrinth of different studios, offices, and libraries. The libraries are possibly the rooms with the most character.
The walls of the Record Hospital’s library are covered with shelves and bins cluttered with decades-worth of different CDs and vinyls. The covers of the disks each hold a white sticker, on top of which a past or present member of the station has written a note about the disk’s contents. Against the back of the room sits a stereo. Two couches and a coffee table fill the rest of the space. Stickers, posters, and graffiti cover the visible backs of a few CD cases and some areas of the walls not already covered by shelving.
Martin stands in the back of the library, pulling out different disks, and pops them in and out of the stereo. John Ruby ’18, Treasurer of WHRB, sits on the couch across the room, surfing through music on his laptop. The two are preparing for a show at 3:30 A.M., a time slot on Thursday nights without a set DJ that rotates between members who are able to fill in.
“John, what’s the theme of our show? We used to always have a theme. This one we haven’t thought about that much. We just finished a pset that was due. John and I, I don’t know why we do shows together. We do them because we are friends, but not necessarily because we have similar styles. We just like try to play off that contradiction.”
“Yeah, you usually do like indie pop, and I do, like, death metal.”
“We once did Cupcakes and Death Metal and we’ll alternate. But, this is a late nighter so you have a lot more freedom. With the 11 P.M. show, I’m usually much more careful about what I play. Not that I’m not careful right now, but there it’s a little bit more of a formula,” Martin said.
The Record Hospital is one department in a larger business. WHRB as an organization raises and operates a budget of over $120,000 a year. They sell ads, pay their own bills and do maintenance on the equipment at their transmitter site. They record everything they broadcast on an online playlist through Spinitron to give credit to artists. RH hosts live shows on Fridays and occasional concert events. During the comp process, members learn how to comply with Federal Communications Commission and music licensing regulations. Members are also educated on the history of radio and the musical genre of their department so they have a better understanding of the context that they operate within.
The Record Hospital is also a community, both within Harvard and beyond. Members of WHRB have developed their own culture, complete with their own language, “whrbic,” and a system of personalized symbols for each member that they use to identify themselves. The audience of their program is diverse and draws largely from a wide array of people across the Boston area from teenagers within the D.I.Y. scene to older adults.
“We don’t really have any metrics, but we know from who calls us on the phone and who comes to our shows and our fests and stuff. It’s local punks and people from the area: people from Allston and different neighborhoods around the city, or some of the suburbs,” Martin said. “Some are kids who make their own music and they find us and they grow up a little and say, ‘Oh, I listened to you.’ Sometimes, it’s really old people, or guys or girls who run D.I.Y. spaces in Boston. We’ve been on the air since ’84.”
WHRB’s online streaming service also enables the station to reach far beyond Boston. Georgescu explains that, though she also has received calls from middle aged and older members of the Boston area, her audience is mostly made up friends and family from back home, in Bucharest, Romania. At its core, the Record Hospital tries to operate as a tool for a wide community of music-lovers.
“I would say that I joined [WHRB] because I was interested in reaching somewhere beyond Harvard and this signal goes far beyond Harvard in a way that other publications on campus don’t always do,” Martin said. “The point of this is to go beyond Harvard.”