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On Air

Albright College's radio station, WXAC 91.3 FM, marks its 50th anniversary in 2015. The community will take a trip down memory lane and celebrate the occasion on April 18.

By Hilary Bentman

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Much has changed since Albright College's radio station first hit the airways in 1965.

Back then, the station was called WALC. It was changed to WXAC shortly after the station's founding, as Alcoa Steamship Lines had already claimed the call letters.

In those early days, the station was located in White Chapel and boasted a 19-watt transmitter. Its reach was limited.

"It was only on campus and only if the wind was blowing the right way," jokes Mindy Cohen, WXAC's current station manager and faculty adviser.

Today, the nonprofit, student-run WXAC 91.3 FM has a 220-watt transmitter, serving all of Reading and beyond.

And the station has a new home. WXAC recently moved from its previous location in the basement of the Library/Administration building to the newly named Berks Community Media Center at 13th and Richmond streets.

But for all that has changed over the last 50 years, some things remain the same – WXAC's commitment to offer an alternative to commercial radio, provide quality, relevant and diverse programming for the Albright community and beyond, and to teach students the ins and outs of broadcasting, from behind-the-scenes internships to on-air disc jockeying.

"I love walking into a bodega or by a hairdresser and hearing WXAC, or hearing it blaring out a car window," said Cohen.

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WXAC's studios still include an impressive collection of vinyl.

A half a century on, WXAC is still going strong and is celebrating its milestone. On April 18, the station will hold a birthday bash on campus, providing former station members the chance to reconnect and reminisce, and to tour the station's new digs.

Earlier this month, WXAC moved into the Berks Community Media Center, sharing space with Berks Community Television (BCTV).

The partnership reflects the organizations’ shared commitment and mission to serve the Greater Reading community. It will also strengthen Albright's already robust experiential learning initiatives, with students in the Communications, Digital Communications, Digital Video Arts and Music Business programs benefiting enormously from having these media outlets share space.

The new location, owned and operated by Albright, is also large enough for a live band to perform.

"And we'll be visible to the public," said Cohen. "There will be some unique real-world experiences."

WXAC has received two grants to help with the move and to secure new equipment for the studios, including Mac Pro computers that allow for digitization of music and automation so the station can air 24/7. It currently airs from 8 a.m. to midnight.

WXAC received a $5,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters and is benefiting from a $25,000 grant given to the Berks Community Media Center by the Green Family Foundation. Named for alumnus and former trustee Calvin Green, the grant was made in memory of his son, Scott.

"We're excited for the new equipment and to be so close to BCTV," said intern Tiffany Cruz '16.

Cleaning out the old studios in preparation for the move has unearthed a treasure trove of files from those who came before.

"There truly were a lot of special people who worked before me to make this station what it is today," said current program director Chris Longworth '15. "All of the credit should go to them. But, one of the most important factors in WXAC’s success has been our station manager, Mindy. She is a fearless leader that guides many of us who come in here as teenagers to leave as adults."

WXAC has between 30 and 50 volunteer student and community DJs each year, playing everything from rock to hip hop, jazz to classical, punk and ska to international. The selections tend to be lesser-known artists, not Top-40 fare.

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WXAC recently moved to new studios in the Berks Community Media Center.

"You can always tune in and hear something you've never heard before. Undiscovered artists," said music director Trent Gray '17.

Some students have used their DJ and behind-the-scenes experiences to launch careers in the music business, radio or record label industries, post-graduation.

WXAC also provides real-world experience for students interested in broadcast journalism.

The station hosts Campus Radio News, a 60-minute weekly news broadcast about all things Albright. Students in the College's communications program serve as reporters, producers, radio engineers and content managers.

The station has racked up broadcasting accolades, including the Bronze Microphone Award for Outstanding Broadcasting Excellence at the 75th annual Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS) Conference in 2014.

Station members also attend conferences to learn more about the industry.

WXAC's audience is both close to home and far afield. Thanks to online streaming and archiving of shows, people can listen from anywhere.

"We've received emails from listeners all over the world – Thailand, Poland, Japan," said Cohen.

WXAC is also committed to offering Reading’s large Latino community a non-biased, non-commercial Spanish-language platform. In fact, it was the first station to do so, and still provides the most-comprehensive Spanish-language programming in the area, broadcasting seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

WXAC partners with government and non-governmental agencies to provide Spanish-language programming. Representatives from such organizations as Berks Women in Crisis, the Office on Aging and the Council on Chemical Abuse provide listeners with pertinent information.

"We have a voice and we use it," said Cohen. "We're helping the community, and it's a great outreach from the College to the Latino community. The work we do is really appreciated."

During the 2008 presidential election, for instance, WXAC helped dispel misinformation about voting rights.

So what will the next 50 years bring?

"Funnier hairstyles and cooler-looking headphones," jokes Cohen.

Adds Longworth: "I cannot wait to come back as an alumnus when I'm 71 and celebrate the 100th anniversary. Well, maybe I can wait. But I certainly look forward to it." 

Turning more serious, Cohen says: "I hope the tradition of alternative music and entertainment continues."

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