WVKR: Vassar’s Sound Garden

    WVKR is the radio station of Poughkeepsie’s Vassar College. College radio, unencumbered by the dreary homogenization that afflicts most of the radio dial, is a dependable, welcome resource for expansive, interesting music and talk. WVKR’s dedication to eclectic programming is passionate, achieved via a mixture of rotating student DJs and more long-running shows drawn from the greater, non-student community. The WVKR listener can avail oneself of—to name a scattered few–garage rock, polkas, reggae, Bollywood, lounge.  Pipes ’n Pizzazz showcases organ music. Voices Beyond the Wall is a prison outreach show. It is an aural grab bag.

    This eclecticism, according to WVKR’s general manager, Chloe Richards—a Vassar student who also hosts her own program of show tunes—is “very intentional. One of our principles to allow new shows onto WVKR is that they’re unique and uplift voices that aren’t normally heard on radio.  We don’t play any top-40. Students come with some of the craziest suggestions of music that I’ve ever heard of in my life! But we love to have it.”

    And the DJs are as varied as the station’s broad-ranging musical palate. “We have community members that have had shows for thirty years and can teach us so much. And then we have 18-year-olds who just got out of high school and are freshmen in college and they’re also having shows”—a student roster that undergoes a “big overhaul” every four years.

    Pete Clark has helmed the Orphanage of Rock & Roll since 1995. “WVKR is the type of radio station that’s increasingly unique these days,” Clark states. “Commercial-free, listener supported, free-form unicorn. The format changes every several hours, with a vast array of radio formats and shows you just won’t hear anywhere else. Everybody you hear on the air is an unpaid volunteer, not doing a show for profit, but out of passion.”

    Vassar student Amy Huang co-hosts The Treehouse with two others. “We play indie music (mostly rock and folk) by women and non-binary artists, particularly artists of color. All three of us are women or non-binary people of color and it was important to us to focus on voices that have been traditionally underrepresented on the radio (this is also why we try to focus on newer artists who are up-and-coming or undiscovered).”

    WVKR—like Vassar, like the country as a whole—was disrupted by Covid, but, according to Chloe Richards, the station is now on a more even keel: Most of the students DJs are working live and “probably a little more than half of our community members are coming into the station to do live shows… we’re trying to have as much live radio as possible.”

    “There’s something special,” Amy Huang concludes, “about finding a song that speaks to you and then getting to share it with your friends. It’s like asking, ‘This song means something to me. Does it mean something to you too?’”

    WVKR can be found at 91.3 FM and online at https://www.wvkr.org

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