For the most part, students didn’t listen to our student-run radio station. I don’t think that disconnect between the general student population and the noncommercial broadcast outlet that a handful of their peers devoted themselves to was a particularly unique situation at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where I toiled away towards and undergraduate degree and tacked my FCC operator’s license to the wall near our clunky transmitter link-up. It was a mild indignity that I mostly accepted, though there were certainly times when I was irked by the fact that I very rarely overheard a WWSP-90FM broadcast while walking through the hallways of my residence hall. (I started at the university in the fall of 1988, so the main thing I remember echoing through our living quarters was the Guns N’ Roses song “Paradise City” on exhausting repeat). There was an exception, a situation that arose twice a year which causing most tuning knobs on campus to be spun to the left. We presided over the most popular station on campus when it was time for use to air a lengthy programming segment we dubbed Class Closings.
A little context is required here. Back in the olden times, registering for courses for the semester ahead wasn’t a task conducted with a few strategic clicks in an academic web portal. Instead, it was something akin to a timed-entrance Black Friday sale with required classes and electives instead of discounted electronics. All the different academic departments were set up at a tables that lined the perimeter of the largest gymnasium on campus, blank rosters at the ready. Clinging timetables that listed all available courses and sections for the pending semester, students entered the pace in clusters aligned with their progress towards graduation and bounded from table to table in the desperate hope that they’d be able to claim spaces that would give them the schedules they needed and desired. As the seat limits were reached, staff members at the tables would add to the list of now-unavailable classes on large sheets of paper behind them.
There was a whole different level of gamesmanship at play. Make a mad dash for one of the department that provides more manageable, actually enjoyable classes that helped knock off requirements outside the major? Or take care of that major first as a preventative measure against some future semester heavily laden with the toughest three-hundred-level brain bashers? Maybe there was one linchpin class that an entire schedule was built around, and if it isn’t secured, the whole plan collapses. All the while, eliminated options piled up on sheets of paper like Tetris pieces. It wasn’t rare in this environment to see a student heaped against the wall with papers strewn about them trying desperately to construct a different viable schedule after their plans, backup plans, and backup plans to those backup plans were thwarted.
At the college radio station, we approached this frenetic marketplace of academic credits roughly the way The Weather Channel covers a hurricane. We had students set up with microphones in the gym to deliver regular appraisals on the state of play. The DJ back at the station would play a song or two and then throw it to the on-the-scene reporter to offer a litany of bleak news: “For the Chemistry department, we have the following updates: Chemistry 105, section 1 and 3 are closed; Chemistry 120, all sections are closed; Chemistry 335, section 3 is closed. All other sections are currently open. For the Communication department, here’s what we know: Communication 120, sections 2 and 3 are closed….”
This boon for attracting student listenership didn’t last. After my first year, the registration process was done by ordered appointments in the academic advising office, the counselor plugging requests into the computer until a workable process emerged. There was no more on-the-spot junior journalism to be done. Class Closings itself had come to a close. Put in the sheet of paper behind the radio station table.