When Marc Ferraro ’17 entered WKCO radio’s headquarters last Saturday night, the station was empty. He took a seat in the broadcasting booth, kicked off his shoes and opened his computer to launch that week’s episode of his show, Hidden Gems.
Ferraro, one of WKCO’s programming directors, created the show his first year at Kenyon. “It was kind of blatantly hipster,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to play music no one’s heard.’”
Now, he just plays music he really likes. Last week’s theme was “windy” — after greeting his listeners, he put on “Generator Second Floor” by Freelance Whales, which he then followed up with the “Castle in the Sky” theme from the Studio Ghibli movie of the same name.
In many ways, WKCO itself is a hidden gem on campus — even a collection of hidden gems. Buried in the basement of Farr Hall, the organization — celebrating its 70th anniversary in October — has expanded its reach beyond the radio station in recent years.
WKCO, which streams music through the internet and its transmitter, has enjoyed vast membership growth over the past five years. In 2011, about 30 DJs were on staff; last year, the radio station had about 90. Taking into account the first-years who will soon have shows, this year’s DJs could number around 120, according to station manager Julia Waldow ’17, also an art director for the Collegian.
“It’s extremely exciting that our organization has exhibited so much growth,” Waldow said. “Two of our main goals are being inclusive and accessible, and we really hope to offer a home to anyone who shares a love of music.”
In addition to its airspace on 91.9 FM, WKCO also runs a recording studio for student musicians in its Farr Hall location. On its website, it hosts a music review blog. Last year, it began distributing a hard copy zine twice a semester.
“I think for me, what WKCO is in its most condensed form is it’s a place where students can really take initiative to do things that they find interesting,” said Seth Reichert ’17, who manages the recording studio with Grace Fuisz ’19.
But Ferraro thinks the organization can expand even further.
“Obviously there’s the music,” he said. “But we’ve been thinking in the past couple years that we can do so much more.”
Ferraro said the station sometimes uses “WKCO Presents,” a radio slot on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m., to feature untraditional programming. In the past, it has aired interviews with professors and administrators, including one with President Sean Decatur. This year, the station is putting together a radio, podcast and YouTube series called “Middle Path Sessions.”
Reichert traces this history of student innovation all the way back to the station’s founding by World War II veterans returning to Kenyon. “WWII veterans just decided to build a radio transmitter because they thought that was going to be cool,” Reichert said.
The studios have been in Farr Hall since 1973, when they moved from a booth in the Hill Theater that has since been removed. WKCO’s legacy is evident in a plaque on the wall commemorating the students who brought WKCO to Farr years ago, and in the stacks of CDs collected from radio promoters over the years.
The broadcasting booth looks lived-in: Several Peirce cups sit on one side of the desk, and there is a faded pink sofa only a shade off from the floor-to-wall carpeting. The booth’s lilac walls are covered in Sharpie graffiti. A drawing of a unicorn with an ice cream cone for a horn decorates one wall; the words “R.I.P Harambe … he died for our sins,” are written on another.
Ferraro pointed out a doodle he had drawn, a blue Sharpie grid above the computers. “It did not come out as well as I wanted it to,” he said.
The station paints over the walls every year — and, every year, student radio show hosts cover them in doodles once again.
With Farr Hall set to be demolished as part of the Master Plan, WKCO will soon have to move. But Ferraro believes the organization can continue no matter where it is.
“One of our objectives this year,” Ferraro said, “is to let the campus know that we’re still a thing and that we still have a lot of presence.”