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Who’s Leading the Pack? Get to Know WKNC 88.1

If you love music but you’re tired of top 40, WKNC 88.1 might be the radio station for you. The non-commercial, non-mainstream station plays the best indie, electronic, hip-hop and metal music, and it’s consistently ranked among the best in the Triangle by INDY Week. Best of all? It’s entirely student-run, and you don’t need any prior experience to get involved. From on-air DJing to video production and blogging, working at WKNC offers hands-on experience to launch a career in the broadcast industry (or, you know, just to have some fun and make friends outside of class). 

Our student host AnnE Ford sat down with WKNC general manager Laura Mooney for our first in-person episode of “Who’s Leading the Pack?” at the WKNC office at Witherspoon Student Center. Read on for some highlights from the interview, and learn more at wknc.org or by following WKNC on social media at @wknc881.

AnnE: Well, thank you so much for having us, Laura.

Laura: Absolutely.

AnnE: Can you describe WKNC in one word? 

Laura: No, but in one word, I would say eclectic. We do a lot of different things and there’s a lot of different avenues for students to get involved, so I’m trying to think of, you know, an overarching word to describe the creative endeavors that we have.

AnnE: I like it. So now, allowing you to give a little more detail, what exactly is WKNC and why is it unique? 

Laura: WKNC is NC State’s student-run radio station. We’ve been on the air, technically the radio station started in the ‘20s, but we’ve been on air pretty consistently since 1944. It actually started in Watauga Hall. We are in Witherspoon currently. It was also in Talley for quite some time, so our history is long, and rich and NC State-oriented. But we are student-run, student-operated, which means that not only do we have students on air but all of the programming and decision choices are done by students. We pay students to be involved. I am a student myself as general manager. Currently we have a staff of about 25 other students and we do everything from on-air broadcasting of music, journalism and sports coverage, to off-air social media content. We have a YouTube page, a blog, we do podcasts. 

AnnE: So, you are general manager. What does your day-to-day look like and how did you come to this position? 

Laura: As general manager, I do a little bit of everything. Of course, I oversee our day-to-day operations. I remember being so fascinated with the concept of college radio because I truly wasn’t involved in radio prior to university. But on my DJ application, I confidently wrote that I would like to be general manager one day. I hadn’t even been accepted into the training class yet, so I can’t imagine what the general manager back then must have thought. But, you know, I was trained as a DJ. My first position was as our assistant daytime music director/assistant local music director. And then once again, perhaps too confidently, after working assistant positions, immediately applied for general manager just because I loved WKNC and had learned a lot by being around the station. And my peers thought I was competent enough to do so, and this is my second year as general manager, so I guess the rest is history. 

AnnE: Heck yeah! You really spoke that into existence. 

Laura: I mean seriously, I called it out and I manifested it. 

AnnE: Man, we love manifestations. What is the process of choosing music, what does that look like? 

Laura: It varies between music directors. As of now, we have five primary music directors. Each music director is tasked with deciding what gets uploaded, whether that’s music that’s been sent to them via a promoter or things that they seek out of their own accord. It’s taste-based depending on, you know, the music director in the role at that given time. Whatever they like is what gets uploaded. 

AnnE: Nice! So, that’s quite a crew you’ve got behind you. 

Laura: It’s definitely nothing that happens, like, I do a lot but I couldn’t achieve any of this without our team, and that’s why we have so many students. I should also mention for information the music director titles. After Hours is our electronic genre, Chainsaw is heavy metal, Daytime is alternative rock, Underground is hip-hop and R&B, and then we play local music of all kinds, any genre, from North Carolina. 

AnnE: Awesome, so about that crew — How can students get involved and what kind of ways are available for them to get involved? 

Laura: Infinite ways! If we don’t offer something that you want to do, come to us and we’ll make it happen. Pretty much, we’re looking for students to get involved in any way, so you can go to our website wknc.org. There’s a lot of information about our various departments including contact info for each of the staff members that oversee those departments. We also have a general interest form where students can just give us their name and basic information, and then there’s literally check boxes of what you think you’d like to do.

AnnE: Cool! So what about DJ programs? How do students become a DJ? 

Laura: That one’s a little bit more specific just because, as I mentioned, the Federal Communications Commission does place regulations on what can be broadcasted on-air, so to become a DJ, we do have an application process. We teach the DJ class every fall, spring and summer semester, only one in the summer, and per every semester. Students apply using, it’s a quirky little application. I know some students take it really seriously and they’re like, ‘This is my prior experience and this is why I would be excellent,’ but we literally ask for your zodiac sign and ask students to draw us a picture at the end, so it’s like, we do want you to get involved and we just kind of want to know your personality. 

I teach the class, and because we’re trying to really drive home this important information, on average we take about 20 to 25 students. If accepted, it’s a one hour a week, six-week training course where we teach you all the ins and outs of WKNC. At the end, there’s a written exam just to make sure you know these legislative policies, because if you don’t follow them, we can get shut down, and then there’s a board exam to make sure that you know how to use the equipment and can operate things properly. Most students pass those exams, but if they don’t they can take them again, because, like, you just completed six weeks of training, we’re not going to turn you away, just take the test again. But, that’s pretty much it.

AnnE: So, have you ever cursed on-air? What happens if you curse on-air? 

Laura: So, on paper — I shouldn’t even say on paper — literally if you curse on-air and the FCC finds out about it, it’s upwards of a $325,000 fine per incident. So, if you drop an f-bomb three times, that’s almost $1 million, which you can imagine, we do not have. So, no, I’ve never cursed on air. 

AnnE: Holy —-! Is there anything you’d like to get off your chest? Because we’re not live here, so go on. 

Laura: We are not live. I’ve definitely accidentally played a song that has an expletive. Luckily, however, we have dump buttons. There’s a delay. What plays in studio you hear one to one, but there’s an eight-second delay before it goes on-air. So, when things like that happen, you just hit the big red button and it doesn’t happen. So, I’ve made the mistake before but we have positions in place to fix that. 

AnnE: Nice! So there’s a no-no button? 

Laura: There’s a no-no button. It’s literally a big red square, it says ‘Dump.’ 

AnnE: I love that. You just dump the expletive. That’s funny. So, are there any misconceptions about WKNC that you can clear up for us? 

Laura: Immediate misconception is that we don’t exist. I mean, of course college radio, I don’t necessarily like to think that it’s on the decline because there are so many college radio stations across the country. I think at NC State specifically, because the university is so big, there’s so many different avenues for students to get involved, and I think Student Media tends to get lost in the sound, I guess. Radio! But, yeah I would love for students to know more stuff about us just because I think we are really cool. When people think of NC State, they think sports and sciences, and Student Media and humanities are less prominent in our cultural representation, so I would love for Student Media to get some light shine on it. 

AnnE: So shine some light on it. What are some upcoming projects that you have that we can talk about? 

Laura: We’re doing a lot of things. We have started our Lounge series back up, tentatively. Les the Genius recently came by. He is a solo hip-hop act from Raleigh, and he did a little performance in this room that’s going to be released on Youtube. So, small things like that we can do where it’s one person and a camera person and it’s, like, really low key. 

We’ve also started doing donation drives in order to give back to the community that has supported us for so long. Back in January and through the month of December, we hosted a clothing drive on behalf of Healing Transitions, a non-profit rehabilitative center off of Goode Street. Another benefactor of that donation drive was the Women’s Center of Wake County, which serves at-risk women and youth in interpersonal violence situations.

That was a success and we were really proud of what we were able to achieve, so we’re now running another donation drive on behalf of Prison Books Collective. It’s a Carrboro-based non-profit. We’re just trying to, you know, validate their existence and give back. And also one other misconception about WKNC, or I guess unknown thing about us, is we have a pretty big prison following. Prisoners listen to WKNC, particularly our Chainsaw Rock segment. In fact, one of our long-standing shows on Friday nights is called Penitentiary Rock, in which our DJ, Uncle Paul, he’s been with us for well over a decade, literally receives fan mail and letters from prisoners either requesting songs or just thanking him for his service. It’s become such a big thing that these inmates even, like, because he reads the letters on-air, they’ll give shout outs to each other so they can stay in communication across miles of distance. And so, you know, considering this population listens to us, we wanted to give back to them. 

AnnE: That’s so cool. And you have a pretty big thing coming up downstairs with the Wolves’ Den. 

Laura: Oh yes! Of course. The Den is the social distance hangout that NC State has started, you know, the sand pit on Harris Field. Thursday nights for this month, most likely going forward, WKNC has volunteer DJs playing music in The Den so you can sit there with your friends, socially distanced, hang out with masks on, do your homework, sit by the fire or something and music will be provided by students.

AnnE: Nice! So, if you’re on campus on Thursday nights, come check them out! So, how can students keep in contact with you? 

Laura: There’s a bunch of different ways. Of course, I mentioned our website wknc.org but my email is gm@wknc.org. And then all of our social media — Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud, Spotify, TikTok — it’s @wknc881, because our on-air frequency is 88.1 So, super easy. 

AnnE: Thank you so much for watching! Once again, I’m AnnE Ford and this has been “Who’s Leading the Pack?” Good night!

Watch additional episodes of “Who’s Leading the Pack?” on our YouTube playlist.

This post was originally published in NC State News.