History may very well be a dynamic explanation of the present. So read about it. Because we owe what’s cool today to the kids who cared then.
When Howard Cole, Samuel Hall, and Albert Webster founded the “Radio Club” on February 16, 1929, they ushered in a tradition of student radio. By the mid 1940s, CRBE formed, and by 1959, it was renamed WRGW.
In 1964 the station purchased new transmitters, subjecting itself to a larger administrative structure that inhibited its operations. To address the administrative and financial challenges, the Speech and Drama department took control over WRGW in 1968. Led by Comptroller William Johnson, the station progressed until 1983, when disagreements over the allocation of funds climaxed. The department felt that it could reclaim station funds not used to purchase new equipment; the students felt the funds should only be used purchase new equipment and keep the station operating. In a memo to the department, copied to Claudia Derricotte (Director of SAO), Dr. Joan Theil concluded the funds belonged to the University’s department, and, in spring 1984, WRGW stopped operating.
Enter a small group of students led by Frank Farricker and James Snyder in 1985. Their efforts to develop the station as a student-run organization were challenged by the department, but WRGW was still granted permission to broadcast out of the Marvin Center on April 1, 1986. Around the same time, negotiations with Provost William Johnson began. Students voiced their desire for independence from any one department in the interest of serving the greater GW community; the department stated its primary goal of formally educating students in the technical operation of a radio facility.
And after nearly two years of negotiations, the University recognized two distinct stations: one operated by the department (WRTV), and one operated by the students (WRGW). On December 10, 1986 WRGW signed an agreement with the University, moving in to the Marvin Center, Room 428.
By 1996, the small space was cramping WRGW’s style, so students led by Debbie Rothberg sought to relocate to the abandoned newsstand on the ground floor of the Marvin Center. At the same time the department became increasingly disenchanted with WRTV, and by November it cut operations, successfully negotiating a merger with WRGW. WRTV Station Manager Eva Price and WRGW General Manager Lou Miller worked together to establish one cohesive, kick-ass student station, bringing together an executive board of over twenty members, and managing an allocation of over $30,000 for new equipment and a new facility, developed in part by Production Director Jason Cohen and approved by Vice President Chernak and Assistant Vice President Michael Gargano in 1998.
On August 28th, 1999 WRGW began broadcasting from their new facility, over 540 AM, on Campus Cable Channel 22, and through that promising new medium, the Internet. Using Apple Quicktime 4.0 technologies, GWRADIO.com, receiving around 5,000 hits per month, welcomed its first major broadcasting upgrade in over a decade.
WRGW celebrated these milestones with “Octoberfest,” a month-long festival of new and local music that showcased a series of in-studio performances featuring bands such as Ebo, The Lunachicks, Coloring Lesson, The Sheila Divine, Ky-Mani Marley, The Shyness Clinic, The Pilfers, Bif Naked, and GW band Waterstreet. In 2000, WRGW brought Octoberfest to University Yard.
By 2001, the increased exposure on campus pushed WRGW to expand its programming schedule. Live broadcasts began at 10am and went until 12am, with a 30 minute news segment airing daily as well as complete, seasonal coverage of Colonials basketball. The WRGW general board was re-structured to include a graduate advising position, one paid staff member (the General Manager), and an Operations Director. Working together over the summer of 2001, Cohen and Spring (the first Operations Director at WRGW) developed and implemented an audio streaming conversion from Quicktime to Real Audio, greatly increasing the reliability and quality of WRGW’s online sound.
Later in the year, on December 15th, 2001, WRGW threw its first ever winter concert in the Hippodrome. The “Holiday Buzz” was headlined by a nationally-acclaimed band, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack. An overwhelming success, the concert raised considerable funds for charities related to September 11. Under Station Manager Sara Prohaska, WRGW introduced February Sweeps, which involved the station in one campus activity every day of the month.
In the years to follow, Brett Kaplan would increase the student staff and provide a more robust list of online listening options via the website, redesigned and linked to campus Cable Channel 22. Online streaming would be made available on iTunes. Prophet would be installed. September of 2004 saw the addition of Morning Mayhem, WRGW’s first morning show from 8am to 10am with Steve Roche and Sean Rose. The show was one of many programming expansions for the station from 2002-2005, which included live coverage of SA meetings, a News in Depth forum on Sundays, live noon news updates, expanded Hip-Hop and Loud Rock programs and an increase in live, in-studio interviews.
In February 2004, the station celebrated its 75th Anniversary. Over 150 alumni attended, enjoying tours of the station and brunch and dinner with President Trachtenberg, Senior VP Bob Chernak, Vice President Michael Freedman and WRGW Alumnus Mike Patrick of ESPN. That weekend, alumni also attended the sold-out show featuring Something Corporate. Overall, Kaplan’s leadership resulted in over 2 million hits at GWRADIO.com.
In 2005, General Manager Steve Roche oversaw two new, large events: in collaboration with Program Board and SAC, WRGW brought Matisyahu to the Charles E. Smith Center, and organized a Q & A session at the Marvin Center with teen-pop band Hanson. Roche and staff also instated a ‘first year’ program for new station members.
Following through with Kaplan’s organization plans, Roche developed a Senior Staff, Executive Committee, and General Board for administrative purposes. Sports broadcasting began to cover fall and spring sports. With the men’s Colonials’ success in 2005-2006, WRGW Sports saw a spike in its audience. This sports programming and success of the basketball team led to on-air interviews, call-ins and basketball commentary from national sports personalities, including ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt of SportsCenter.
From 2006 to 2007, General Manager Matt Saunders and staff began exploring multimedia options for the station such as station webcams, video capabilities, and podcasting. Saunders also revived the Octoberfest tradition, organizing a month of in-studio events, interviews, and performances. He also continued to work with the School of Media and Public Affairs and Mike Freedman, gaining access to a flash studio for professional broadcasts in the SMPA building. Under Saunders, WRGW enjoyed professional experiences with The Kalb Report, XM programs, and a live broadcast of the nationally syndicated Jim Bohannon show, produced in part by students at WRGW.
From 2007 to 2010, General Managers Hannah Byam (2007-2009) and Nomi Kaplan (2009-2010) presided over a youthful, energized staff. WRGW redesigned its logo and expanded its social media presence, including WRGW and WRGW News Twitter feeds, online News, Music, and Sports blogs, a Facebook page, and a real-time feed of songs and music played on-air. WRGW also produced the Ben Folds/Jason Mraz show from the Smith Center, which brought the station and Program Board together in their second large collaboration. WRGW also continued to build connections with the local music scene, launching the popular monthly concert series Friday Night Live from the Mitchell Hall Theatre in late 2006 and the Live from the Fishbowl monthly open mic/student performance showcase with SAC in 2009. WRGW News also partnered with SMPA to bring Helen Thomas to campus and the airwaves for an in-depth and frank discussion on politics at the Elliott School.
From 2009-2010, General Manager Jamie Benson expanded WRGW’s live presence, interviewing a vast variety of hip-hop artists from Wale to Talib Kweli on his program ‘Funkadelic Freestyles.’ A variety of indie rock artists also frequented the studio, a result of Music Directors Alex Tieberg-Bailie and Paula Mejia’s efforts. The Man, Foals, Asobi Seksu, Teebs, and many more signed the back wall in the WRGW studio, where performers leave their mark. Combined, these directors brought in-studio performances and/or interviews that put WRGW on the college radio map along the avenue of live music.
Then, from 2011 to 2012, General Manager Jorge Gadala-Maria and Station Manager Ralph Ogundiran organized the first annual Truckapalooza, a food truck festival hosted by WRGW during GW’s Colonials (Parents) Weekend, inviting 20+ food trucks to park along H street for an afternoon of food and fun. Additionally, Gadala-Maria developed a partnership with 6th & I Synagogue, and WRGW organized an off-campus, sold-out concert with Atlanta’s Reptar.
From 2012-2013, General Manager Paula Mejia and Station Manager Kristen Saldarini took the torch Gadala-Maria had lit, continuing with Truckapalooza and expanding upon WRGW’s relationship with 6th & I Synagogue by bringing aboard WVAU and WMUC for a sold-out, blowout spring concert featuring Deerhunter’s triumphant return to the stage to promote their latest album Monomania after a two year performance hiatus. That same year Music Director Mike Lindle brought Future Islands in the studio and launched bi-monthly open mic nights at the famed Baked & Wired cupcake shop in Georgetown, and News Director Michael Fische coordinated a live broadcast with full coverage of the 2012 Presidential Election, including reports from the White House and College Dems/College Republicans Viewing Rooms. The university as a whole recognized WRGW for these efforts by awarding us with the illustrious Pyramid Award for Student Org of the Year.
The following year saw Kristen Saldarini rise to become General Manager, with Michael Fische as her Station Manager. A new soundboard was installed that summer under Fische’s guidance, bringing the WRGW studios into the 21st Century with state of the art Cat-5 cabling and radio broadcasting software. For those with close emotional ties to the old WRGW soundboard, it now resides enshrined beneath an artistic mural of show posters past. With new DC regulations, Truckapalooza was forcibly put on hold; paving the way for WRGW’s first programming fair, infamously dubbed “Space Jam”. Under the leadership of Tim Riordan, WRGW Sports’ Colonials Radio Central teamed up with Washington’s Major League Soccer Club, D.C. United to broadcast and call their “College Night” game against the New York Red Bulls, marking the first time WRGW had carried a MLS game. Music Director Tori Kerr began expanding WRGW’s listening range to incorporate more local artists, leading to an emphasis on GW and DC performers which culminated in 2013’s Spring Concert at 6th & I Synagogue with Sun Cycle, Paperhaus, and River City Extension. This also led to WRGW co-sponsoring the last DC DIT show at The Lot at Union Kitchen, a show which saw awesome garage rock fuse with lounge punk under the rain with DC’s own Baby Bry Bry & The Apologists.
With the close of the station’s 85th year, General Manager Jordan Grobe and Station Manager Maddy Wolpow-Gindi, with support from the rest of the board, held an anniversary event over alumni weekend. Alumni gathered in the station for a chance to reminisce during a live on-air segment. Inspired by memories past, Talk Director George Dobbins revived “Live From Thurston,” a late-nite special broadcast with unfiltered interviews containing the essence of the freshman experience, broadcast live from the infamous freshman dorm.
Other notable aspects of programming were the second annual programming fair “The Show” held in U-Yard with performances by Clay Morton, ROBSTOKESBAND, and Lean Quatifah; more in-studio performances with local and touring bands like Pile and BRNDA; a string of co-sponsorships with local music organizations like DC Music Download, Proper Vibes Records, and MUSX; and the implementation of ep.gwradio.com, a second stream which made it possible to continue regular programming while simultaneously broadcasting special programming.