“We have a radio station?” This is what most students say when they hear about WTHS. Yes we do, and yes, it’s awesome. I might be a little biased because I get to spend an hour a week playing my favorite songs on air, but don’t just take it from me. Jack Deubner (’21), the current general manager of the station, is just as pumped about having the radio station on campus. He started at WTHS his freshman year and being involved has been a vital part of his college experience. The same is true for Anne Bakker (’85). She was drawn to attend Hope College because of the radio station and joined her first semester. Both of them have been student managers of the station, and they have several things to say about the evolution and role of WTHS over the years and what it means for the Hope community.
The station that we have the privilege to enjoy today didn’t just come out of nowhere. The journey to making the station what it has become was long and difficult. Bakker became the student general manager of what was formerly called WTAS. From 1956 until the early 1980s, the station was in the basement of Kollen Hall and transmitted over AM radio waves to different dorms around campus. During her second year other executives at the station decided to make the move to FM broadcasting. This process was a lot more complicated than they imagined, and the station was shut down for around three years while Bakker worked tirelessly for her remaining three years at Hope to make the station a reality. As the general manager she was put in charge of dealing with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), attorneys, the community and the college administration when she was just 19 years old. The new station, WTHS 89.9, wasn’t fully operational until the fall semester after her graduation, but the success of the station is largely due to all of Bakker’s work.
The station used to have up to four-hour music shows and involved many students and members of the community. In its height WTHS would report on news and sports and would even play chapel live on air. In 2020, however, the radio might seem like an archaic medium for listening to music, especially for college students. Streaming is the most popular way to enjoy our favorite tunes, and the radio has slowly been losing its prominence as a way to stay informed and entertained. But that doesn’t mean that WTHS is outdated or that the medium is no longer enjoyed by students. It has evolved with the times and has been streaming online for almost 10 years. Deubner said that the radio as a whole isn’t something that people can get rid of, nor is it going to just disappear.
College radio especially has an important place in the music industry for both listeners and musicians. In the past smaller and not as popular bands with a less mainstream sound relied on college stations to get valuable airtime and exposure. People listening to college radio were able to be exposed to more unique music from stations free from commercial pressure, since colleges are under no obligation to meet demands from the public. This still rings true. WTHS has always served Hope and the community as an alternative to the Top 40, with its rotation now sticking to the alternative rock format. WTHS will stay on air forever, as long as the students stay passionate, creative and excited about the many different opportunities the station facilitates.
Both Deubner and Bakker said the main audience of the station has always been friends of DJs or others involved with WTHS. Deubner said that his friends always listen when he’s on air, and it is so much fun to know that others are listening. Sometimes it seems like the same three people are the only ones listening, but he said that most students would be surprised at how much the Holland community might be tuning in as well. Bakker said that the community involvement was the biggest change from moving off of AM to FM. Realizing that the community is listening and involved with what Hope is putting on the airwaves makes this a unique medium that can go beyond campus. With this, DJs must be extra careful about what they play on their shows. As long as what’s on air is acceptable to the FCC, there are no limits to what can be played. This freedom is what makes WTHS appealing to whatever audience is within reach.
Deubner was most excited about the increase in interest this semester. He noticed that a lot more people actually know the station exists compared to previous years. He said the involvement has increased nearly three times, with many of the newcomers being underclassmen. This might be partly due to how being involved with WTHS is largely unchanged with COVID-19, due to the nature of playing songs on air. Sure, there are less people allowed in the studio and we sanitize the station between shows, but those are the few differences. That being said, he would love for even more people to be involved, and there is always room in the station for unique and creative ideas.
This is Deubner’s first semester being the General Manager, and he has really enjoyed it so far. The radio is right up his alley and has given him unique experience relating to his recording arts and communication composite major. His role involves dealing with a lot of both large and small things. He meets weekly with the Executive Board, attends student communication meetings and stays connected with the faculty advisor for the station. He is also the first person DJs are supposed call if anything goes wrong. For him, one of the highlights of this organization is that the output is completely student-led; WTHS is truly the voice of Hope College. He stated that his goal is to leave WTHS better than he found it.
Bakker also appreciated how student-led this organization was. The fact that she was trusted and told she was capable of handling so many of the operations with getting the station running gave her confidence in herself and her abilities. Being involved at WTHS even changed the plan she had for her life. She intended to study law or political science when she came to campus, but as soon as she got involved with the station and other student organizations, she realized her skills and love for leadership. This set her up for a different career path than she would have expected and moved her to study communication and pursue a career in student leadership. She has worked at many colleges and universities, and has come back to her Alma Mater where she is now the managing director for the Hope Summer Repertory Theatre.
Both of them have high hopes for the future of WTHS. Deubner hopes the station will grow even more than it has now, hopefully with students who are just as excited as he is about going on air. He envisions the station to get even more modern and maybe even have its own app. Bakker hopes the future of WTHS will have students taking advantage of the opportunities for creativity and leadership the station offers. Like with any student organization she hopes that students will find a group of people that they resonate with and be able to have learning experiences beyond the classroom. She is incredibly grateful for her time at the station and how the skills she acquired helped with every job she has taken since graduating.
Deubner said that the biggest draw for getting involved with the station is that the possibilities are almost limitless. Interested in telling funny stories with friends? Playing an hour’s worth of ASMR? Or reading embarrassing poetry at 3 a.m.? Although some of those ideas were expressed to him satirically, he was dead serious about taking them on board. Whatever it may be, there is a place for everyone and everything at WTHS. To both Deubner and Bakker, the exploitative quality and space for creativity is what makes this student organization unique and fun. Whether you have hopes for a career in radio, podcasting or entertainment, or if you just want to have fun playing songs you think the world needs to hear, WTHS is the right place to be.
The station has come a long way since the basement of Kollen Hall and has changed with the times in many ways since. From AM to FM to now being online, there is so much potential for this flexible and creative medium. The voice of Hope College is run by students, for students and isn’t going away anytime soon.
Find out more at https://wths.hope.edu/.