Passionate students bring UMSL Radio back to campus
Jalen Walker-Wright walked past the radio studio on the second level of the Millennium Student Center on the University of Missouri–St. Louis campus nearly every day last school year.
Every time he passed the empty, darkened studio, glimpsing the unattended microphones and hearing the automated music play, he imagined what could be.
“I saw myself being in the studio talking on the mic,” said Walker-Wright, a senior majoring in business.
Sometime in April, Walker-Wright reached out to Marc Spingola, teaching professor of biology, to find out what happened to UMSL Radio, the student-managed radio station founded more than a decade ago. Spingola, who also serves as the faculty advisor for UMSL Radio, informed him that many of the students who had been involved with the station graduated. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the move to blended classes during the 2020-21 school year also disrupted operations.
Walker-Wright expressed his interest in reviving UMSL Radio and making his voice heard.
“I told him that I had another person interested and I had ideas for shows,” Walker-Wright said. “He said, ‘Great, I hope you’re here next semester to implement these ideas for the station.’”
He stayed in touch with Spingola over the summer, and the two began devising a plan to hit the airwaves. Spingola also introduced him to Keith Robinson, an information systems alumnus who regularly volunteered his time and expertise to the station in the past.
Robinson and Spingola helped acquaint Walker-Wright with the studio and create sign-up forms for potential DJs. Walker-Wright was surprised by the response as the fall semester approached, considering the station’s two-year hiatus. His efforts attracted 15 students, who now host more than 20 shows between Monday and Friday.
Aden Adams, an undeclared freshman, was one of the most eager recruits. Before enrolling at UMSL, Adams completed the emergency medical technology program at St. Louis Community College and worked as an EMT during the height of the pandemic.
Apart from his medical background, Adams has always been an avid music-lover and had some previous media experience. He took a class called “Multimedia Sports Production” while attending Ladue Horton Watkins High School, where he learned video production and radio broadcasting.
“At the time, my teacher mentioned that I had a really good voice, a voice for radio,” he said. “I’ve come to realize that he wasn’t really lying.”
Adams’ interest was immediately piqued by UMSL Radio, and he went on to take a leadership role as station manager in addition to hosting a weekly show. He and Walker-Wright, with guidance from Robinson, have worked to create an interesting mix of programming.
During the week, members of the UMSL community can catch music programs as well as talk programs that cover topics including news, politics and sports live in the MSC and on umslradio.org and the TuneIn app.
Shows such as “Earworm,” “Punk Rock Recovery” and Adams’ show, “Aden’s Shuffle,” play new singles and deep-cut tracks from a variety of musical genres. Adams said his friends inspire the playlists for his show, which airs on Tuesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. and Fridays from 11 a.m. to noon. Often, they recommend songs from international and upcoming artists – music that rarely finds a place on top-40 radio.
“When they have time, they’ll listen to my show,” he said. “I’ll get songs, and then I’ll play them for them. Being able to do that has been a lot of fun for me. Having that diversity of music has been just so enjoyable for someone like me who loves listening to music.”
While Adams’ passion for music brought him to UMSL Radio, it was Walker-Wright’s knack for public speaking that put him behind the mic. Walker-Wright is deeply involved on campus as a member of the Pierre Laclede Honors College, programs chair of the University Program Board and recipient of multiple scholarships, including the Chancellor’s Scholarship, the Honors College Scholarship and the Irvin Dagen and Margaret W. Dagen Scholarship.
Over the years as an UMSL student, he’s had multiple opportunities to speak at academic and leadership conferences. It’s made him comfortable communicating with groups of strangers, which has translated well to the studio.
Walker-Wright, meanwhile, hosts a news show, “Good Morning UMSL,” on Mondays and Fridays from 9 to 10 a.m. and a lifestyle show with two cohosts, “Take A Hint,” on Tuesdays from 4 to 5 p.m. On the news show, he promotes campus activities and events, while he and his cohosts discuss a new topic each week on the latter. Past shows have tackled issues like dating, interpersonal boundaries and social media.
Working at the station has helped both students grow and develop new skills. Adams has enjoyed learning how to use the audio-mixing equipment and the more technical aspects of radio production. Walker-Wright has appreciated organizing other students behind a common cause. But they both agree that the most important aspect of the experience has been giving students a voice and connecting with others on campus.
“I think it’s important because not only does it give students a way to introduce other people to music that they’ve never heard before, but also being able to tell our students what’s going on at UMSL,” Adams said. “That is so important to me, and to the community in general, having that level of connection.”
Walker-Wright echoed his sentiments.
“UMSL Radio is so vital,” he said. “It just gives people a voice. It gives people a chance to be heard and share their opinions, their values, their experiences – everything that makes them, them. They have the opportunity to present that.”
The response from the UMSL community has been particularly heartening, too.
“I think the most rewarding part is seeing people walk by, seeing the station alive because they smile and they give a thumbs up,” Walker-Wright said.
It’s been rewarding to see a new generation interested in the medium for Robinson. UMSL Radio initially started around 2005, broadcasting out of a closet in Curators Distinguished Teaching Professor Charles Granger’s lab. Students and faculty members were able to secure funding for a studio as the MSC was being built, and the station started operating out of its current space in 2007.
Robinson joined UMSL Radio as a student, hosting a show and working behind the scenes to build a website. Since graduating in 2012, he’s stayed involved with the station.
“I’ve been helping out when I can and volunteering to make sure that the station is up to standards,” he said. “I think it’s so important to have that kind of media at UMSL. We have an opportunity to have a voice there for students, and I think it’s a good way for engagement with the community as well.”
He added that it’s served as a catalyst to engage a diverse group of students. Many of the current DJs had no previous media experience, and some had never been part of a campus organization.
“The goal of UMSL Radio was that you didn’t necessarily have to be a media studies person or communications person to be part of the organization,” Robinson said. “We’ve had people from different majors, different backgrounds, and I think that’s the great thing about it because you come in with no experience and the goal is to get you experience being on the air.”
Adams and Walker-Wright have done an admirable job carrying on that mission and reviving the dormant studio Walker-Wright passed so often last school year. But they have big ideas for the future of UMSL Radio. Their plan for expansion includes interviews and field segments on campus, live music performances and, if everything falls into place, the resurrection of the campus TV station – The U.
“I think this is a starting point,” Adams said. “But I don’t want to stop here. I want us to have more speakers across the campus so more people can listen. I want more people to be part of it. I want to see what we can do with what we have and what we can get in the future. I want to see how much we can just surpass the expectations of what a college radio station can be.”
Short URL: https://blogs.umsl.edu/news/?p=95563