For DJ Ross Grady and other die-hard fans of underground, non-commercialized music the stuff you probably wouldn't find on Ryan Seacrest's iPod WXDU is sacred ground.
It's where artists as diverse as Jim Lauderdale & The Dream Players, the Dirtbombs and Violet Vector and the Lovely Lovelies are appreciated. It's where Durham teens can broadcast their self-produced audio documentaries. It's where "um" is part of the on-air vernacular and 30-year-old vinyl David Bowie records still get played, crackles and all.
This is radio, left of the dial.
About 75 volunteers make Duke University's 24-hour station at 88.7 FM a vital part of the school's connection to the Durham community. Roughly half these DJs aren't even students, but local residents like Grady who simply love eclectic styles of music not aimed at mass consumption.
A training session for aspiring DJs is planned for 1 p.m. May 18 at the station, located in the far right corner of the Bivins Building on East Campus. There's no pre-registration required and DJs do not have to live in Durham. WXDU welcomes nonstudents.
"We think it's a strength of the station," says Duke junior Meredith Newmark, an economics-political science major from Raleigh who just finished a year as the station's general manager. "For one thing, it enables us to keep going even when students aren't around or on break or something. And it's nice to have relations with the community."
Keith Davis is another community DJ. The Creedmoor resident briefly attended Duke and now teaches gifted elementary school students. Davis, a father of two, has had a show at WXDU for much of the past seven years.
"It's a great place to be, to keep up with the new stuff," says Davis, pulling CDs from the WXDU shelves, looking for new artists to play if his schedule allows him to do a show this summer. "I've discovered a whole lot of new and old stuff I didn't know about. I'm getting a lot noisier; I'm getting into post-punk from the late '70s and early '80s."
WXDU is a member of the Duke University Union. It exists "to inform, educate and entertain both the students of Duke University and the surrounding community of Durham through quality progressive alternative radio programming," according to the DUU website. WXDU, which began decades ago and has gone by various other call letters, also seeks to give its listeners an alternative viewpoint "untainted by commercial interests."
While some DJs have shows dedicated to specific music genres, others must base much of their show on a playlist to ensure they don't play too much of one or two styles.
WXDU programming also includes community outreach shows such as Youth Noise Network, which features audio documentaries produced by Durham middle school and high school students. Durham Noise Network is similar but produced by Duke students. Both programs are coordinated through Duke's Center for Documentary Studies.
But the core of what WXDU does is broadcast music, styles ranging from punk to jazz, hip-hop, electronic, folk and rock.
"It's hard not to broaden your perspective working at a college radio station, especially because of the diverse types of music that come in," says Luke Riservato, a Duke graduate student working toward a master's degree and a career as a pathologist's assistant. The New York City native recently began his year-long stint as WXDU's general manager.
Grady, a systems architect for IBM and veteran of college radio in North and South Carolina, has been volunteering at WXDU for nearly 13 years. His local music show from 4 to 6 p.m. Sundays regularly features area bands playing live on the air. The show, like the rest of WXDU programming, can also be heard via WXDU's website (www.wxdu.org).
For Grady, WXDU is "radio that Durham deserves."
"College radio, and noncommercial radio in general, is pretty much the last bastion of truly local broadcasting," he says. "Regardless of what's actually on the air at any given moment, WXDU is by its very nature your local hometown radio station. The DJs are from here, and even if they're playing Cambodian pop songs from the '60s, the person selecting that music, and the person who comes on to talk between songs, is quite literally your neighbor."
DJ Training, 1 p.m. Sunday, May 18, WXDU studio, Bivins Building (last door on right), Duke's East Campus. Free. Information: email@example.com; 684-8870.