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UW-Madison’s student radio station now operates out of College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

WSUM, the UW-Madison’s student radio station, has a new administrative home.

Although it”s still broadcasting the same distinctive array of alternative music, news, talk and call-in shows – heard throughout Madison at 91.7 FM – WSUM now operates under the auspices of the Department of Life Sciences Communication in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

One reason for the change was to help the station forge a stronger curricular link to the university.

“We hope to be more of a learning laboratory for existing classes,” says Dave Black, general manager of WSUM, who initiated the move.

Another factor was the upcoming retirement of UW-Madison journalism professor Jack Mitchell, the station’s long-time faculty advisor. Under Mitchell’s watch, the station had been housed in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Mitchell”s approaching retirement spurred Black to look for a new advisor and a new home for the station.

The Department of Life Sciences Communication was an obvious choice, he says. WSUM already had strong ties to the department. Several LSC faculty members have been strong supporters of the station, including Jacquie Hitchon McSweeney, chair of the department, and professors Larry Meiller, a radio host for Wisconsin Public Radio, and Patty Loew, a host on Wisconsin Public Television who chairs of the WSUM board of directors.

The station will continue to offer opportunities to the campus and surrounding community. At any given time, the station has between 150-200 volunteers who do everything from producing music shows and news programs to behind-the-scenes work such as filing and answering emails. The volunteer program is thriving; during the 2005-2006 academic year, WSUM trained a record-breaking 150 volunteers, says Black.

Danielle Russell is one such volunteer.

“I”ve always loved radio,” says Russell, a junior majoring in Life Sciences Communication and Agricultural Education. “Ever since I got my driver”s license, I”ve been tuning into National Public Radio.”

Every Wednesday, Russell writes and announces the 6 p.m. news along with four other student volunteers. For Russell, it”s a great learning experience, as well as a lot of fun.

“The station has so much personality. There is a very neat sense of community within WSUM members,” says Russell, who would like to start a roundtable-style radio program covering topics of interest to Wisconsin”s agricultural community.

In addition to the station”s many volunteers, Black also hires 10 part-time student employees to manage various aspects of the radio enterprise. This gives UW-Madison students a chance to take on challenging leadership roles, such as music director, program director and community outreach coordinator.

Black describes the relationship between the radio station and the life sciences communication department as a “perfect marriage.” It’s clear the feeling is mutual.

“This is an exciting time [in communications] because there is a lot of convergence between technologies,” says Hitchon McSweeney, the station’s new faculty advisor. “And although in the past, the role of radio shrank compared to that of other media, now radio has a new life due to the capability of the web to stream audio programs. WSUM is an exciting new arena for our faculty to teach audio […] and to encourage the development of student leaders.”