I’d been wishing for more community-based, independent, non-profit radio, with a decent signal to bring really good alt-rock music to people, sans streaming service. Then, a few months ago, a slight buzz permeated conversations and social media posts. Nothing big, just the occasional, “I heard The Cure (or Echo & The Bunnymen or the Sex Pistols) on the radio today!” or the cryptic, “Have you checked out 88.1 lately?” The stars aligned to bring us WELH, a station that came seemingly out of nowhere to fill the alt-rock hole left when Brown University sold WBRU in 2017. I tuned into my FM dial, and 88.1 hasn’t left my presets since.
“I created the music format and manage all of the programming that goes on WELH,” says David A. Schiano, director of operations and program director at Wheeler School Broadcasting. “The station signed on in 1995 and has always been owned by The Wheeler School. In October 2011, we entered into a 10-year agreement with Rhode Island Public Radio (since rebranded The Public’s Radio), and carried NPR programming. Wheeler School took back the airwaves in October of 2011, and that’s when I put on the Cutting Edge Classics music format along with student programs like Beats After Dark, which features EDM (electronic dance music) every Friday and Saturday night.” Schiano notes that even when The Public’s Radio was renting the frequency, student programming aired on nights and on weekends; now it airs all the time.
“The music format of WELH is a trip down memory lane for the old WBRU listener,” Schiano continues. “It is mostly classic alternative in nature, though we feature new indie and alternative music through our student shows. These shows run at 7pm weeknights, and some student shows feature new artists of all genres, and bring new underground music to the airwaves. We also have sports shows, car and movie review shows, and a variety of great educational programming.” WELH is commercial-free with only station-ID breaks and nonprofit ads from The Ad Council interrupting the music.
Schiano notes that the mission of the station is part of a program where students take courses in radio and video broadcasting. “WELH and the school website serve as the foundational media outlets students utilize to broadcast their work and reach out to the Wheeler community, as well as the greater Providence area.”
While college radio might not be new to anyone, high school radio is something a bit more unique. Airwaves devoting some portion of the program schedule to listeners of the teenage demographic opens the door to voices and experiences that might bring more relevance to the broadcast medium that gets overlooked in the constant pull for attention.
“Finding your voice at a young age and being able to prepare podcasts or broadcasts about your passions and interests is such a very valuable and unique opportunity that a student at Wheeler can engage in,” says Schiano.
Along with Brown Student Radio on 101.1 and the hardworking college radio DJs over at Providence College, Rhode Island College, and University of Rhode Island, WELH and the Wheeler School talent deliver an independent, local radio atmosphere that gives voice to a range of people. While some may already have favorite stations picked out, or not even give radio a second thought, might I recommend clearing your mind, tuning into 88.1 FM, and letting the universe bring you the programming as you were meant to hear. As Elvis Costello says, “You better listen to the radio.”
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