Top Story, Arts, On Campus

Underground Sound: How WZBC Is Shaping BC’s Alternative Music Scene

“The people who love it here are die-hards, and we wouldn’t want to change the authenticity of it.”

Behind the black doors of McElroy 107, you are unlikely to find the monotony of the Top 40, nor should you expect to. Lining the densely-adorned walls of the WZBC studio are stickers and posters collected from over the past decade—a testament to the station’s sense of history and eclectic taste.

That’s ultimately what WZBC is about—a consideration of diverse ideas, tastes, and opinions that does not forgo the station’s historic roots.

Since its inception in 1974, WZBC-Newton serves as Boston College’s only non-profit, student-run radio station. Originally established as WVBC, the station emerged in 1960 to broadcast solely to on-campus buildings and dormitories. Expanding beyond the confines of BC, the station was rebranded as WZBC in 1974 and licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, according to its mission statement. Currently, the station broadcasts at the frequency of 90.3, serving a larger community by branching out to the Chestnut Hill and Newton areas. For the station’s programming director Minh-y Tran and general manager Yonny Reichel, both A&S ’16, WZBC’s scope extends far beyond the college demographic.

“We are considered a genuinely local station,” Reichel said. “It’s not representative of only campus radio and that’s something not many college stations have. We want to appeal to a sense of localism and community.”

WZBC offers an array of programming—ranging from ZBC Rock, country, and reggae to news and sports. From 6 a.m. to 4 a.m. on any given day, listeners can expect to hear Cousin Kate’s Sunday Morning Country, the daily news program Democracy Now, or the bluesy stylings of What the Funk. Perhaps WZBC’s most ambitious and unique programming airs under the moniker No Commercial Potential (NCP). True to its title, NCP is a sounding board for the avant-garde, airing underground, industrial rock.

“We like to promote artists that aren’t always in the public eye,” Reichel said. “The type of music that we put out there tends to gravitate towards avant-garde and something that people find provocative.”

Over the years, programming has evolved with a changing base of listeners and list of programs. Music directors curate playlists and have full reign over what the station broadcasts, while volunteers send in physical copies of CDs as well as using Spotify and Soundcloud to discover new artists. In recent years, Boston local radio has leaned towards pop rock influences. The shutdown of the WFNX station meant that the Boston community lacked an underground music presence that WZBC eventually filled.

“Recently, we’ve been gravitating towards electronic lo-fi and deep house rather than our original garage band rock,” Reichel said. “We cater to our listeners and the underground music scene.”

Beyond an extensive listenership, WZBC links area residents to the university by featuring guest DJ spots from local community members. Meanwhile, student volunteers at the station have carved out their own niche within BC’s alternative culture. While WZBC does tend to attract a specific demographic, the station builds a sense of community by bringing musically-minded individuals together under one ceiling.

Breck Wills / Heights Graphic
Breck Wills / Heights Graphic

“The archetype of the WZBC persona tends to be described as elitist, because we are so aware of our own taste,” Reichel said. “The goal is to represent our aesthetic through music and that can come off as pretentious. The people who love it here are die-hards [for music] and we wouldn’t want to change the authenticity of it.”

While audiences have been receptive to WZBC over the decades, the station hopes to diversify its music inclusion and convert its house CDs into digital form. Its top goal, however, is to remain authentic and produce accessible music to the public without straying from its modern rock beginnings.

“People who like to explore new and different music tend to gravitate towards WZBC because there isn’t always another outlet for experimental music,” Tran said. “The goal is to explore new and strange music and to listen to music for listening’s sake.”

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

February 11, 2015