Following a three-year hiatus, Johns Hopkins student radio made a triumphant return late last month, but not to the airwaves: This time around, cyberspace is the place.
Using the call letters of the university's original student station, WJHU has been reborn as an Internet radio offering, available at http://www.hopkinsradio.com.
Those who tuned in, or more accurately clicked on, just after midnight on April 22 heard WJHU kick off its new era with Ozzy Osbourne's signature anthem, "Crazy Train." For the uninitiated--or those who might think Ozzfest refers to a L. Frank Baum tribute--the song begins with the heavy-metal-star-turned-TV-icon, screeching "All aboard."
WJHU station manager Ryan Tabone, a senior electrical engineering major, said those two words embody his message to fellow students. Tabone, who was a sophomore when the previous student radio station went off the air, said his unbending goal for the past three years was, before he graduated, to bring back radio to the Homewood campus.
"I'm a big fan of music, and I love radio, but the main reason I wanted this to happen was that I felt students needed an outlet," Tabone said. "There are many who feel that Hopkins is missing school spirit, and [the staff and I] thought this was a way to help bring the entire student body together. WJHU is something students can call their own and use as a vehicle to express themselves."
Why the Internet? Tabone said he and the new station's founding staff members researched the AM and FM options, only to find limited frequency availability, high costs and strict FCC regulations. The Internet, Tabone said, turned out to be a considerably cheaper alternative, and one that allowed more on-air freedom.
"With the Internet, we can also reach more people," he said. "In essence, you broadcast all over the world, so an alum in Germany can listen in if he wanted to."
WJHU's new reach is certainly a far cry from its early days.
The original WJHU was born in the mid-1940s. For its first 30-plus years, WJHU existed as a low-frequency AM station transmitted over a carrier current that reached only as far as the student dorms. Wanting to upgrade the station's range, station staff, working with university administration, in 1977 applied to the FCC for a 10-watt FM station license. In 1978, approval was granted, and WJHU migrated to 88.1 FM.
In the early 1980s, faced with the specter of FCC's deregulation of low-wattage FM stations, WJHU station managers applied for and received a 25,000 watt license, enabling the station's signal to reach all of the Baltimore area and as far as Washington, D.C.
However, with greater reach came both new responsibilities and opportunities, and by the summer of 1985 the WJHU staff had been transformed from an all-student group to one comprised entirely of professional, full- and part-time university employees. In subsequent years, WJHU would become the area's National Public Radio affiliate. No longer seeing radio as part of its core mission, the university in February 2002 sold WJHU-FM to the Your Public Radio Corp., a community-based nonprofit group that renamed the station WYPR.
As for Johns Hopkins student radio, in the early 1990s it returned to the AM dial as WHAT, later to become WHSR, which stood for Hopkins Student Radio. Coming full circle, the student station once again was broadcast on a carrier current, reaching only the undergraduate dorms, Levering Hall and a handful of off-campus apartments. Strapped with aging equipment and limited funds, WHSR ultimately fell silent in 2000.
The new WJHU is broadcast out of the basement of McCoy Hall, in the three-room suite that WHSR called home.
Currently, the station offers only streams in broadband MP3, meaning listeners need a high-speed ResNet, DSL or cable Internet connection and an MP3 player, such as WinAMP for PCs or iTunes for Macs. By September, Tabone said, the Web site will provide links to RealAudio and WindowsMedia streams for low-bandwidth users.
Shannon Chang, a sophomore neuroscience major and the station's business manager, said that despite the current limitations, the number of listeners has been pleasantly high.
"The first day we had about 45 people listen to our feed, most, if not all, of whom were friends of the staff," she said. "But already we've gone from that initial number to our current high of 2,100 hits in a single day. There's been such a great response."
To cover start-up costs for the station, the Office of the Dean of Student Life has provided funds. Bill Smedick, assistant to the dean of student life and WJHU's staff adviser, said the intention is ultimately to make the station self-sufficient through advertising revenue.
Smedick said the university supported the student radio effort because of its "potential to build community on campus."
"Already we have seen a very positive response from students," Smedick said, "and it's been very well-received by both the student newspaper and the [Hopkins version of the] alternative Web site The Daily Jolt. So far, I can safely say WJHU has exceeded expectations."
WJHU broadcasts live each day, from roughly 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., with a predominantly music format. The tastes of the station's DJs can best be described as eclectic. In one broadcasting hour, don't be surprised to hear the Who, the Flaming Lips, Miles Davis, a French pop song and a deeper cut off the Clockwork Orange soundtrack. To check out who is spinning the tracks, the station's Web site features a studio cam that is updated every 15 seconds.
Tabone said the station's format is "very flexible," and the plans are to eventually include talk shows in the mix, including segments on sports and politics. WJHU staff also want to broadcast live campus events, including concerts, festivals and varsity team home games. This past weekend, WJHU was scheduled to invade the Beach at Homewood, broadcasting before and after the Johns Hopkins Homecoming lacrosse game from the expansive lawn in front of the MSE Library.
The current WJHU broadcasting schedule will wind up sometime during finals week, Tabone said, but the station will resume live feeds in September upon the students' return.
Yann Brandt, a sophomore mechanical engineering major and WJHU's assistant station manager, said that the semester's last two weeks will still provide plenty of time to get the word out that WJHU is back and better than ever.
"We've been told by a lot of people that we are providing a nice distraction from their studying," Brandt said. "I tell them, Great, keep listening."