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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Acoustics in the Airwaves

1987 WUMB-FM broadcast studio. Left to right
Reel-to-reel tape player/recorder, turntable for 33, 48 and 75 rpm records, control board with”pots”(potentiometers) before the days of faders and at the far right, two”cart”players for pre-recorded message. A”cart”was an 8-track style loop of tape. The term”cart”is still used today for pre-recorded announcements that are played from hard drives in contemporary radio stations.
1987 WUMB-FM broadcast studio. Left to right

At the top of the Healey Library, above the eleventh floor, the WUMB satellite blasts microwaves to a tower in Quincy.

WUMB got started in 1968. Pat Monteith and her friends were sick of playing whist all day in the cafeteria, so decided to make a radio station for UMass Boston. Monteith and her friends toured area radio stations including WBCN, which was right across Stewart Street from the old UMB campus. The students came up with the call letters WUMB, which stood for “We’re UMass Boston.”

The intrepid students convinced the administration to set up a DJ booth in a small inlet off the cafeteria. “We replaced the jukebox,” said Monteith. The radio station first broadcast as closed circuit, like a PA system. The audience in the cafeteria threw food when they didn’t like what was playing. Monteith said, “I can’t say I remember it fondly.”

Monteith was hired full time to put the station on FM. She said, “Everyone said ‘there’re too many radio stations already.'” In 1981, thirteen years later, the FCC gave WUMB it’s FM license. Then a small miracle occurred. The Cambridge based folk music station, WCAS, went under. The owners claimed the station was “not financially viable.” 18,000 people petitioned the FCC. Monteith said, “Oh my goodness, a ready made audience.”

After WUMB got it’s license, the UMB Student Government Association pulled funding for the fledgling station. The station was built with an $85,000 loan from the Chancellors Office. Monteith said, “We were able to make the case that people who liked Folk Music might support our radio station because they didn’t have an alternative. This was true, and we were able to pay back the loan in three years with listener donations.”

Monteith was born in Watertown. She is the general manager of WUMB and recently moved to Randolph to be closer to the signal broadcast out of Quincy. Monteith was proud to tell me that WUMB puts 2.3 million dollars into the local economy.

Last semester, WUMB did a survey of students, and to their surprise and chagrin, most students didn’t know that WUMB exists. So, WUMB engaged in an all out campaign for the students’ attention, dubbed, the X-treme Folk eXperience. Every Tuesday and Wednesday the X-treme team set up shop in the cafeteria and wooed students with live performances, prize giveaways, and cultural celebrations like Chinese New Year, Black History Month and March, Irish Culture Month.

WUMB doesn’t have as strong a base among UMB students as it does amongst the folk fan diaspora. Xandre, who is pursuing an individualized major drawing from Latin American Studies and Non Profit Business Management listens to WUMB sometimes, “It’s good, I usually come upon it by accident,” he said, “I like folk just as much as any other kind of music.”

Almost every day at noon, Marilyn Rea Beyer interviews a guest for a half an hour in the studio. Beyer says that in many ways she feels most comfortable on air, live, speaking into a microphone. The first time Beyer picked up a microphone was when she was nine and she MC’ed a grade school library pageant.

“No matter how I feel in the morning, the live show is like a tonic,” said Beyer. Beyer loves her job because every day she has to show up and perform at her very best. Beyer said that she has had jobs that she could cruise through, but this job is not a job that she can cruise through.

Beyer told me that good folk music has to have “Staying power.” She said, “The melody has got to be sufficiently memorable that it will bear repeating,”

“Lyrics have to be challenging enough intellectually that the audience can have the ‘ahhh’ factor.” Beyer plays a range of folk music, some old, some new. She tells me to watch out for Antje Duvekot.

Beyer recalled some of the recurring folk characters she’s gotten to know over the years. There is Black Jack Davy, a gypsy who wins the heart of a lady; John Riley who goes away to sea, to return and fool his devoted wife; and there’s the Handsome Cabin Boy, a young girl who sneaks aboard a ship to be with her one true love, but when he discovers what she’s done he says “I went sailing to get away from you,” so she takes up with the Captain.

Beyer’s dad was a steelworker and she grew up on the Southside of Chicago, on Ewingville Ave. Beyer met her husband, the nonfiction author and documentary film producer Rick Beyer when she was working for the information database, Nexus; he was her best customer.

“Two minutes left, what will I play there?” Beyer asked the room moments before setting down to an interview with fiddler/guitar player Bruce Molsky. Beyer’s job is similar to a historian’s, she digs and pries and unearths folk history.

WUMB is more than a radio station, it is a folk music hub. The walls at the station are decorated with autographed photos of folk greats. Judy Collins is a good friend. Folk musicians from all over the world will drop in at the studio on Columbia Point to play music and talk with Beyer. Each fall, WUMB hosts the Boston Folk Festival on Campus, and the station’s online calendar lists folk performances and events around the city.

Brian Quinn is the program director. Not too long ago, recordings were made on reel to reel tape, and the cutting and splicing was done by hand. Quinn said that he’d often throw the excess tape on the floor, and then he’d say, “I needed that sentence,” which meant a mad search through the mountain of tape.

The digital production board can do “just about anything,” Quinn said. There are 20 tracks, CDs microphone, “A symphony of sound.” The new equipment, Monteith told me is capable of editing out a cough or a stutter. That was never possible before. WUMB has some of the most advanced audio equipment around. “I know the old analogue stuff very well,” Monteith said.

WUMB radio network broadcasts out of the lower level of the Healey Library to south-coastal New England, central Massachusetts, and worldwide via the Internet. The broadcast emanating from Quincy is the most high-quality WUMB signal because it is transmitted from the station via microwave whereas the other four stations in the network are transmitted from the station via phonelines. The WUMB live-stream can support up to 1,000 listeners online.

Sometime during the spring of 2003 Monteith says she noticed that the regular Internet feed to Iraq dropped off. She was puzzled, in the previous weeks she’d noticed a steady stream of broadband to the troops stationed there. 48 hours later the bombing started.

WUMB receives emails from listeners around the world. The station is very popular in England. One letter from an appreciative listener came from a base on Antarctica.

WUMB affords many opportunities for students who are interested in radio broadcasting. Unlike other local college stations, WUMB does not train students to be on-air personalities because there are no opportunities for on-air personalities. WUMB employs 10 full time employees, 18 part time, and 18 students. In addition, the station has tons of volunteers. Lots of the full time employees started out doing workstudy.