For the first time in two years, the Worldwide Swarthmore Radio Network (WSRN) is back on the air. Its first shows premiered in the first week of October.
Over a century old, WSRN has been an integral part of the college’s history. Founded as a radio club by students and faculty from the engineering department in 1919, much of the equipment in the early years was self-built, with the station only receiving an official license in 1940. Based out of Parrish 4th, the station has retained both its recording space from the 1960s and its original goal: to connect Swatties.
WSRN has faced numerous challenges over the years, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited student access to recording equipment. Derrick Zhen ’23, a DJ for the station pre-pandemic, was recruited in 2021 by Assistant Visiting Professor of Computer Science Michael Wehar, who also served as WSRN’s faculty mentor, to help out with the broadcasting software. In an interview with The Phoenix, Zhen explained how the pandemic impacted WSRN and the recording equipment.
“The semester spent on Zoom pretty much killed WSRN, since nobody could access the Parrish recording space,” he said. “I think the recording software wasn’t working, the website was down, our domain name was stolen by a country music station, and the main mixer was dead, so we couldn’t broadcast [from the] studio.”
Getting the station back to its former functionality required Zhen and the WSRN team to replace technical infrastructure, purchase a new domain name for the website, and submit a Federal Communications Commission license renewal application. DJs were also recruited for the station upon the restoration of the studio’s equipment; this year, ten DJs have committed to doing a show once a week. The station’s various segments will range from music mixes to themed shows and podcasts. A Google Calendar of the weekly broadcasting schedule is available on the WSRN website.
WSRN broadcasts are available on 91.5 FM, or by pressing the big “play” button on wsrnfm.com.
One DJ, Maya Estrera, ʼ25 recently started her radio show “Shaboom FM” as a creative outlet which she co-hosts with her friends Zara Amjad ʼ25 and Abaigeal Houlihan ʼ25. In preparation for the show, they choose a theme for the week and create a playlist with five songs contributed by each host. Their themes range from New Music Friday to this upcoming week’s theme, Halloween. Shaboom FM is on the radio every Friday at 7:30 p.m. and the hosts play their songs and entertain their listeners.
“When we’re on air, we DJ and talk about the songs we pick or other topics that arise, almost like a podcast,” Estrera said.
Estrera also commented on this year’s need for the station and the benefits of WSRN on campus.
“WSRN is important to the Swarthmore community because it really is just fun, stress-free entertainment. I think people here get really bogged down with work and studying and never take time to just stop. Whether you’re a listener or a DJ, WSRN forces you to tune out everything else,” she said.
Despite the decrease in radio listeners as more and more students use apps like Spotify or Apple Music to hear new ideas and music, WSRN’s DJs firmly believe in the importance of the station to the community. In an interview with The Phoenix, Tarang Saluja ’23 reflected on how WSRN can contribute to community-building at Swarthmore.
“I think it is all too easy to get caught up with unnecessarily attention-grabbing national-level stories and news and lose track of what is happening around you. WSRN can make it easier for people at Swarthmore to build community here by learning about what is important and interesting for people locally,” said Saluja.
Saluja co-hosts the “Labour Radio Hour” segment every Sunday at 5 p.m., and was inspired to start his show after finding a blog from an alum that tracked labour actions at Swarthmore from 1970 to 2017. The blog’s owner once had his own show on WSRN titled “Labour of Love.” Saluja’s show focuses on the importance of labor and its history.
“Our first episode consisted of shouting out labour actions near us, playing songs, and connecting the songs with both historical and current events. We hope to keep playing labour music, but we may also branch into interviews with organizers, labour history, and more,” Saluja said of the segment’s aims.
Zhen also commented on the value that the station has for Swarthmore students — specifically those interested in podcasting.
“I think WSRN still has a lot to offer, insofar as it’s a student-run space for audio/music production. We have lots of equipment for Swatties interested in podcasting or recording a video essay,” he said.
Zhen mentioned that re-establishing WSRN is important — now more than ever — because it can help reclaim Swarthmore’s identity and institutional memory after the pandemic. He referenced not only the physical history of WSRN, seen through the graffiti drawn over decades in the station’s space, but also how the various shows serve as a time capsule for what Swatties were listening to and experiencing at different points in time.
“We as a student body are still kind of reeling from the effects of the pandemic and there’s a big push this semester to re-establish a Swarthmore identity. Part of this push for identity is students starting new clubs and engaging the student body in new ways. But I think the other part is re-discovering the legacy of old clubs and revisiting what Swatties have created/accomplished in the past,” Zhen said.
Congratulations Derrick! Keep up the great work. 🙂