It’s an overcast Friday morning, a morning for study and lethargy, and as I slouch in my usual spot inside one of the lonely cubicles of the library while attempting to pound multidimensional vectors through my brain, the oppressive silence of the third floor of the Reg is interrupted by the cheerful twang of a Southern folk guitar. I’ve just tuned into the live web stream of radio station WHPK 88.5 FM, the “Pride of the South Side.”
In attempting to describe WHPK, the image that comes to mind is that of a “Wonderland” of music populated by bottomless rabbit holes of rock, rap, jazz, classical music, and any other genre you can imagine.
“We’re focused on having really diverse programming, as opposed to what you’d find on mainstream radio,” said manager Janice Lee, a third-year economics major. “This not only gives people a chance to hear music different from what they might normally listen to, but it also gives our DJs an opportunity to share their unique musical tastes.”
Since 1946, the non-profit radio station has catered not only to the University but also to Hyde Park and the South Side, largely due to the efforts of its dedicated volunteers. WHPK’s 160+ DJs and other volunteers make it one of the largest RSOs on campus, but not all of its members are university students. “A lot of people in the surrounding community have a long history with us, and they get really involved with the station,” said Lee. “You can definitely feel a strong connection between WHPK and the South Side.”
Lee joined the station at the end of her first year at UChicago as a DJ on her rock show called Teengenerate Lobotomy (which still runs every Tuesday at 10:00am). She knows firsthand what an exhilarating experience DJing for WHPK can be.
“It’s a lot of fun playing the music you want to play and looking for new stuff. It’s also great being able to interact with the other DJs and talk about their music picks. It’s a good community to be a part of.”
While listening to a three-hour session of the folk-dedicated programs From the Dark End of the Street and Pecan Pie, I hear sounds as diverse as Jimmy Rogers’s upbeat “My Baby Don’t Love Me No More” to Lefty Frizzell’s jovial honky-tonk, “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time.” I don’t normally listen to folk music, but WHPK just might change that.
After the folk block is a special, four-hour edition of Gateway to Brazil. The appropriately Brazilian-accented DJ lays out the schedule for the next four hours: hour one will highlight instrumental Brazilian jazz; hour two will focus on bossa nova; hour three will feature modern female Brazilian singers; and hour four will be designed purely to make you want to dance.
How deep the rabbit hole goes, indeed.
Take a look into the WHPK booth and record room with Scott Marchi. He's a Fundamentals major, class of 2012.