It was a random Tuesday night in the summer of 1994. Bill Burton, a member of the WXYC Student Educational Broadcasting Board of Directors, was filing music in. The campus radio station, also known as WXYC, was in an ongoing battle to increase their wattage, grasping for coverage in the Triangle area.
Disc Jockeys Michael Shoffner and David McConville stopped Burton with a single question, “What if I told you there was a way for [WXYC] to be available worldwide?” With that one question, the world of radio was changed.
Both Shoffner and McConville were computer science majors who would go on to program the first online radio broadcast in the world on November 7, 1994. Initially launched as a microphone in front of a boom box, the first online radio broadcast was nothing short of a miracle, becoming the subject of a Jeopardy trivia question. Its innovative framework put WXYC on the map.
WXYC has always been a digital pioneer within the college radio community. In late 2010, former Information Technology Director of WXYC, Jake Bromberg, launched the first version of the station’s iOS app.
Although the open source code was Bromberg’s first app, it helped build the framework for the current app model. Bromberg would go on to form a career in app development, working at Google and Microsoft.
“I didn’t even have an iPhone. Back then, [the app] was kind of cool and a little technology forward, but I think it was probably quite rare that we had an iPhone app as a low budget college radio station,” said David van Dokkum, WXYC DJ and Member of App Development Team.
The development team would go on to adjust the app with iOS updates, while remaining open source and searching for new content to incorporate. The app is still available on the App Store with a 4.7 star rating, expanding the accessibility of WXYC and freeform programming.
Unlike most radio stations in the area, WXYC relies on freeform programming.
Current programming director, Aysha Diallo, defines free form radio as “programming that is not bound to one genre or one type of music; it forces DJs to expand beyond what they know.”
With a station library of over 100 thousand vinyl records and CDs, disc jockeys can explore the vast physical collection at their leisure, allowing autonomy over their set. For most new DJs, WXYC allows them to learn more about music consumption and old media formats, forcing them to take note of the album as a piece of artwork rather than simply a song.
“[W]XYC has always had an education and reliance on the obsolete. Great Grandpa’s records can come in here,” said Burton
While WXYC has had many digital upgrades over the last 25 years, the mission of the station stays the same. The authenticity of the station relies heavily on the individuals and the freedom of choice with each track selected.
“The focus has always been on good quality music… [You] learn more about music you would’ve never listened to,” Igou said.
When most people think of radio, they think of the hour-long segments of music that they listen to in their car, mixed with various commercials and various talk segments. Most commercial radio stations play one genre of music and often use automation services to rotate music among a loop of current hit tracks.
Unlike typical radio stations, WXYC relies on DJs to pick each song individually. Songs can range from a variety of genres and each set becomes an exploration of music with an authentic and unique sound. WXYC broadcasts 24/7 with a live DJ in the station at all times.
“At a time where radio is becoming almost entirely automated and/or digital, WXYC is holding onto our roots, and holding up and nurturing a form of media that many are quick to let go of. That being said, WXYC has a unique opportunity to find ways to integrate new forms of digital media into our station while honoring our values and traditions,” said current station manager, Elinor Walker.
This week, WXYC celebrates their 25th anniversary of broadcasting online. To learn more about WXYC, check out their website here as well as their Facebook page.