On the 4th floor of the ROTC training building on Spruce Street, you can find the WQHS broadcasting room. Littered with the remains of old radio history—ancient streaming equipment, piles of CDs, stacks of old radio tapes—the room feels almost removed from time. The Penn DJ’s have commandeered the space, and have made it their own: the colorful walls are covered with posters advertising past DJs, loose drawings and doodles, scattered words of text. Just on the outer edge of campus, this room gives Penn’s radio warriors the headspace they need to decompress, to process, and to just chill out and appreciate music.
Harry Smith (C’18), who is a cohost of “Kickin’ It with Harry and David,” comments on the controlled chaos of the studio itself, describing the space as “DIY.” This “do–it yourself” attitude pertains to everything about the WQHS station. Harry explains the scrappiness of the WQHS DJ community, and comments on how everything that gets done gets done because of an initiative on the part of the DJs.
He says, “DIY in that DJs are responsible for coming up with show content on their own…DJs have full creative control over their own shows and are not subject to major oversight from WQHS as an organization.”
Some shows are primarily music driven, like Katie Shia’s (C’21). Her show, “Milk Before Cereal,” focuses mostly on indie and alternative music, though Katie really plays whatever tracks are on her mind. For her, the show is almost therapeutic.
“You can actually be yourself and talk about whatever weird shit you’re thinking about,” she laughs, “it’s actually like having a diary to yourself…no one is there to judge you; no one is there to talk back to you and say 'no, you’re wrong' because it’s you and a microphone—what can a microphone say back to you?”
When Katie isn’t blowing your mind with some underground alternative music, you can listen to her discussing issues of copyright and adaptation in the music world. Others are more talk–show–esque, like Harrison Meyer (C’20). Harrison’s show, “Bernie Sanders Jazz Hour,” is a mixture of jazz music and political commentary. A member of Penn Jazz and a Political Science major, Harrison saw this one hour block of time as a way for him to meld his two passions.
“In contemporary politics today, you see a lot of populist movements, but even going back, this is not a new thing…people taking popular ideas on both sides of the political aisle and flip flopping all the time for what would be popular or what would look good for their fellow party members," He says. "You can call it ‘political improvisation,’ and you can definitely see a parallel in jazz because jazz is all about improvisation.”
On the other hand, Harry and David choose to incorporate a themes to each of their shows. Each show is centered around a topic or idea with music, discussion, and witty banter. For example, Harry mentions seasonal playlists as an example of one of these themes. Additionally, Harry and David like to include live elements in their show. Listeners can call in to participate in a live music discussion. They host live performances on their show, as well.
Audiences varies across the board, but Penn’s WQHS DJs remain positive, even when the number of listeners is low. Katie admits that her listeners sometimes drops into single digits, but, she doesn’t seem to mind. She says, “even though there’s two people listening to your show, there’s still two people!” For her, the diary aspect of radio outweighs nearly everything else, and any additional listeners are a plus: “I don’t really have a filter on my radio show…[it] really is a Katie Shia radio show.”
For Harry, practicing radio has an inherent creative value in and of itself. “I think the work of coming up with material, themes, and playlists for shows is a rewarding mental exercise…when I am feeling particularly down on our listener numbers, I remind myself that we record all of our shows so that we can later share them with folks who weren't able to tune in during airtime.”
He feels that radio is a way for people to connect on a person–to–person basis: “Even when just one person is listening, it is fulfilling to know that person is directly engaged in what David and I have planned for the week.”
Finally, Harrison adds that radio is a way for him to get some clarity and perspective. He says, “Just preparing some material every week is really good just to get your thoughts organized, it’s a little bit meditative….just by focusing in on a singular topic for a long enough period of time, you sort of enter a higher state of focus, and that energy will sort of transfer over to the rest of your day.”
Katie Shia (C’21)
Show name: “Milk Before Cereal”
Show time: Tuesdays at 3pm
Three songs Street readers need to listen to right now: “Gold Shades” by Sleeping Jesus, “Carry Me Home” by Jorja Smith, and “Plastic” by Moses Sumney.
Harrison Meyers (C’20)
Show name: “Bernie Sanders Jazz Hour”
Show time: Tuesdays at 8 am
Three songs Street readers need to listen to right now: “Entertain Me” by Tigran Hamasyan, “Cool Eyes” by Jeb Patton, and “Seven Seas” by Avishai Cohen.
Harry Smith (C’18)
Show name: “Kickin’ It with Harry and David”
Show time: Thursdays at 8pm
Three songs Street readers need to listen to right now: "What I Want" by Cende, "Find Me" by Porches, "Jesse" by Frankie Cosmos.
Listen to WQHS's top picks here.