Greg Golden of Rollins College radio station WPRK on keeping the music going in Orlando and Winter Park

click to enlarge This is the old control board at WPRK; they have since been moved into a swankier, though still underground, space - Photo via WPRK
Photo via WPRK
This is the old control board at WPRK; they have since been moved into a swankier, though still underground, space
Local college radio powerhouse WPRK 91.5-FM, the "Best in Basement Radio," has been broadcasting loud and proud from Rollins College for decades now. But with the coronavirus pandemic causing Florida schools and colleges to switch to online instruction, and the campus essentially empty, would this powerful and independent community voice go silent? Orlando Weekly spoke to Greg Golden, Director of Student Media at Rollins  (and one of our "2020 People We Love," which came out Feb. 14, which seems like roughly three lifetimes ago) about how the station and the people behind it are trying adapt to this horrible, ever-changing situation and keep the music going. Play it loud.

Personally speaking, what was the moment for you realized how bad this was going to be?
click to enlarge Greg Golden of Rollins College radio station WPRK on keeping the music going in Orlando and Winter Park
Greg Golden
I knew this was going to be bad when Rollins moved all classes online. This was last Thursday, and seniors were devastated. There was already the gloom of dreading what comes after graduation, but to say goodbye to friends eight weeks early was heartbreaking to see. A few of these students have been a part of WPRK for most or all of their time at Rollins, and then … poof.

Will the station continue broadcasting?
WPRK will continue to broadcast, but it will all be done remotely and through automated programming. We've made the difficult decision to have our volunteers stay away from the station at this time, so it will not be our regularly scheduled shows, but we're trying to be creative and continue to serve our listeners.

So student DJ and station managers aren't all out of action?
Almost all of our students will no longer be on campus, but those who are able will continue working remotely in some capacity. We had our first WebEx today, and while we were still reeling from the experience, we were able to laugh at things like crunching on food directly into mics. We are also trying to maintain participation from our volunteers. I've already received thoughtful emails from DJs, offering to send in recordings of their shows or rip their personal music collections to provide more options in our digital library.

What do you see as the future role of community DJs with the station? 
Community DJs will continue having a role during this period of isolation and beyond it. I am working with community volunteers now to arrange for their prerecorded shows to play on air, and reaching out to past DJs to see if some older recordings could be dug up and resurrected on air. We don't want to lose our ability to be interesting and fun. Our community DJs are a big part of that.

Will the transmitter tower and equipment be maintained and service and watched in the interim?
Our equipment, transmitter and tower will be well-maintained by our engineer, Kent Terry. He will continue to be an asset in making sure we have remote access to our technology at the station. This will be crucial in our effort to stay on the air.

How do you see the role of the station (a more decentralized station in the near future, for sure) adapting at all as the ground continually shifts underneath us?
We will certainly be keeping up with what governmental or college policies might affect this new mode of operating, and we will also stay plugged into the global conversation among radio professionals. I was just on a virtual meeting with over 100 college radio managers who shared ideas, and I'm excited for the new uses of technology to operate remotely. Locally, Beth McKee and Terri Binion are performing in a pay-per-view concert, and Timucua Arts Foundation is livestreaming a recorded concert tonight. We want to plug into what the arts community is doing to adapt. And I can absolutely see some of these ideas remaining in place after this crisis ends.

Unfairly broad question: How do you see this impacting WPRK in the short term and the long term?
In the short term, I think we have an opportunity to keep our community connected. We want people to call our office phone and leave song dedications on the voicemail, at 407-646-2241. We can download the message, cue it up with the song, and broadcast all of it remotely. We want to hear your quarantine recording sessions, sent to [email protected]. Why not submit them to WMFE's Tiny Desk Contest, as well? In the long term, I know that we have the support of the college and community, which makes everything that we do possible. As long as we continue to be of service, we'll be fine.

A final note. Longtime WPRK community DJ Phantom Third Channel (aka occasional Orlando Weekly contributor Anthony Mauss) was one of the last (if not the last) community DJs to spin live on WPRK this week, pulling a raucous shift of "Punk Rock in Your PJs" late Tuesday night.

We asked him for brief impressions of being the last hand on deck and he told us this:

The sounds will continue and the machines will ensure that they do. These transmissions were my voice through the darkest times. I held on late into the morning knowing that no one would come to relieve me, so I danced in the orange glow of the control board and made my peace with the machines. The door latch clicking closed was the sound of my soul going mute.

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, all bars and nightclubs in Florida were closed on March 17 for 30 days. As of March 18, Central Florida restaurants are still open for takeout and delivery, and grocery stores are open during limited hours. Follow CDC guidelines and Orange County advisories on staying safe.
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