When: Sat., March 25, 8 p.m. 2017
If you talk with those who were students at UNC-Chapel Hill in March 1977, it's a safe bet that more will recall the Tar Heels' devastating loss to Marquette University in the NCAA championships than hearing Joni Mitchell's "You Turn Me On I'm a Radio" when it wafted through the airwaves as the inaugural song on the campus radio station, which had been newly rechristened WXYC. Forty years later, the blow felt by that devastating loss has been ameliorated by time. Meanwhile, WXYC 89.3 FM continues to send out its 1,100-watt signal from the campus student union to an area that encompasses most of the Triangle as well as Pittsboro and Apex.
The station has much to celebrate when it throws itself a fortieth birthday party this Saturday. Throughout its history, WXYC has remained student-run and noncommercial, and its broad programming has continued to present the best of the state's rich culture and history to an ever-growing international audience. It does so in the form of regular features like Hell or High Water, which pulls from the trove of riches that is the Southern Folklife Collection, a live in-studio concert series, or simply through student deejays playing interesting, challenging, frivolous or fun music, free of nearly all constraints.
WXYC revels in being able to range all over the stylistic map, from the state's indigenous music to experimental weirdness of the highest order and the myriad styles in between. In doing so, it reflects the essential aim of media: to inform, to entertain, to foster community. But it isn't stuffy. You won't hear any of that NPR-style lonely-saxophone break music on WXYC, which is proud to call itself "the sickest station on earth."
Since going 24/7 year-round in 1980, the station has been proactive in defining itself as inclusive, eclectic, and forward-looking. In 1994, it broke crucial ground as the first terrestrial radio station to broadcast its signal online, and the station has remained ahead of the curve since then as an early adopter—not just of technology but also of musical trends and artists not yet deemed fit for mass consumption.
The station has also given the world scores of talented alumni, including Rick Dees of "Disco Duck" fame, Stuart Scott of ESPN, and Tom Maxwell, late of Squirrel Nut Zippers. Several current deejays, as well as station veterans, will be on hand to spin sets for a celebratory dance party at Nightlight. In keeping with the station's embrace of eclecticism, the music will alternate between DJ sets and live performances in the dance vein by Matt Stevenson, Tegucigalpan, and Spongebath. Heck, maybe they'll even give Joni a spin. —David Klein