Caitlin Doherty ’26
On Thursday, September 23rd, WRTC, Trinity’s on-campus independent radio, celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary with a roundtable event hosted by the Trinity Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies. This panel focused on why independent radio still matters in an age increasingly engaged in internet-based, commercialized media. The conversation was guided by moderator Joshua King, a visiting assistant professor of Italian Studies as well as host of show Duck, You Sucker!on WRTC. The four panelists represented a wide range of connections with WRTC and independent radio. The panelists—Raffi Khatchadourian ’95, who was a part of WRTC throughout his time at Trinity and is a current staff writer at the New Yorker; Ken Freedman, the station manager of WFMU, the nation’s longest-running independent radio station; Craig Black, who has been involved with WRTC since 1979; and Taive Muenzberg ’23, a WRTC Executive Board member and host of show More Cowbell Please—all offered insight into why WRTC and all independent radio continue to be relevant and valuable.
WRTC was founded in 1947, making its seventy-fifth anniversary in 2021, but the celebration was postponed due to the pandemic. “It [WRTC] begins in 1947. It’s four students and two turntables in Cook Hall, and the original signal traveled twenty feet,” remarked Professor King in his introduction. WRTC’s radio signal now reaches from north in Enfield, CT, to south in Berlin, CT, about a thirty-five mile stretch, and since its humble founding, it has hosted many prominent live guests, such as poet Robert Frost, the band Sonic Youth, and musician George Clinton. Currently, WRTC runs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with music from a wide range of genres, and the broadcast features regular shows from students, staff, and Hartford community members.
Although some students may not even know that WRTC exists on campus, this independent radio has an important legacy and presence in Hartford, particularly because of the role it played in the 1980s and 1990s. The Thought Power section of WRTC was started in 1975 to share music by people of color “at a time when commercial radio stations in Hartford would not play contemporary Black music,” shared moderator Joshua King. “If you talk to people of a certain age, people that grew up in the 80s and 90s, the only place you could listen to hip hop, the only place you could listen to rap in Hartford was WRTC.” Craig Black, the current director of Thought Power at WRTC, shared his memories of WRTC before he became directly involved, “When I was fifteen years old, I used to listen to WRTC, Thought Power…WRTC was the biggest thing in Hartford.”
Independent radio acts as an important community-builder for the areas they serve. “There’s this deep personal connection, especially for people who might be isolated… radio really becomes a very, very special kind of companion and that kind of companionship can really build powerful community,” panelist Ken Freedman shared from his own experience as a radio manager. WRTC is one of Trinity’s deepest connections to the Hartford community, and this connection has lasted for decades. Aside from the regular shows that numerous Hartford residents host year-round, while Trinity students are away on breaks, community members volunteer their time to keep the station running constantly and are always willing to step in when students need to be absent for other reasons during the academic year.
“Trinity talks all the time about our connection to the community…our radio station might be one of the best examples of direct community involvement with our school…we get to develop real relationships with people [in the community],” added Taive Muenzberg ’23. The WRTC radio station is a vital shared space for students, faculty, and Hartford residents to find community through music, and despite the decline of radio as a media form over the past few years, WRTC has remained a strong organization that continues to bring together Trinity and the surrounding community after seventy-five years.