WDAV, which is serviced by Davidson College, will celebrate its 40th anniversary as a classical music station in 2018. Started in the 1970s as a student-run radio station that played a variety of genres, it became a fully professional station in 1978 when it transitioned to a program of fully classical music. Since then, it’s grown to become one of the top classical stations in the country.
While it is not technically part of the college, WDAV has incredibly close ties to the institution. According to Kendra Intihar, Assistant General Manager & Director of Community Outreach, WDAV is “similar to the rest of the college; we report to the Board of Trustees. We interact with the college on a number of different levels. We have interns that intern with us from the college. We have student assistants as part of the federal work study.” WDAV employees even participate as pre-major advisors.
Hannah Lieberman ‘18, a student employee at WDAV, described her position as a childhood dream; she has “been listening to WDAV since [she] was a kid, since [she’s] from Charlotte.” A Bonner Scholar, she’s been fulfilling her community partner work requirement with WDAV for the past two years, including a summer spent at the station.
Lieberman’s job at WDAV has evolved into an increasing number of tasks. She started by doing what she described as “busywork,” and now helps to fundraise, aids with various special projects, serves on the community advisory board, as well as announces for the station on Sunday mornings.
Lieberman wishes that people had a more complex view of classical music. She explained, “I think a lot of people associate classical music with either baroque or opera,” but “whatever mood you’re going for, other than partying at F, you can probably get out of classical music.”
The station has also recently begun a community outreach program, which Intihar leads. She defines community outreach as looking at what WDAV “can do for other organizations,” as opposed to marketing, which is more focused on helping WDAV.
Intihar declined to comment on current plans for specific community outreach programs, but cited several organizations WDAV is in preliminary talks with, such as the Levine Center of the New South and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.
Frank Dominguez, the General Manager and Program Director of WDAV, is one of the major forces behind its success. He has held his current position for four years, but he has worked at the radio station for the last twenty-three.
He began as the “announcer coordinator where [he] supervised our part-time announcers.” As the Program Director, Dominguez is in charge of planning the radio station’s content and “the overall philosophy of the station and the programming approach to classical music.”
Dominguez’s position as General Manager represents a broadening of the station’s mission. “In this new era of the medium it’s more than just broadcasting, it’s more than just programs, it’s all sorts of content that we make available online too,” he explained.
“Davidson College students have occasionally dropped in and told us how much they enjoy the station when they’re studying; like most people who enjoy classical music, they sort of use it as brain food.”
One of Dominguez’s major contributions to the radio station was Concierto, which is “the nation’s first bilingual classical music program, presented in both English and in Spanish.” He said that the motivation for the show was “[realizing] what an influx there was in … the Charlotte region of people … from Latin America and [deciding] we wanted to reach out to them and make them feel welcome and use that as an opportunity to extend our audience.”
The show highlights Latino musicians, both composers whose “music tends to reflect the culture that they’re from” and musicians who play more traditional fare, but are featured to “reflect the fact that classical music both has a role in Hispanic cultures and that Hispanic cultures have contributed to the history of classical music,” commented Dominguez.
In August 2016, WDAV became the nation’s most popular classical music station with a 3% listener share in the local market. It held that position for a few months.
Dominguez attributes that success to several factors. First, the station’s focus on classical music allows “the people who love that musical format to know they can turn to us reliably to get a supply of it.”
Additionally, there is a tremendous amount of research done by the station to understand what its listeners want to hear. The research focuses on “the types of classical music that listeners most want to hear at different times of day.” The station simultaneously “recognize[s] that [its] mission is to present a broad range of classical music.”
Dominguez also mentioned WDAV’s focus on highlighting live performances of classical music. During weeknights at 7pm, “Performance Today,” a show that plays recordings of international concerts from that day, takes place.
Similarly, weekends at 3pm focus on concerts in the Charlotte area. The station also has season events, such as an upcoming series featuring the Charlotte Symphony in Performance with concert recordings.
According to Dominguez, “Most of our [financial] support actually comes from a twenty-two county area where the radio signal reaches.”
While the college does provide certain services to WDAV, Dominguez emphasized “the college doesn’t actually fund the station. He explained “the money that actually pays the salaries and covers the expenses is all raised by the local listeners.”
The station is currently concerned about President Donald Trump’s statements about defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private non-profit created and funded by Congress.
Dominguez said, “Right now, the grant we get from the corporation for public broadcasting represents about 11% of our revenues.” With the station’s budget of roughly $2.2 million, that 11% represents over $200,000. Losing this amount would force the station to “make cuts to certain services that we currently provide.”