April 21 might be best known as Record Store Day this year, but year after year, a byproduct called Vinylthon keeps growing.
Now in its third year, Vinylthon will take place across the United States on more than 80 terrestrial and online radio stations. Arlington-based UTA Radio participated last year but didn’t do 24 hours of all vinyl. This year, the online station will play the format all 24 hours, starting at midnight.
Many radio stations play music that is stored on a computer. Whenever students are not in the control room at UTA Radio, the music is automated. The station has always been online only. There is still a CD player in the studio, as well as a turntable that arrived a little more than a year ago.
For Vinylthon at the University of Texas at Arlington, a student DJ who has a regular vinyl-only Friday night shift will bring in a second turntable. Eleven student DJs will participate for the station, and each will do a two-hour shift. Gospel, hip-hop and hard rock are on the playlist so far.
The students would like to win the Golden Slipmat prize, which is awarded to the station with the best presentation. They always have variety, so it's in their wheelhouse. As with their regular programming, the DJs will read liners and legal IDs each hour, but the music will always play.
Station manager and DJ Chris Herrman is enthusiastic about the marathon.
“I think a lot of the students are going to be playing stuff that they would have never thought to play,” Herrman says. “Because if they’re doing this with us, they have to use vinyl. A lot of the music they play on their shows is not available on vinyl.”
The vinyl library at the station is small, so the DJs and a local record store are helping out. Newly opened Truth Vinyl will donate 25 random records, and students will bring their own LPs.
“We’re gonna be playing stuff we’ve never heard of before for a lot of us young kids,” Herrman says with a laugh. “I’m only 23. I’m a ’90s kid. I was not around when vinyl was a big thing.”
It's a fun throwback to the way stations played music before compact discs became the standard. Herrman wants all the DJs to have “bathroom songs” at the ready. A song that is seven or eight minutes long helps if nature calls. That’s how a Cleveland rock station discovered Rush’s seven-minute “Working Man” in the ’70s.
“You gotta have the ‘War Pigs’ going,” Herrman says.
Faculty adviser to the station is Lance Liguez, a former news guy who spent 13 years with local news and talk station WBAP-AM. He sees a college radio station as a training ground for his students’ future.
“I find college radio a really refreshing kind of radio medium to be in,” Liguez says. “You can experiment. You get time on the news side telling stories. You can play eight-minute deep tracks if you want to. And then you can do interesting stuff like Vinylthon.”
Even if the DJs don't go into radio after graduation, college radio gives them valuable skills beyond having a radio voice or a large backlog of musical history.
“In today’s job market, you have to do a lot of things and be good at a lot of things,” Liguez says. “In our department, we teach obviously radio and TV, but we also try to broaden the focus for them.”
Herrman sees the importance of what he’s doing, regardless of his future career. He has a stream on Twitch and uses his broadcasting voice. Without learning the skills he gained working at UTA, he says, he wouldn’t know how to get proper equipment or how to communicate on his Twitch stream. He wants to get into voice acting, and he learned the importance of networking with setting up remotes and giveaways. It's also valuable to learn production skills in marketing.
People who made a nice living playing records on FM stations and partying a lot at work in the ’70s and ’80s love telling younger people how things used to be. They miss those days, making them sound like the best years ever. But so much has happened since then, and you can't stay chained to the past.
“It’s not enough to know how to run a board, announce and play music anymore,” Liguez says. “You gotta do so much more than that with social media, put together a quick little video and make your own brand out of what you’re doing. It’s so much more than music.”
Because most of the staff didn't grow up with vinyl, Liguez had a training session with the DJs on how to properly handle the records, clean them and play them on the turntable.
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“What’s old is new again,” Liguez says. “This is a great example of you’ll have to adapt to different technologies at some point in your career. Some of that may be brand new. Some may come back. You gotta be up on that.”
Wise words indeed.
“This vinyl trend doesn’t look like it’s slowing down,” Liguez says. “As long as that continues, we’ll ride that wave.”
Listen online at utaradio.com.