Photo by J Caldwell

While the rest of Duke University was concentrating on the NCAA basketball tournament this year, the campus’ college radio station, WXDU, was inspired to host a punk rock playoff with the winner determined through online voting. That’s just one way that WXDU holds onto its niche in a school famed for its athletics. CMJ spoke to promotions director Candace Mixon about her station’s history and how its staff works to stand out and keep the attention of the Blue Devils’ student body.

How long has your station been around, and what’s the general mission?

The WXDU call letters and our station in its current format have been around since the first official broadcast in October of 1983, but radio at Duke University of varying content, letters, and AM and FM stations has been extant since the late-1940s. The general mission is both exploratory and educational. We seek to offer music you just don’t hear on other stations, and educate our listeners about the musical genres outside of top 40 hits; we are also extremely committed to our thriving and awesome local music scene. We promote local non-profits through our PSAs and make genuine connections within our community.

What is your programming like?

At WXDU, we aim to make our ‘eclectic’ programming mean something more than mere randomness. Instead of imitating an iPod on shuffle, our DJs try to bring a wide variety of sounds together into a cohesive set. Our specialty shows, for example, allow in-depth exploration of a particular genre or mode: jazz, garage and psychedelic rock (Who’s Got the Cuckoo?), world (Mondo Mundo), punk (Nobody’s Driving), soul and dance (Funk Disco Dance Friday) and local music. Most recently, we made a take on March Madness to make our own Slam Dance 2011, where we ran a 64-band punk rock tournament with online voting to determine the winner. The “Fatal Four” included Crass, Minutemen, Flipper, and Black Flag. Most shows are playlist shows that draw from recent releases in indie rock, jazz, world, etc. DJs play a certain number of those new releases per hour, and the rest is free reign! In addition, DJs are asked to play one non-rock song per hour and encouraged to work that into a non-rock segment of their set.

Have you hosted any major events recently?

Recently we hosted Jeffrey Lewis—the anti-folk troubadour and comic book artist extraordinaire—and the Junkyard where we were entertained with both song and comic book presentations. The special events we promote and host are largely based on listener interest and reflect the evolving musical tastes of both our DJs and university audience. Recently we have been holding more events to encourage our DJs to interact and talk about music through weekly lunches and social gatherings.

What direction are you guys taking right now?

Our focus is always based on DJ preference and interest. If we have a specialty show one year that everyone is behind, and the next year there is not the energy or interest to keep it up, we let it go. We don’t force anything; we let our DJs, community, and students dictate our sound. Right now we have had a lot of success with using a “College Rock Radio Primer” to introduce various eras and styles of “college rock” to our current listeners. We try to bridge the old with the new.