It was after dark when I arrived on the University of Richmond campus on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. Although I had a general idea of where college radio station WDCE was located, I had to circle the building before eventually spotting the station’s sign above the stairs leading down to the entrance to its basement lair. The on-air DJ Todd Ranson let me in the building and gave me the grand tour.
I was amazed to find out that Ranson first got involved with WDCE during his first year at the private liberal arts university in 1983 and has been on the air off and on ever since. He recalled that on his first day of freshman orientation, he drove to campus, said his goodbyes to his family, and then headed straight to the radio station, telling me, “I was completely smitten.” After making connections there, two hours later he drove back home to see Neil Young in concert. When he started at the station, R.E.M. was all the rage and he Ranson was into 1960s garage rock. Always interested in learning about the latest music, he continues to listen to a lot of radio, telling me that he particularly likes British radio, as he finds that it’s about two to three weeks ahead as far as new music goes.
Ranson also lauded the Richmond radio scene, telling me that the city is “very blessed” with so much good radio. He also subs at community radio station WRIR-LP occasionally (see my station tour #124), telling me that many WRIR DJs got their start at WDCE. Additionally, there are some WDCE DJs who have shows on other stations, including WTJU (see my station tour post #129), hinting at the tight-knit worlds of college and community radio.
Since he’s been at WDCE through many generations of students, Ranson shared some perspective on how the station has changed over the years. He told me that WDCE was extremely popular for many years and then interest in the station among students waned in the mid to late 1990s. He was heartened that in the past four years or so, there’s been “tremendous student support.” The station even got a new studio maybe five or six years ago. Ranson said that the basement space was originally the kitchen for a women’s dorm from around 100 years ago. It had a dirt floor and was a “wreck” before being remodeled into WDCE’s current digs.
Surprisingly, Ranson is not the most veteran DJ at WDCE. In fact, there are station participants who started out at the station as far back as the 1960s. A 1962 plaque on the wall was evidence of those early days, when the station’s call letters were WCRC. According to a piece in University of Richmond Magazine, radio “activities” took place on campus as early as 1922….