It's a Friday afternoon, and the WKCR office on the second floor of Lerner Hall is filled with light jazz music.
"The show's called Out to Lunch," said Philip Masciantonio, director of broadcasting and operations for the student-run radio station. "It's been running every weekday from 12 to three for about 40 or 45 years."
WKCR has a long history. Founded in 1941, it's seen hundreds of music trends come and go, always staying true to its mission of playing mostly jazz and classical music.
Its current office space was only built in 1999, but its record collection shows its history well.
"Since the history of the station goes back, the record history goes back as well. We have analog tapes, records, 78s, compact discs," Masciantonio said, "Anything physical that music has ever been recorded onto, basically."
To the DJs and members of WKCR, sound quality is paramount. "It's unfortunate that young people don't have the chance to hear great analog sound," Masciantonio said. "Our mission is to provide the best audio quality possible."
But that doesn't mean they're not keeping up with the times. WKCR has an analog specialist to help outfit a new studio to convert analog tapes into digital files as well as to maintain the multitude of old equipment the station owns. She teaches DJs and new employees on how to use tapes, since it's expected that incoming students won't have had the chance to handle old tape reels before.
WKCR's office is tucked away in a corner of Lerner Hall that's easy to miss. On the inside, it's a friendly and welcoming space. The show currently on the air is audible throughout the office, and many of the rooms are cluttered with old audio equipment. Masciantonio pointed one of these—which was filled with black boxes and wires—as the room where all of the analog equipment is being restored.
All three of WKCR's on-air studio rooms—the master control studio, the news and sports studio, and the analog studio—are all used for different aspects of the station. At the time I visited, the master control studio was filled with eager new club members that Masciantonio called interns.
In order to become full-time DJs, they must complete a semester of shadowing and training with older members of the station before passing an exam to check their proficiency with the equipment.
Between two of the studios is something Masciantonio called the 'Moo Aquarium'—a large, glass-walled conference room that occasionally hosts live bands' studio sessions, which are then piped into one of the broadcasting studios on either side.
Finally, at the end of the hall, is the symbolic center of WKCR's station: the record library.
"I don't actually know how many records we have," Masciantonio said. "Somewhere in the thousands. Multiple thousands."
They're packed tight on shelves filling the whole room, and between those are crates of CDs and tapes.
"We get a lot of them as donations, some from Columbia alumni, some from other fans. A lot of people will realize they just aren't listening to their record collections anymore and give them to us and say 'Hey, I've been a fan of your station for a long time.' We get some really cool stuff that way," Masciantonio said.
WKCR has a lot of devoted fans. It's not like other college radio stations, but "we pride ourselves on providing content that is uniquely ours," Masciantonio said. "We love music, but we're also interested in learning and expanding. We want members to learn from each other."