Black walls with Jackson Pollack-like streaks and splotches of yellow cover the walls of Keene State College’s WKNH radio. As you enter the station, to the left is a bulletin board pinned with the familiar headline fonts of the college’s newspaper. Featured here, among more recent copies, are two editions from 1971 and 1972 recently unearthed by WKNH manager Joe Raposa, both with front page articles on WKNH. “We had three studios at one point in our history,” he said. “We had a library and a lounge,” Program Director Michael Graham exclaimed, with a hint of sarcastic disbelief in his voice.
Yet, although the station has just one studio and has long since been moved from the Elliot Center to the third floor of the student center, and despite the rough patch Raposa said the station experienced just a couple years ago, a return to verdant pastures lie ahead. “What Tim [Gagnon, the prior manager] did was basically steer the ship right out of the whirlpool it was going into,” he said.
From 91.3 FM and streaming online, WKNH currently broadcasts 30 student and community members’ shows. Raposa said he believes that the station’s broadcasting ability doesn’t radiate farther from Keene than into Swanzey or Walpole. Still, these three towns alone put the possible reach of their programs to more than 30,000 people.
In addition, the station doubles as an archive, with an array of both vinyl and CDs accumulated since its founding in 1971. Many of the CDs are strewn throughout the station in boxes; like the one, overflowing, that greets you as you enter Graham’s office. Two modest rooms house the bulk of their musical collection, one of which holds the 3,000 vinyl Raposa estimates they have.
Although eclectic is a word WKNH uses on their website to define their programming, a more apt description is in the music that the radio station doesn’t play. According to Graham the station’s contract stipulates they can’t play anything off the Billboard Top 40 songs. This doesn’t mean, however, that the station is perverse towards new music. During an hour-long show, DJs are required to play two tracks released within the last six months.
For Graham’s three-hour show “Authority Kids,” this often looks like playing a track by chip-rock band Anamanaguchi–a type of “regular rock,” Graham explains, that uses the sounds of old Nintendo video games as an instrument. “Our shows are very eclectic because none of us are really into more mainstream music … we’re into the really weird s**t,” he said. There are also specialty shows at WKNH: this is the territory of Billy Hays and Mitch Mendes. Billy Hays has been hosting a radio show with WKNH since July 1997. His show is called “Real Jazz,” which he explained is “not Kenny G” nor light jazz or today’s jazz.
Instead, every Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. he takes it back to the beginnings with New Orleans and big band music, through bebop and hard bop. Hays said he generally plays two or three songs per set, of which he plays three sets per hour.
Immediately following Hays on Thursday is Mitch Mendes with “Jazzy over Easy.” Mendes said this show began before the station had an automation system, which they now use to fill in times there is no DJ broadcasting with music.
According to FCC law, a radio station must broadcast for five hours in order to turn the station on. “Bill [Hays] would come in and do his show for two hours and there was nobody else in the afternoon to turn it on,” he said. Mendes decided to come in to do a show to augment the world music show he was already hosting on Saturdays. Throughout their time at WKNH, there has been no genre or musical format unexplored.
“There was a guy that did bluegrass here. There was a guy that used to do only 78s so he had to record them at home and bring the tapes in,” Hays said. “I did a show called ‘Island hopping,’ which I played music from every island culture: Jamaican, Hawaiian,” Mendes said. Mendes remembers a time when he played the vinyl on the air. He had a show he called “Folkin’ Around” where he would play strictly the large folk collection available at WKNH. Mendes has been at WKNH for 19 years, long enough to remember when the station moved to the LP Young Student Center. “When we moved over here from a bigger library,” he said, “You know those laundry buckets on wheels? We dumped vinyl in those and gave them away just to fit into that room.” “It’s kind of like our archive,” Raposa said. “If you looked at that blueprint in Elliot Hall I can imagine some of those records were in there at some point.”
Mendes and Hays are like the vinyl that sit in the WKNH, except not just a connection to the radio station’s past, but a link in the chain that will bridge WKNH towards the future. According to Raposa, who will be graduating this spring, all but three of the current executive board members of WKNH are seniors.
Despite this turnover, he said the incumbents and newcomers will steady the ship. “I’m excited to see the enthusiasm out of our new production people, our new music people. I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”
Jake Williams can be contacted at