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WRFL after dark: Student-DJs navigate late-night airwaves and make connections in campus radio

As students and faculty slowly filter off campus and the sun starts to set, familiar buildings become enveloped in a blanket of darkness. 

In this quiet stillness of campus after dark, the WRFL station emits a warm light beckoning night owls and insomniacs alike into the world of student-run radio.

Jaclyn Okorley, a senior psychology major, and Abigail Brannon, a senior writing, rhetoric and digital studies major, are seasoned professionals in the student radio world. They have hosted their show “soundwaves” at WRFL, the University of Kentucky’s 24-hour student-run radio station, since their sophomore year in 2021.

Although Okorley and Brannon have had their show for several years, they have had plenty of different time slots, including one from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., a slot from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. every other Tuesday this semester as well as last semester’s slot, which was new for both DJs and saw them on-air from midnight to 2 a.m. on Mondays. 

“We are such a daytime show, but it’s been really cool to have a late night show for the first time,” Okorley said last semester. 

On a typical Sunday before their show, the two DJs worked on homework, went grocery shopping and prepared for the upcoming week. 

“When you come home from everything, your day’s not over,” Okorley said. “I just have to adjust to a longer day.”

At around 8 p.m. before their midnight to 2 a.m. time slot, both DJs would begin work on their playlist and get ready for the night (and early morning) ahead. 

“It’s crazy how fast 12 o’clock will come,” Brannon said. 

Although the later showtime was an adjustment for both DJs, one benefit of this time slot comes from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) safe harbor policy.

“We wanted this slot because there’s this thing called safe harbor, and those are the hours that you can play explicit music,” Okorley said. “We try to find as much explicit music as we can so we can really utilize this slot because we’re not getting it again.”

Safe harbor legally allows shows with “indecent and profane content” to air from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., according to the FCC website. This policy allowed Okorley and Brannon to play music they couldn’t share in previous time slots. 

The two DJs’ range in showtimes has also given them the opportunity to change the “vibes” of their show in order to match the time of day they’re hosting, Okorley said. 

“I think our shows are really fun when we have guests on them, and it’s hard to get guests at 12 a.m.,” Okorley said. “Having a daytime show was nice to have more people there. I think having a nighttime show has been cool to find a way to adjust on our own, like what we like about our show and what we want to make our show without outside influence.” 

Although the DJs may not have as many guests during later time slots, they said they still send out listenership surveys in order to gauge how many people are listening. 

“It’s definitely more mysterious having a late night show because you’re like ‘Who’s listening?’” Brannon said. 

Both DJs enjoy hosting their show and having it as a creative outlet, they said. 

As a psychology major, Okorley said she feels that hosting the show has kept her grounded. “I feel like if I didn’t have this space, my college experience would look so different,” she said.

Brannon’s favorite part about being a DJ has been watching how her and Okorley’s show has grown. “We thought it was so life or death,” Brannon said. 

Their show isn’t the only thing that has grown. Both DJs expressed how “soundwaves” has  influenced their college experience and also helped them grow.

“Most of the people who are in my life I’ve met through WRFL,” Okorley said. “I didn’t feel as much of a sense of community at UK until I came here. I just feel like I met so many people who are similar to me which I didn’t really find beforehand, so it did its job as a club. It really helped with that.”

Brannon said that hosting has made her more comfortable in her own skin.

“I feel like my freshman year I didn’t really know where I was supposed to fit in … and then when I started working here, coming here I was like ‘Oh my gosh everyone is so similar it’s actually crazy,’” Brannon said. “I feel more comfortable being around these people than most of the other people I’ve met.”

Although both DJs agreed that hosting may sound “really intimidating,” Okorley said it’s much easier than someone would think. 

“You kinda feel like you’re talking to yourself, and it is really relaxing. You get to play your own music and talk about things you want to talk about,” Brannon added. “You don’t have to be perfect on air, if you mess up, you mess up.” 

Whether you’re on the way to class or getting ready for bed, the light of the WRFL station is always on and invites you to listen. Next time, tune in and see what’s in store.

“I just would encourage people to look at all the shows on the schedule because there’s a lot of really good shows,” Okorley said.

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