January 2019 MD of the Month:

Erin Wolf

WMSE Radio, 91.7 FM
Milwaukee School of Engineering

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Tell us about WMSE. How it got started and what makes it unique in the Milwaukee radio market.

WMSE’s terrestrial signal is 91.7 FM and also stream-able world-wide at WMSE.org (where archives of our programs are also live). WMSE’s on-air staff is made up of 70+ dedicated community volunteers who specialize in their favorite genre. Those volunteers steer the musical ship, 24/7, broadcasting from the downtown campus of the Milwaukee School of Engineering in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Our DJ team is made up of artists, lawyers, nurses, students, professors, small business owners and beyond.

Funding for WMSE Radio is provided by the WMSE listening community through membership contributions and by area businesses through program underwriting. 91.7FM WMSE is financially independent of the Milwaukee School of Engineering. WMSE’s mission is to: 1. educate the members of our community by providing a wide selection of musical programming they can’t hear anywhere else on the radio dial, 2. to be an outlet for local artists who would otherwise receive little or no commercial radio exposure in our community, 3. to have a unique and tangible value to MSOE.

1981 is WMSE’s official birthday year (before that, WMSE was “WSOE”). 1981 is the year the station was boosted to 1,000 watts and reached a city-wide listening audience. Every March 17th, WMSE celebrates another year of diverse radio programming; our DJs gamely play all genres of music: alternative, blues, jazz, classical, hip hop, metal, industrial, big band, world, new age, soul, electronic, avant garde, etc. etc. and we WMSE also airs programs such as KEXP’s ‘Under the Needle’, ‘The Trap Set with Joe Wong’, ‘The Disclaimer’, ‘CTSI Discovery Radio’, ‘Frontier Radio Theater/Radio WHT’ and more.

When WMSE went from 1,000 watts to 3,200 watts, we also moved buildings on the MSOE campus (in 1999, WMSE built a new studio in MSOE’s Krueger Hall, which is WMSE’s current locale). The new studio was wired by a team of MSOE students and alumni. The library is an all-physical library of hundreds upon hundreds of LPs, CDs, cassettes and carts and the main library also doubles as a live-performance studio where we host touring and local musicians for sessions.

In the Milwaukee radio market, the WMSE DJ staff are widely and affectionately-known as a passionate collection of music-lovers who gladly curate and craft their weekly programs. I personally see them as my close musical family (and I know our listeners feel the same way) and even if I’m not into every flavor of music they dish out, I respect them as a DJ and appreciate their knowledge, passion and time. Our listeners are equally passionate about WMSE programming and our most recent membership drive was a big, big success, with WMSE meeting it’s financial goal early!

How long have you been at WMSE? How did you first hear about it & what is your history there?

I first became involved at WMSE when I submitted my volunteer application back in 2004 – I was a recent grad with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications and was looking to broaden my experience in media and feed my love of music and radio. I was doing some writing but wanted to do more. I was always listening to (and taping from) the radio, ever since I was a kid. When I moved to Milwaukee to go to school, I quickly found WMSE and fell so in love with it. Back in the early 00’s, WMSE was the best of the best and it blew my mind that I could possibly be a DJ there; my friend grabbed an application for me without asking, so I thought on it, then agreed and figured I would just start out volunteering for events. But, shortly after submitting our apps together, we both ended up getting called in and started training for early morning slots. I did a couple years of my first show from 3-6am and was asked to move into an afternoon slot when one opened up. A couple years later, I went back to school for Library & Information Science and was asked to help with some library work at WMSE. A couple years after that, the Music Director at the time departed and it was a natural transition. I currently host and program two weekly radio shows in addition to being Music Director – one show is devoted to all-new music and the other is a weekly hour-long program where myself and my co-host, Cal, book a local musician or group for an interview and session. I love both! Both connect me to amazing, new music.

How do you get your DJs to discover/listen to/play the new music that comes in that they aren’t familiar with?

Because I’ve been at WMSE a number of years and am familiar with our DJs (they stick around for quite some time!), I feel really comfortable recommending things to them in-person. I pop into the studio when they’re on the air and let them know if there’s something there they might have missed or hand them a CD or LP I know they’d probably like. I also ask for their recommendations and make sure to follow them on social media so I know what music they’re into and what shows they go to. Our DJs are so awesome and have a lot to teach me, so I want to be aware of what they like so I can lead them to new things they’d genuinely be into! I also play all-new music on my weekly radio show and post the weekly top airplay for everyone to see over at WMSE.org.

What was your favorite album of 2018?

My most-listened to album was the new Beach House record, 7. It came our right after I had a rough spring (my car was totaled in a random late-April snowstorm). I was borrowing a car from my cousin and it had an old-school, one-disc CD player in it. So, when I got an extra copy of 7 in the mail, I put that on repeat in the car while I was driving around, hunting for a new ride, and it really helped make me feel way less frazzled than I actually was. Buying a “new” car is really no fun, haha. Beach House helped!

Do you have a favorite artist or album you never get tired of listening to?


What is the best live show you have ever attended?

Sonic Youth (on the Rather Ripped tour) and Patti Smith (last year). Both were just amazing experiences, through and through. You know it’s an awesome show when you’re getting chill after chill and you desperately hope you get just one more song. Seeing Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds a couple years ago was a pretty mind-blowing experience as well. Nick Cave is from a different planet.

Who is an artist or band completely outside the realm of college radio that people might be surprised to know you love?

George Harrison. All Things Must Pass is so beautiful.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

Family stuff and outdoor hang times: camping trips in Wisco with my family. Being outside on bikes or skates whenever homework was done. Reading book after book after book scored from the Scholastic Book Club catalogue or the library. Singing with my cousin and writing elaborate plays together. Making apple cider, applesauce and maple syrup at Grandma’s.

What event/or individual in your life would you say shaped you the most as a person?

College and all the experiences that went with it (first roommates, job, etc.). I was a really (really) shy kid!

If you could choose, what time period in the past would you most want to travel back to and visit and why?

Ultimately, I’d love to be the same age and dip my toes into the 1960s and experience the music and the culture – it seemed terrifying, empowering, youthful and exciting all at once.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in Milwaukee you always make sure to take guests/visitors to?

It depends on if there are any dietary restrictions! If the person eats everything, I’d take them to Vanguard (for homemade sausages and cheese curds or baked potato balls with homemade cheez whiz). If they’re vegetarian, I’d take them to Odd Duck, who dish up the best rotating menu of snacks. If vegan, I’d take them to Strange Town, which is 100% plant-based and 100% delicious. Milwaukee is never short on good places to eat, especially lately.

What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

Work smarter, not harder. Have I taken that advice, yet?

Lightning Round:

Dog or Cat? Dog.
Cold drinks or hot ones? Room temp, please.
Morning Person or Night Owl? Night Owl.
City or Country? Country (living) but city (playing). I need to be surrounded by nature of some sort but can’t live without music/shows, good restaurants and art of all kinds.
Watch TV or Read A Book? Read a book.
Winter or Summer? Summer.
Dine or Delivery? Dine.
Fly or drive? If it’s more than five hours in the car, I’d rather hop a plane.
Pants or Shorts? Pants.

Do you have any current favorite TV show obsessions?

Currently, I’m halfway through Salt Fat Acid Heat – Samin Nosrat seems so cool! I used to cook in college. I love a good cooking show.

What was the best movie you saw in 2018?

The 1977/Dario Argento version of Suspiria at the Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee with Goblin performing the soundtrack, live. It was a super, super cool experience.

Finally, what was your favorite part about the holidays that just came and went?

Having both time with people (family in from out of town!) and without (reading books and watching shows!). It was a nice, fulfilling balance.