WBML opens gateway to the music industry

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By Sharon Steed

The sounds of music spilled out into the halls of the Lincoln Hall Theater Friday evening as African American Cultural Program radio station WBML held One Mic, their second annual music competition.

The competition features talented University students willing to be judged by their peers for a chance at a gateway into the music industry. The prizes include a music video, a five-track album produced by Jump Squad and a possible record deal, according to Shavion Scott, vice president of operations and One Mic coordinator.

“It started from a vision of our general manager to offer opportunities to students to take their music further into the music industry,” she said.

Auditions for the showcase are held in the spring semester, with practices beginning in the fall. Acts were judged on everything from vocal ability to stage presence to creativity.

Last year’s winner, Porscha King, opened up the show with Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” while Raphael Smith closed out the show with a 25-minute medley of the latest artists. At the tail end of his performance, he was joined by a mystery vocalist who ended up being Jive recording artist R. Kelly. His unexpected appearance caused pandemonium in the theater as fans jumped over seats, broke desks and sprinted up the stairs to get a closer glimpse of Kelly.

“I was basically stunned like everyone else. We were in a daze,” said keyboard player George Reed. “I just kept thinking ‘I’m playing for R. Kelly.'”

Ameena Chapman won the competition with her original song “What Do You Do.” The show was hosted by Terrance Pruitt and Ashley Hooks and included spoken-word artist Bryan Clement.

Students founded the station in 1982 because black students at the University felt they needed a station to call their own. The local campus station at the time wanted to cancel the four hours of “soul music” per week that was aired, so the black students protested. After picketing, meetings and compromise, WBML – Where Black Music Lives – was formed.

“It serves as a creative outlet for DJs and caters to entertainment interests of African Americans and all students on this campus,” said Victoria Ogunsanya, junior in business and WBML secretary. Ogunsanya has been involved in WBML since her freshman year, when she had a late-night show once a week.

The radio station enjoyed much success after the African American Cultural Program decided to pick it up. After a while though, things slowed down for the station and participation was lacking. Current general manager Gene Finley decided the station was too important to let it go unused.

Finley increased the participation, made committees and said the station is doing better now than ever before.

“The persistence of the current general manager has moved WBML through a state of inactivity to substantial growth and endless possibilities,” said Scott, senior in LAS.

Finley believes the station does more than provide local African Americans with just a social outlet, but also a means to learn about broadcasting and music on a deeper level.

“The community stays in touch to what students are doing and listening to on campus and vice versa,” he said.

In the past, WBML was only accessible through University residence halls, but the station is now broadcast over the Internet on the Web site, www.omsa.uiuc.edu/wbml. On a good night more than 1,000 people will be tuned into the broadcast, Ogunsanya said.

The station is on the air daily from 9 a.m. until midnight, with time split between 12 different DJs.

Marvin LaBranche, junior in LAS, said WBML is a great thing for African Americans in the campus community and Champaign-Urbana.

“It gives people hands-on experience if you want to be in that field,” he said.

LaBranche, a local DJ, said the radio station would open him up to another range of people and a different style of playing music. He said being a part of the organization would give him a chance to learn from those DJs and get the technical aspect of radio stations under his belt.

With their second year under their belt, Scott expects One Mic to continue to improve and gain exposure continuously.

“The first year there was a large crowd, the second year we had a great audience with a surprise guest, so the third year should be one people are not going to want to miss,” she said.