Skip to main content

Open Mic

50-hour student-run charity radio broadcast brings residence hall together

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Even in today’s age of niche internet radio, you’d be hard-pressed to find a station whose programming consists of an hour of phone-in mad libs, an hour of “happy” songs and an hour of ukulele covers.

But that kind of eclectic fun, all for a good cause, is exactly what you get every fall when students in Northwestern University’s Communications Residential College (CRC) open the microphone for their annual Radiothon.

Celebrating its 25th edition this year, Radiothon began in 1988 as a way of memorializing William Arnold, a student resident at the college who died in April of that year of cardiac arrhythmia.

Since then, Roger Boye, associate professor emeritus of journalism and CRC faculty master, estimates that the charity event has raised an average of $5,000 to $6,000 per year that is split between the American Heart Association and CRC’s equipment fund -- a tribute to Arnold, who was the college’s equipment manager at the time of his death.

But for Amanda Shepherd, a junior in the School of Communication and one of this year’s Radiothon co-chairs, the experience is about more than raising money for worthy causes.

“It’s about really showing off our personality as a dorm,” she said. “The fact that we can, for 50 hours, band together and do something that matters without turning it too serious is really important to me, and Radiothon is something that's really at the core of CRC's community. “

Madison Berry, also a School of Communication junior and Radiothon co-chair, believes the event’s diverse programming is one of the keys to its success.

“It definitely helps provide a little something for everyone, both in and out of the dorm,” she said. “If you're not into mocking bad fan fiction, you can listen to a music show. If music isn't your thing, then there are plenty of trivia shows to play.”

Radiothon encourages participation from CRC alumni, and Boye said in addition to both cash and in-kind donations, former residents often call in to the shows to share their experiences.

“The CRC alumni are possibly the coolest people on the planet,” Shepherd said. “This involvement makes a special experience even more special and really illustrates that CRC is so much more than a dorm--we're a family that goes generations back.”

“We love that they love CRC so much they're willing to reach out to the younger generation,” Berry said. “Radiothon is such a natural time to do that.”

The 50 hours of radio shows culminates with all of CRC’s residents joining hands to sing Billy Joel’s hit “Piano Man.” The song is very significant, Boye said, as it was one of Arnold’s favorite songs.

“It brings the whole point of Radiothon right to us,” Berry said. “We're coming together as a dorm to celebrate the memory of a beloved resident by filling the whole building with joy and excitement. I don't know if there's anything more 'CRC' than that.”