Between 120 to 180 CDs were stolen from WHPK’s library over the weekend. The CDs were taken from the radio station’s storage room, adjacent to its studio in the Reynolds Club Mitchell Tower.
“We’re hoping to get them back,” said Mio Alter, a fourth-year in the College and WHPK’s librarian. “All we can do in the meantime is call record companies and tell them not to buy records that say WHPK on them.”
The station library is not locked but the stairs to Mitchell Tower are marked as available to WHPK staff only. The station’s DJs are allowed to check out three records at a time from the collection of about 20,000 CDs and 50,000 LP’s, which date back to the mid-1960′s. “Pretty much anybody has access to the library,” Alter said.
WHPK stores CDs alphabetically in drawers, with three rows of CDs to each drawer. It is one of these rows that is missing: the Fu-Gl rock section. “That’s what’s kind of ridiculous about it,” Alter said. “It’s just a part from the middle of the alphabet. It’s not selective at all.”
The station plays mainly independent rock music, known as rock format, during weekdays, and mostly jazz and hip-hop on the weekends. “We know the stuff was there Friday morning because one of our DJs played a CD from that section on their eight-to-ten spot Friday morning,” Alter said. “When the rock format picked up again on Monday, that’s when we discovered things were missing.”
WHPK draws on a base of approximately 75 different DJs. According to Alter, the weekend DJs, who are mostly Hyde Park community members instead of University students, have more guests on their shows as well as friends in the recording booth with them. “Usually the DJ on air, in theory, would notice someone coming up [into the library], but DJs on air have other things to worry about,” Alter said.
WHPK has filed a report with the Chicago Police Department.
This is not the first time WHPK has had CDs stolen, although the scale of this theft is larger than those in recent memory. “It happens very irregularly, but it seems to happen every few years,” Alter said. “It’s never done by anybody who works here. Nobody just waltzes in and says ‘I’m graduating now, and I’m going to take all the LPs.’”
The missing CDs may have an effect on WHPK’s programming. “Any CD in that [alphabetical] range that was stolen probably we can never play again,” said WHPK’s rock format chief Max Black. “A lot of them were out of print or not widely available.”
Black said that the missing CDs are valued at between $1500 and $2000, but that the real loss is not monetary. “The main loss is just in the time and energy of the music directors who bought those CDs,” Black said.
WHPK reviews all of its CDs and includes those reviews with the CDs in storage. The station’s CDs are also marked so that they are difficult to resell to record stores.
WHPK holds meetings each quarter to select DJs from those who submit playlists for theoretical shows. “Our DJs are totally autonomous. The focus is to play stuff you won’t hear on commercial radio,” Black said. “Our format criteria, especially for rock, are very accommodating. Nobody is really told what to play.”
The station does not use “rotations,” which are used by most radio stations to dictate how often certain songs are played. “We don’t do that on general principle,” Black said.
As the University’s student volunteerrun radio station, WHPK has been broadcasting at 88.5 FM since 1946. According to media research firm Arbitron, the station has fifty thousand listeners each week. Its signal reaches north to the Chicago Loop, east to Indiana, and south and west into suburban Chicago. “We have a reputation in the South Side,” Black said. “We have a commitment to community programming.”