A love letter to WREK

The niche—sometimes very niche—element of Georgia Tech's student-run radio programming is essential to its appeal

A love letter to WREK

Over 50 hours of WREK’s weekly programming are dedicated to specialty shows.

Courtesy of WREK Radio

You can learn a lot from local radio. Wherever I travel, I make a point of listening to nearby stations; when I relocated to Atlanta, it was the radio that taught me about my new city. I flipped through stations while driving to photo shoots, catching the singular voice of Lois Reitzes on WABE (90.1) on my treks to East Point. While taking the Connector to Buford Highway, Streetz (94.5) taught me that Atlanta’s hip-hop stations were similar to those in my native Chicago, but with a decided bent toward Southern artists. One afternoon, escaping Buckhead in bumper-to-bumper traffic and fed up with Top 40 radio (How many personal-injury lawyers are out there, really? I wondered), I turned the dial and discovered my favorite gem of them all: WREK (91.1), Georgia Tech’s student-run radio station.

WREK launched out of the university’s engineering department on March 25, 1968. Most college stations fizzle out a few miles from campus, but most college stations aren’t operated by students at one of the highest-ranked engineering programs in the world: WREK’s turbo-charged transmitter broadcasts across the entire metro area, reaching millions of potential listeners.

Range is not the only draw, of course. I am a longtime fan of college radio, but WREK is exemplary even within that format. Its guiding philosophy requires student hosts to “represent the full spectrum of musical expression.” Turns out I’m a sucker for a guiding philosophy. If WREK were a cult, I would join it.

The niche—sometimes very niche—element of WREK’s student-run programming is essential to its appeal. I would never seek out the genre hyperpop on my own, but I’ve happily submitted to an hour of it on WREK. As the cohosts of 100 wreks gushingly compared two different artists’ euphoric vocals—one of whom, it turned out, was actually a programmed synth—I felt as giddy as if I’d been a lifelong acolyte of hyperpop. In the era of the Spotify recommendation algorithm, it’s refreshing to be served up something a computer would never offer me. Speaking of computers, I now know, thanks to 100 wreks, that the voice synthesizer software, called Hatsune Miku, performs 3D concerts in the form of a virtual teenage girl with turquoise pigtails. (They routinely sell out.)

Many other specialty shows align with my personal tastes, but for every song I recognize, there are two more I don’t. I once used Shazam to identify a particularly ethereal banger and learned that the song, “Footsteps” by Ana Lete, had been identified by the app only 123 times. WREK has introduced me to countless new artists, and taught me that “Ross from Friends” describes not only a ’90s sitcom character but also a DJ.

Best of all, WREK has no commercials. Long stretches of music are interrupted only to ID the station and show, or give the occasional truly informative PSA: Show breaks may alert you to the location of free Covid test kiosks, or assure you, “It doesn’t matter what clothes you wore; sexual assault is never your fault.” Thanks, WREK. I hope that Atlantans realize what a rare gift we have in this unusual, subversively iconic college radio station.

Over the decades that it’s been faithfully serving up the unexpected, WREK has adopted an unofficial motto: “Music you don’t hear on the radio.” To that I say: Exactly.

This article appears in our May 2024 issue.