College Radio Blues

Station Manager Benny Smith struggles to keep UT's WUTK afloat with no funding from the university

It’s late afternoon at WUTK-90.3 FM—the combination non-commercial radio station and communications learning laboratory in the nether regions of the University of Tennessee’s Andy Holt Tower—and general manager Benny Smith is buzzing around the office at an almost furious pace. One moment he’s handing out club passes to a student contest winner who stops by for his prize, the next he hustles back to his own office to finish an underwriting chore, and a third he’s seated in the control room, back announcing songs by Nickel Creek and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

“It’s semester break,” he tells another man who stops by for more free tickets, this time to a sporting event. “Not too many students around right now, so the buck stops here. I’m it.”

But appearances notwithstanding, the station is at its highest ebb since Smith, a former WUTK program director as a graduate student from 1988 to to 1991, returned as station manager in October of 2004. Smith estimates that more than 100 students work at the station in some capacity every semester—a huge increase from the years immediately preceding his return—and WUTK has been recognized nationally, nominated as a finalist for the College Music Journal’s College Radio Station of the Year, as well as being a finalist in five of the publication’s best-of categories (including one category recognizing those stations that do the most with the least funding). And for the Knoxville community, it is, for the most part, the only on-air venue for less mainstream artists like Nick Cave, the Black Keys, and Death Cab for Cutie—to nick just a few of many names from the WUTK playlist—not to mention the only station where a variety of local artists are played on the air, regularly and often. (One commercial station, 105.3 plays a few tracks from local performers, but not in the same numbers.)

But a year after he came, Smith had an unhappy discussion with Journalism and Electronic Media Department Head Peter Gross, who told him in no uncertain terms that the modest but still vital operating funds he had taken for granted since his return would no longer be available.

“Before that happened, I had taken for granted that there was some kind of budget. Now, they keep the lights on and keep the doors open, which is great; I appreciate that. But that’s what they do for all the classrooms. There’s nothing above and beyond for WUTK, and I feel we are above and beyond as far as what we do.”

For now, WUTK is not in financial trouble, thanks to the tireless efforts of Smith and the students who assist him. But the station’s budget lives on a razor’s edge; last semester was especially trying, when a rash of equipment breakdowns plagued WUTK even as Smith was scaling back his overtime work due to family issues. College officials admit that the station’s future would be in doubt should financial disaster leave it floundering in debt. That could spell the end of an institution that has served broadcast and journalism students well for the better part of three decades, not to mention the city of Knoxville as its only real source of local and independent rock.

A DRAWLING, BACKSLAPPING SON OF RURAL GREENEVILLE, Smith says he caught the radio bug early. “I was a music freak growing up, and a radio freak to a degree, staying up late at night listening to WLS and WOWO and WLAC. Those were mostly AM stations, so I had to wait until the sun went down, WOWO in Fort Wayne, WLS out of Chicago, which played a great variety of music.”

But it was at his hometown community station in Greeneville, WGRV1340-AM, where he really cultivated his love for working on the other side of the glass. As part of a class project for advanced students, Smith had to spend time at a job that had “something to do with the future.” Radio work counted as a technology field, so Smith spent two hours after school working at the station; by the end of the semester, he had a job offer in hand.

“I started working at WGRV when I was only 16, and I was really influenced by the impact that little station had on our community,” Smith remembers. “I loved the fact I was able to sneak B-52s and Pretenders and Hendrix on at night after my GM went to bed.

“At 12:20 every afternoon our whole town shut down for the local news on WGRV, to hear who died and whose baby was born. When the fire alarm went off, everyone tuned in to see where the fire was. And there I was, a 16- or 17-year-old, in communication central, and it made a big impression. I was 17, and my voice carried into five states. I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I wanted to be a part of radio, and radio that mattered.”

Entering the University of Tennessee as a communications major in 1984, Smith became a volunteer DJ at WUTK as a sophomore, working his way up to music director by his senior year. As a grad student at UT, he took a graduate teaching assistantship as the program director.

“They had just changed the station to New Rock 90,” Smith remembers. “It was the heyday of the station and kind of the heyday of college radio. I put in some good times and good days there, running hand in hand with all the clubs and shows going on in the Old City. You had the grunge thing in the early ‘90s, which really fired up college radio, rap in the mid- to late- ‘80s, which college radio had a big part in. The timing of everything was great. The place really meant a lot to me. I got to see a lot of success stories that meant a lot to me over time.”

After college, Smith worked for a host of prominent local operations—mostly media outlets, and most of them music-related; success seemed to follow him. His stops included several years with the rising promotional force known as AC Entertainment, where he served as right-hand man for company head Ashley Capps, a successful stint with radio station 100.3 The River during the years it reached its commercial peak, and even a stint doing promotions for Metro Pulse, during a time when its financial fortunes were significantly on the rise. All of this, plus Smith ran his own No Cheez Productions, a one-man booking agency of a sort that worked exclusively with local music.

It was while Smith was working in promotions for this publication—“It was a slimy business up there at Metro Pulse at the time,” he deadpans—when he was approached by Sam Swan about taking on the newly revived position of general manager at WUTK. “Sam Swan had been my advisor during my student years, and he was acting head of the department at the time,” Smith remembers. “He called me up and said there may be an opportunity to bring the general manager position back to WUTK. The position had been cut in 1991 as part of massive budget cuts, and in the meantime the station had drifted into an abyss because there was no on there really running it, no one providing direction for students.

“Sam Swan saw what I and others had done with WUTK years ago, that we were successful in the community and successful in bringing money in to help run it, but especially successful in providing an effective learning laboratory for students. I loved working at Metro Pulse, but WUTK was where my heart was. So Dr. Swan said if I’m interested, I should apply, and that he would look for some money to provide some funding. And sure enough he did.”

But when Smith took on the challenge in fall ‘04, he found the station in a state of utter disrepair. “I thought I knew, but I didn’t realize just how bad it had gotten,” he says. “It took me two or three months to figure out, ‘My God, what am I going to do, and how am I going to do it, get this thing turned around and moving in the right direction?’

“I spent my first week there just cleaning the place, physically cleaning the place up. There were very few students down there doing much of anything at all. They had maybe 10 or 15 students come through in a semester; the place had turned into sort of an exclusive club for the students that did come down here. The inmates were running the asylum; there was no training going on, no discipline.”

Although many communications students were supposed to work at the station as part of their curriculum, that often didn’t happen. “When the lifeguard is away, there are people pissing in the pool, and it was my job to clean up the piss and pet hair.

“But I’d seen what the station could do with 128 watts; now it had 1,000 watts. There were exciting things happening downtown, and we needed to be a part of it.”

The turnaround was gradual, but sure. For Smith, the biggest obstacle he faced early on was convincing local businesses to return as underwriters for WUTK. “During those years without a station manager, The Torch [WUTK’s station nickname at the time] had developed a terrible reputation,” he says. “Folks would agree to underwrite the station, then nothing would get done.”

Then came the fateful afternoon of his conversation with Gross. “He told me there was no funding for the station, and there would be no funding,” Smith says. “That was a somber day.”

SMITH SAYS THE STATION REQUIRES a minimum of $5,000 per month to keep it afloat—just enough to cover his own salary and other fixed costs. Where the lack of additional funding becomes most problematic is at those times when unexpected costs pop up, such as last year, when the station’s transmitter broke down, or this past semester, when several key pieces of equipment, including two CD players, were on the fritz.

Gross, who took over for interim head Swan, isn’t without sympathy, but he points out the station was founded on the notion that it would be wholly self-supporting. “Periodically, it has received help on those occasions where funding was short. But it was never set up to get funding in the first place. There were a lot of misconceptions flying around.

“WUTK was never on the budget of the college or the university. It was never a line-item on the budget. It started selling underwriting in the 1980s, and was always intended to survive on underwriting and donations. What happens is the station gets some help, and that transfers in people’s minds to, it’s funded by the university.”

Adds Dr. Michael Wirth, dean of the College of Communications, “If we had base budget funding in place for WUTK, it would be nice, but we don’t. And if you look at the likelihood, it’s not very likely we will. And frankly, it is working. The station has stayed around 25 years. The real question is what happens if you hit a year with a deficit, and don’t cover costs? We would be responsible for covering those costs. What would happen to the station? I don’t know. But it could be at risk.”

Although the station may have been founded on the notion that it would remain self-supporting, Smith says the reality of its funding has been much less cut and dried. “When I came back, Dr. Swan said we’re trying to get some funding here,” Smith says. “I knew my salary was still going to be something I had to raise through underwriting and donations. But when I was in school, it was told to the community that WUTK is supported by the School of Broadcasting, which is now Journalism and Electronic Media. That was on the website when I came here again. Come to find out, it was just a misunderstanding, or it wasn’t really the case. There was no budget for the station.

“I guess what was being told was not in very black and white terms. Sure, there was funding, but it wasn’t some sort of direct line in the budget that says X amount of money goes to WUTK. They were finding it elsewhere to keep it afloat, and God bless them for it. There were new equipment updates that were keeping the station open. Or there was some research budget or something they could apply to keep it afloat. But what was being understood by myself, but more importantly by the listeners, is this station’s operational funding came from the school of communications.”

According to Fritz Kass, chief operating officer of the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System—a 1,000-strong organization that counts WUTK as one of its members—most college radio stations get some degree of school funding. Taking NPR stations such as UT’s WUOT out of the equation, he says the average station gets around $9,000 per year.

“The major sources of funds tend to be student activities funds and academic sources,” he says. “College radio stations present tremendous economic and educational opportunities. For students, they tend to be business and life labs as well as media labs. They give engineering students a chance to practice; they give IT students a chance to practice web design; they provide journalism students a chance. And that list goes on.”

In recent years, funding for college radio has been on the rise, says Kass, as high-level university officials realize the fundraising opportunities such radio stations present by reaching out to alumni. “A webcast on a college radio station can reach alumni in Europe, for instance,” says Kass. “And suddenly the athletic department wants to broadcast basketball games via webcast. With a radio station, it’s easier to reach out to these folks than with college newspapers.”

Smith says $9,000 would make his job considerably easier, but he knows that likely won’t be forthcoming. As Wirth points out, obtaining base budget funding at this juncture would be nigh on to impossible, in a climate where so many programs are competing for limited university budget dollars.

Even more frustrating, says Smith, is the unwillingness on the part of university higher-ups—and most of the decisions that ultimately affect WUTK funding options ultimately come down from what Smith calls “the men in the tower,” not from the department head or even the college dean—to allow the station to charge lab fees to replace some of the equipment worn down by students required to participate in station life through their curriculum.

“We try to keep fees as low as possible,” says UT Vice Chancellor for Communications Tom Milligan. “Philosophically, we try to limit new fees.”

Milligan adds that “we’ve supported WUTK pretty aggressively from our side, covering costs of putting cameras in the studio for Rock Unplugged.”

Which brings up another issue, a burr in Smith’s craw since it was introduced in March of this year—the rollout of Studio 865 on UT’s other radio station, WUOT, a weekly show broadcast on the university’s UTTV featuring local music hero Todd Steed interviewing other local musicians. It’s a concept not so dissimilar to WUTK’s own longer-running Rock Unplugged, and it rankles Smith that the other, better funded station (as an NPR affiliate, WUOT receives considerable support from donors, but receives some direct university support as well) was provided with extensive resources to air a show that covers a realm—that of local music—Smith considers the natural province of WUTK.

“More power to Todd (Steed), but the concept—I’m seeing advertising for the show on TV; I’m seeing a new studio,” Smith says. “That concept of supporting local music is what we’ve been doing for years, and that format is something we’ve been doing for almost a year now with Unplugged. We’ve been doing this, and doing a good job of it. We’ve always played local music, supported local music. Our tag line has been ‘Local Music’s Best Friend.’

“Then they say here, WUOT, here’s what UTTV wants [you} to do, and here’s the money to do it with. It felt like a kick in the teeth for me and the students down here. You say we have no money for us for something we’ve been doing for quite some time, but they’re giving money for others to do that.”

According to Milligan, whose office oversees WUOT, 865 is “just a cable TV show. WUOT will certainly not be competing with WUTK in that area anytime soon.”

BUT THE NUT OF SMITH'S PROBLEM is that far too much of his time is spent on underwriting, essentially the non-commercial station’s form of advertising, the announcements and promos you hear relating that a particular entity has provided funding for the station.

Though he doesn’t have to beat the bushes per se—the station now receives a considerable number of calls from potential underwriters, in sharp contrast from the years before Smith returned—the entire process is time consuming: calling potential underwriters, writing and recording spots, billing, collecting, accounting. And it can’t be avoided, since Smith estimates that underwriting makes up 95 percent of the station’s budget, with the remaining five percent coming from donations.

He estimates that 75 percent of his time is now consumed by underwriting and related chores, allowing him to spend perhaps only 15 percent of his efforts on educating the students who work at WUTK, with the remaining 10 percent spent on station promotions.

“The students are ultimately the ones who are suffering,” Smith says. “The first year I came back, before I had the big discussion with Dr. Gross, that ratio was nearly reversed. But now I don’t have much time training the students on the equipment, for instance, or taking the DJs aside to critique their air tapes. For these kids, it effectively means that their tuition is not trickling down to that part of the university where their program is taking place.”

What’s more, changes in Smith’s personal life have cut further into the time he can spend; he became a single father in 2007, in the wake of a marital breakup. “I can’t spend several nights a week working 'til 7, 8 p.m. anymore,” he says. “I have to be there for Ella Kate. She’s two and a half, and she’s the best part of my day.”

There is some hope the station’s lot will improve, funding-wise, in the guise of a proposed endowment fund that would give the station a small nut of annual funding, in addition to providing a safety net in times of crisis. “What we’ll do is start looking at who has benefited from WUTK, maybe students who have gone on to work in the field, and ask them for support,” says Wirth. “I’m sure we’ll also hit up some industry folks.

“The endowment would throw off 5 percent; if you manage a $500,000 endowment, that would be $25,000. But I don’t know what it’s realistic to think we can raise. Once we actually start the process, we’ll get a better feel for it. There are people who are very passionate about their time here, about this university’s radio station. But you also have to remember that it takes time to raise an endowment of any size.”

The news has given Smith cause for optimism for the first time since his conversation with Gross; ironically, it was Gross who came to him with word of the endowment proposal.

“When Dr. Gross came to me, it was very encouraging, because it shows we’re getting some support, that they’re looking for ways to help,” Smith says. “I think they have gone to the powers that be, to see if there’s any money in the budget, and now, it’s like, ‘Let’s identify some potential donors and create an endowment for this radio station.’ I think it’s something that never had been done here before, though it’s been done in a lot of other schools.

“My hope, too, is that there will be matching funds available, maybe some grants out there. But it’s early right now. We have a meeting set up next week; I’d like to see it start in earnest next fall. I’ll be happy to work with them, trying to identify potential donors, maybe give this station a solid financial standing.”

In the meantime, Smith is trying in smaller ways to create his own revenue streams, most notably through the recently released local CD ReDistilled, which features a broad selection of local bands covering the music of other, older local bands, many of which are no longer together; the roster of participating local artists includes Superdrag, Immortal Chorus, the Tenderhooks, the Rockwells, the Judybats, and Todd Steed, among many others. It’s available through the station and through several local record and music stores [see sidebar].

“That one is all me, brother,” Smith says of ReDistilled. “It’s meant to accomplish two things—support local music, and provide a way where I don’t have to provide total upkeep and maintenance continuously like you do with underwriting. You get it out there, promote it, and hopefully it takes on a life of its own.

“I complain a lot about the underwriting, about scrimping for funds, but this is still what I love to do. It sounds hokey, but it feels like this station is where I’m supposed to be. I’d love to be here if my daughter goes to UT and decides to go into broadcasting; she’s a ham. She’s already playing on the mike at two years old. This is the job I’d like to have for the rest of my life.”

© 2008 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 52


Thanks to Mike Gibson and the Metro Pulse for doing the story about WUTK. I think there are still a lot of people that are completely clueless to the fact that the station receives no funding from the university. I think it's appalling, especially in light of the fact they recently hooked up WUOT for studio 865.I think Mike did a great job of describing how incredibly hectic Benny's days are, and I can tell you, they are all like that. Anytime I stop by the station he's buzzing around like a hummingbird. He puts in an insane amount of work and I hope this article really brings some more well deserved attention and donations from listeners.
Thanks for all the support MP.

KnoxvilleRepresent writes:

Once again Metro Pulse has given Benny Smith all the credit for work done at the station. While working for him I realized he puts in a tremendous amount of work at the station, but what you fail to realize or acknowledge is that there are other people down at the station who bust their butts on a daily basis and get no recognition at all.

How about Jay Lewis, who was nominated for two awards at the College MEDIA Journal awards? He worked at the station for 3 years, dedicating hours upon hours at the station to keep it running a long with Benny and several other people, no mention of anyone but Benny.

It's a college/independent/student ran station. Give Benny props, but don't fail to mention the people that make it possible for Benny to keep his job. If you think that Benny is the only reason that WUTK is operational and very successful you are either willfully ignorant or you just haven't done your research.

So please, next time you decide to do a story on WUTK, don't fail to mention the "little" people who help keep the station running and winning awards. Because it is a COLLEGE station and its employees are 99.99% COLLEGE STUDENTS, if you don't believe that, call the promoters that send all their music and schwagg to the station and ask them who they talk to on a daily basis. I can tell you right now, it's students.

So please do some research and make sure you let Knoxville know that the best station in town isn't run by one person, It's ran by a great group of people/students.


Ex-WUTK Music Director

KnoxvilleRepresent writes:

PS- This is my only gripe with MP- Besides this issue, you guys are by far my favorite local paper! Keep up the good work.


Where was the station before Benny took over as GM? Dead. Who was running it? Students. And it was awful. Yes, students are a part of it, but without a lifeguard at the pool, the station would be nowhere near where it is now. Yes, students do put in time. No student puts in anywhere near the time Benny does and if you think otherwise you are either willfully ignorant or just haven't done your research. Without Benny heading the station, it would not have won "Best Of" 3 years in a row. It would not be receiving the attention that it gets. The MP story would not have been written. And if you think differently, where was all of this attention before he got there?

daveprince writes:

For what it's worth, if that's the same Brock Bodell who was doing Assistant Music Director duties when WUTK pulled Best Local Radio back in 2006, he *might* know a little bit about how things run (or, at least, ran).

Of course, for all I know he might be the reason why there's a big "DON'T STEAL THE F@?*ING CDS" sign on the door. It's not like I was there either way.

toneloc1969 writes:

One very important issue to keep in mind is that Brock seems to be more concerned about the amount of recognition that he did or didn't receive, than the overall welfare of the station. I worked at WUTK as a lab teacher, underwriting sales person, promotions person, bill collector, commercial producer, accounts receivable clerk, music organizer, entering music into the computer person, DJ, demographic researcher, sports board operator, and even a floor sweeper. I did it because I wanted to gain more practical experience ... but also because I love teaching and helping students, and I love the station. I also did what the station needed to have done in order to make it successful. Not only what I wanted to do or felt like doing. The experience helped me tremendously, and I learned from Benny, the students, and the experience. I was not (and still am not) worried about how often my name was mentioned in articles in the paper and who claims to have done the most work.

I definitely do not take my experience for granted and think that my experience was owed to me or it was my right to have this experience. Benny does give credit to the students in the article and rightfully. Jay and Brock did do a lot of hard work at the station along with most of the rest of the students who are there and were there (Michael Grider deserves a honorable mention). The thing is ... if the station was not there, then they (he) would not even had the opportunity to get the experiences that are being complained about. It took a lot of hard work and important connections (that only Benny has) to get the station back on track. Plus, he did not just come into the station knowing what to do, he had to learn from Benny. So he should have some respect for this. No one will succeed in any job (especially one in the music / entertainment / journalism / advertising / electronic media industry where there more people wanting jobs than job openings) if you act like you know everything and show disrespect for your superiors.

Thanks, Tony F. (comment continued in the next posting)

toneloc1969 writes:

(second part of comment from toneloc1969)

Being able to be the music director at WUTK is an unbelievable opportunity. One should feel lucky that they were given this opportunity because of the experience, the connections one makes, and the fact that many other people would like to have the opportunity (this was especially true back in the late 80s and early 90s when I first went to UT). When you have an opportunity like this you should not be talking about inter station dirty laundry and crying about who deserves the most credit ... you should be helping the station by purchasing one of its new fund raising CDs ReDistilled, donating time back to the station when possible, encouraging people to listen to the station, donating small amounts of money to the station via the WUTK Gift Fund at (such as $10 or $20 a month), encouraging others to underwrite on the station and donate to it, and write letters to the Dean of Communications or even the President of UT telling them about all the practical experience and skills you learned from being at WUTK. Be proud of your experience and help others in the future be able to learn from the station.

The university needs to do much more to keep the station alive with funding and teachers at the university need to take advantage of the quality brand that the station has developed by incorporating more class projects to help students get quality real world experience ... not just with radio production, journalism, and advertising sales ... but also with marketing research, web design and maintenance, podcasting, and online video production (look at all the bands, local officials, and sports figures that could be interviewed for online video and posted onto

Lets help improve the education of students at UT (they deserve it and are paying for it), and help the station continue to thrive ... not hurt it by crying and complaining.

Thank you for reading. Thank you to Metro Pulse for writing this article and for letting me and others post comments.
Thanks to Benny. Thanks to all students who have worked at the station and currently work at the station. Thanks to Dr. Swan, Dr. Bates, Dr. Kaye, Dr. Clark, Dr. Wirth, Dr. Gross, Dr. Moore, Dr. Legg, Dr. Harmon, Anne, John McNair, Engineer Mike, Chandra, Deborah, Glenn, Mr. Brown, Dr. Julian, Megan Venable Smith, the UT law office, and everyone that has worked with the station, or currently works with the station, including family members of those who have worked with or currently work at the station. I am sorry if I forgot some names. To those I forgot, thank you.

Tony Farina (Tony F.)


Well said, sir.

KnoxvilleRepresent writes:

At no part in my response did I take anything away from Benny. I even mentioned the "tremendous amount of time and work he put in at the station", but you can turn this into a student (me particularly) vs. Benny all you want.

The only thing I am responding to is that fact that students get no love from Metropulse or any other local media outlets when it comes to WUTK.

So gripe all you want about how many more hours Benny puts in than anyone else at the station, then take a step back and realize the one difference between the time Benny puts in down there and the time the students put in down there is that ONE gets paid and the others don't.

In response to Tony Farina's response, everyone down there gathered a lot from working at the station. My experience was great. I was taught many things from Benny, I was also taught many things from Michael Grieder, Jay Lewis, Tony Farina and several other people down there. I wouldn't take it back for the world, it was an all around great experience and I don't disagree that the station wouldn't be there without Benny, but when you have dozens of students putting in hours at the station and 2 or 3 putting in upwards of 30 hours a week at the station, they should get some recognition as well.

So warp it all you want into taking away from Benny's work down there, that's just not the case. The students bust their asses down at the station and get no articles written about them, face time in MetroPulse or any kind of Monetary reward for their hard work and Benny gets it on a regular basis.

It's just nice, as a person who puts in a lot of time at the station for free to get some sort of reward outside of experience. It doesn't make you an Ego maniac to want to be mentioned in an article about the radio station you spend your free time helping win Best Of MetroPulse 3 years in a row. If you are gonna mention Benny why not mention his underlings who, believe it or not, help the station A LOT.

Also- It's the best radio station in town. It's good to see that it's getting the recognition it deserves.


Barnacle_Goose writes:

I (J), more than most people who commented above, know more about the operations and running of the music aspect of the station on a day-to-day basis.

I am staying out of this, but since Brock is a friend of mine and Benny is also a friend and someone who I have personally seen improve the station I will comment briefly.

Brock isn't taking anything away from Benny by pointing out a fault on Metro Pulse's part by not interviewing any of the student volunteers that work down there or simply using more than one WUTK source for the article. Not necessarily me, as I certainly don't mind being behind the scenes. Just use more than one source for research.

Benny has done great things at the station, but there wasn't any mention of students (however, the story wasn't about us--hint hint...hahah) and that should still not take anything away from the progress made down there since his arrival.

I wasn't there before Benny got there (I arrived six months later) and can not comment on the station before, but one can not deny it is a joint venture of progress and accomplishment between Benny & his staff. This bickering back and forth needs to stop.



P.S. The article mentioned "College Music Journal" and that is incorrect. It is officially "College Media Journal." See the history page at for clarification.

Also, WUTK was nominated for a total of six (6) national awards at the CMJ 2007 Music Marathon, 4 station nominations and 2 for myself. See the article at:

P.S.S. Pick up the new Redistilled CD!

cturczyn writes:

I agree with this criticism -- the story should have included students from the
station, and that was one of my comments to Mike on his first draft.
Unfortunately, he just didn't have time to do additional interviewing before we
went to press -- one of the realities of weekly deadlines. Nevertheless, I think
the final draft did a good job of conveying the overall issues facing the station.

-- Coury, ed.


I'm sure Benny would love to know what students are putting in 30+ hours a week. As far as compensation goes, didn't some of you get VIP passes to 'roo as well as passes to just about any show you wanted to see. Also, I can't recall the insane amount of times I saw shows that needed an emcee up on the board that no one volunteered for. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure there aren't any college stations that pay their students. By that logic, you should get paid to attend your Biology lab, which I know is damn near as fun, but you don't just get to hang out talking to record company folks, listening to tunes and going to free shows. There are references to students in the article, just no names. Trying to find a student at the station when the interview was done would've been a chore. I believe MP tried to reach Michael Grider or Jamie Schagren (sp?) and ended up playing phone tag with MG. Those 2 may have put in close to 30 hours a week, (MG was there damn near everytime I stopped by the station when he was still working there) but I don't see them on here whining about not getting any credit. The story was about funding and raising money for the station. What exactly do the music department, specialty show hosts, etc. have to do with that?

Jamie writes:

WUTK is the product of a lot of people. There have always been a very small number of students that have stepped up and put in considerably more amounts and time and effort than the countless student DJs that put in the bare minimum to score a better grade for class each semester. I joined WUTK at the beginning of 2005 and spent nearly a year-and-a-half with the station. I was putting in around 30 hours a week that first semester. Michael Grider more than that. Tony Farina and Benny were practically living at the station. Jay Lewis joined us around spring break and and eventually stepped into my position as Assistant Music Director as I transitioned over to doing the station's programming.

Benny and I have not always seen eye-to-eye on things and we've had some blow-out disagreements, but no one can deny the fact that WUTK has become what it has under his leadership and guideance. He's made a tremendous amount of personal sacrifice that none of the rest of us have had to. He's not always an easy guy to work with and working at WUTK is largely a thankless job without much recognition. So what? I put in the hours and the effort because of my love for radio and a strong determination to see the station grow. I remember spending a Saturday night shift wrapped in a blanket and trying not to puke all over the control board because I refused to miss my radio shift. I've probably breathed enough toner cartridge dust from the laser printer from the thousands of pages of programming schedules I've worked on that I have to exhale carefully so as to not open up a new hole in the ozone layer.

Michael, Tony, Jay, Brock, Derek, Brock the First (founder of the Funeral Directory and the guy responsible for almost all of our underwriting and promo spots in the beginning), and others all deserve credit for helping make Benny's vision a reality. It's always been a team effort, but that's not even the point. The point is that WUTK needs funding or else we may find that the station that broke us all into radio may no longer exist at some point in the future.

~ Jamie Wilson

former WUTK...
...Programming Man
...Assistant Music Director
...and so much more.

WhiteLarryBird writes:

Benny Smith knows his stuff. That goes without question. Nobody has ever said to me that Benny doesn't know what he's doing. And if they did, I would be the first to say that that's incorrect. Benny is a smart, business savvy guy who has very strong ties to some very important people in the Knoxville area. And he's used them to make the station a million times better than it used to be. Brock and Jay aren't disputing this fact. The point they are trying to make is that student volunteers are an essential part of the station. That's all. And it's unfortunate that this article did not make that one of the focal points. Hell, even the editor of MP admitted that. I don't think you should have to work down there for 30 or 40 hours a week to deserve credit. Or that it should matter how much money you bring in to the station. These are not the values that make college radio a great institution. Learning, volunteering and getting to know your fellow students should be at the forefront of ANY college radio experience. I think every student who's walked through that door to volunteer deserves credit, no matter how much work they put in.
You have to remember one thing, COLLEGE STUDENTS ARE SELFISH. This is not a news flash. And I include myself in that. But it is unrealistic to expect that a student volunteer every shred of free time they have to a college radio station that they aren't even getting paid to work at. And to go as far to say that if they don't work 30 hours a week down there, they don't deserve any credit, is ignorant. Some college students have to go to class, and work jobs just to put themselves through college. And free passes to shows are a great perk of working there, there is absolutely no doubt about that. But they don't pay the bills. So if you have to limit your hours you spend at WUTK because you have to work to make the money that provides your education or even enhances your college experience, then I don't think that you should get any less credit for the work you do.

Wade - WUTK Alumn

WhiteLarryBird writes:

The issue at the core of this story is unfortunate. The lack of funding for WUTK is a tragedy and should definitely be a concern for its listeners and the university. Benny does an incredible job with the limited resources that he is afforded. And it is unfortunate that there seems to be some bias towards WUOT when it comes to funding. But alot of WUOT's listeners have many more zeros on the end of their pay checks than a majority of WUTK listeners. That's a fact. Now why would the university pander to people with more money than college students? hmmmmmm. And WUOT listeners support them just like our listeners support WUTK. I don't think it's very rational to look at WUOT and say "Hey, how come they get more money than us. That's unfair." and feel sorry for yourselves. Wake up. UT is a business, and they will always try to appeal to the people that will give them the most money.
You have to work with what you got. And Benny has done a splendid job of that. And I hope that he takes WUTK to even greater heights and makes the university realize what a commodity it has on it's hands. And it would be a shame to let the station fold for lack of funding and a bigger shame to disenfranchise all of the hard work everyone has put in there.

PS. - Why shouldn't Jay or anyone get any personal recognition for all of their hard work? For him to sit there and be called a crybaby for wanting to see some of the fruits of his hours he spent crafting relationships with the people that give the station the music it plays (promoters), is crazy. Jay is one of the most passionate and dedicated people I've ever seen when it comes to working at WUTK. And as music director, he had one of the most important jobs when it came to keeping WUTK pumping out the tunes. Without the music, where would the station be. Nonexistent. Plus the hours he spent passing on his knowledge and teaching others was invaluable to the station's success. Damn right he deserves some credit. So does everyone that put in that much time.

Wade - WUTK Alumn


Great points. You were the other person I was thinking of that was always down at the station when Benny first got there. Hope all is going well, btw It was pretty much you and Grider and I can only think of a couple of other students that ever put in close to the amount of time you two did.
I will have to disagree with "Michael, Tony, Jay, Brock, Derek, Brock the First (founder of the Funeral Directory and the guy responsible for almost all of our underwriting and promo spots in the beginning), and others all deserve credit for helping make Benny's vision a reality."
I do a 2 hour show once a week, cut a spot, occasionally do some VT and some emcee work. I do constantly pimp the hell out of the station (I suppose that comes naturally as a promotions person), but I've never put in near the amount of time you and Michael "Golden Boy" Grider did. (I do have a full-time gig, a wife and a kid) and I don't recall seeing students around the station near as much as you two were there.

KnoxvilleRepresent writes:

"I do a 2 hour show once a week, cut a spot, occasionally do some VT and some emcee work"

I think the post above makes the posts below null and void.

"I don't recall seeing students around the station near as much as you two were there."

"It was pretty much you and Grider and I can only think of a couple of other students that ever put in close to the amount of time you two did."

It's hard to see people that put in hours at the station when you are there for two hours a week.

BUT-let's not split hairs on how much time people spent down at the station. The ONLY point I was trying to make with my original post is that students bust their ass and get no recognition. Is it really that ridiculous to ask for a little bit of recognition when the place you help operate gets a huge article written about it? If it is, then I'm just a silly little boy.

As far as the countless amounts of tickets to concerts we worked for- Those tickets came from promoters. Benny also gave us tickets which was great and I told him how much I appreciated it every time we got them. We also got VIP passes to the Roo' that was awesome too. Myself, Jay, Wade, Julie, Whiggs and Chris One also paid close to 1000 dollars out of our pockets (Because of lack of funding) to go to New York in hopes of winning a national award given to the station.

I don't wanna take away from the main point that the article is trying to make, WUTK NEEDS funding. It's a great experience and it won't be around forever, especially if it has to scrape the bucket for funding.



lean_and_green writes:

WUTK is a wonderful station and a great experience for students. That being said, I'm physically sick reading this. Benny does not deserve this kind of credit for the success of that station. Has anyone ever heard the name Jay Lewis? Come on people. Get a grip. Furthermore, anyone with a brain could have made that station better. It had no where to go but up when Benny got there. Whatever.


I'm there more often than just to cut the spot and do the show. I'm there several times a week. But I hear you Brock. As for lean_and_green: Nothing could be further from the truth. You're the one that needs to get a grip.

lean_and_green writes:

I will admit that I didn't read all of the comments before I posted mine. Hate me for it. It's okay. Now that I have read the comments I would like to say something to toneloc1969. I half way agree that people should be worried about experience and not recognition, but I would venture to guess that Benny is so self-obsessed, he wouldn't even give the students working at the station a recommendation to future employers because he doesn't recognize their hard work and potential. It's not that Benny hasn't worked hard to get the station where it is and needs to be, but this love fest for Benny is ridiculous. I'm with Brock on this matter. There needs to be some mention of the fact that without students, this project wouldn't be functional.

Also, you obviously have never been in the real working world. You can't move ahead and progress in your career if you get no recognition from your peers and superiors for the work that you do.

To the guys from the Fun House. I appreciate that you guys have been around WUTK for a while to see the ups and downs of the station. It must give you a great sense of pride to have stuck through the hard times to get to where you are now. But it seems your ego has gotten in the way of seeing what the station is still REALLY all about, which is the students. Everyone's sole purpose at that station should be to help students build the skills and relationships they need to advance after college is over. Unfortunately, the university and Sam Swan lost track of that when they pulled the station's funding. (I won't go there.) Please take time to think about something other than your little show and think about why the station is really there.


At what point did I turn this into anything about the show??? In fact, I stated that I/The Funhouse shouldn't be included in the praise that Jamie included in his post. Try reading it again:

I will have to disagree with "Michael, Tony, Jay, Brock, Derek, Brock the First (founder of the Funeral Directory and the guy responsible for almost all of our underwriting and promo spots in the beginning), and others all deserve credit for helping make Benny's vision a reality."
I do a 2 hour show once a week, cut a spot, occasionally do some VT and some emcee work.

If you read that, you can see I made it a point to say I didn't put in what those folks did. Pay attention. This has nothing to do with the show. I'm not even sure how you came to that odd conclusion.


"Unfortunately, the university and Sam Swan lost track of that when they pulled the station's funding. (I won't go there.) Please take time to think about something other than your little show and think about why the station is really there."

Sam Swan didn't have anything to do with pulling the funding. Also, THE FUNHOUSE didn't start on 90.3 until after Benny was there.

lean_and_green writes:

Well, why are you acting so high and mighty then if you've only been there for a couple of years? You don't have a leg to stand on because you DON'T know what it was like before. And if you think Swan had nothing to do with that, you are disillusioned, my friend.

KnoxvilleRepresent writes:

Play nice-

We don't need to start blasting each other or the time we put in at the station- Bottom line is, we all put in time at the station, whether it be 2-3 hours a week or 20-30 hours a week. We all did it, as volunteers.

Some of us would have liked a little recognition for our work and others wouldn't. People are different. It doesn't kill anyone to not get recognition, but it gets kinda old when every write up about the station is solely about Benny and his struggle to keep WUTK in working order. Bottom line is (for the 5th time), students DO WORK at the station. Benny did a TON of work and I do not doubt that he kept it afloat at times, but Benny did NOT run that station single handedly. It was a joint effort. If you don't believe me, shoot me an email and I can lay out the chain of work with the names of those who did the work in great detail (for those who were there during my time).



PS- I wanna thank everyone for keeping me busy at work :)

"One good thing about music, When it hits, you feel no pain. So hit me with Music, BRUTALIZE me with music"


Well, why are you acting so high and mighty then if you've only been there for a couple of years? You don't have a leg to stand on because you DON'T know what it was like before. And if you think Swan had nothing to do with that, you are disillusioned, my friend.

Because I was at the station in the mid to late 90's and 2000-2001. I was doing DJ shifts in '93 and '94 before I was even attending UT. The door was always unlocked. When the last DJ left they would put a CD on repeat. (Long before the days of Maestro. My friends and I would be hanging out in The Fort listening. When we'd realize nobody was there, we'd grab a shitload of CD'sand head down adn DJ for a few hours. Then when I started attending in the late 90's I worked there for several semesters. Luckily, I was gone before it turned into The Torch. There's my legs.


Also spent 4 years in commercial radio, behind the scenes in promotions and ultimately on the air. I was let go from the 2nd commercial station I worked at when they cut the budget and couldn't afford my salary. Wanting to start a fam I didn't want to continue in such an unstable field and didn't look for another radio gig. I spend time a WUTK because I love doing it. It keeps me sane (or insane depending on your view). So I sorta have an idea about how radio works. BTW, Benny got me my first gig in Promotions at 100.3 The River, so I'm not sure why I still like him. He did this to me!!!! ;)

KnoxvilleRepresent writes:

"BTW, Benny got me my first gig in Promotions at 100.3 The River, so I'm not sure why I still like him."

That's awesome that he gave you a reference, must have been really nice.

No referenc'd


KnoxvilleRepresent writes:

PS- The photo of Benny by himself with the sad face really adds to the article-Its unfortunate that you were panned to the left and managed to keep students out of the photo.


He didn't give me a reference, he hired me.


No referenc'd

There you have it.

KnoxvilleRepresent writes:

:No referenc'd

There you have it.:

Have what?

Margaret_G writes:

Wow, I came in on this conversation way late. I do have to say I'm on the side
of the students here. There's no denying that the station is not even
comparable to the way it was and it has a lot to do with Benny, but without
the students there would be no station. Can we at least all agree on that

I hope that the students that have worked so hard at that station, ie: Brock
and Jeremiah Lewis, truly benefit from the time they spent down there. If
Benny isn't the type of guy that would give a GLOWING reference for those
guys, it's really too bad because I know those two, and lots of other students
whose names I don't know, worked their butts off to make sure that station
stayed consistent, relevant, and fun.

I would love for Benny to weigh in on this subject. Maybe he could shed some
light on why some people feel disenfranchised about his role at the station
and how he deals with students.

College radio should be nothing but a fun learning experience for radio
geeks like us. I got my start there when it was still the Torch. To the guys at
the Funhouse, we did the best we could with NO direction. There was no
supervision or guidance from the school, so we made the best of it. Sorry you
thought it was so terrible, but all I can say is "What did you expect?" I work in
"corporate" radio here in Knoxville. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience
at the River, but I think you might just be a little sour with your situation. My
job is more than stable and I have a blast. I guess I'm saying don't hate.

Anyway, I wish the best for the station and I really hope for the students' sake
that it's a good experience and that Benny will create team atmosphere so
future radio nerds can see how fun radio can be.

KnoxvilleRepresent writes:

Derek- Before you lavish me with your insight like I think you are about to do, be aware that my relationship with Benny has nothing to do with my gripe with this and past articles.

KnoxvilleRepresent writes:

Well its good to see that we aren't alone in thinking maybe they should talk to a couple students down at the station along with Benny.

Sincerely Yours,


GoldenBoy writes:

I was contacted for this article, and Gibson and I just couldn't make it happen. So it goes.

Congratulations to Benny. A team doesn't win without a coach, and when the players are gone, the coach remains to put together a new team.

I get all the recognition I need for the work I put into WUTK every day I go to work in broadcasting. The experience I gained from WUTK because of Benny has provided me with amazing job prospects. That's all the pat on the back I need.

Thank you Benny, WUTK (past and present staffers), and Metro Pulse.


"I work in "corporate" radio here in Knoxville. I'm sorry you had such a bad experienceat the River, but I think you might just be a little sour with your situation."
The River was a great experience. My comment about it was "tounge in cheek" The only thing that sucked was Citadel buying it and firing nearly everyone with the exception of a couple sales folks and Joe. (Love Joe, glad he got to keep his job) Then they ran it into the ground. Now 100.3 is a right-wing mouthpiece. Yay!! The other station I worked at West 105.3, just couldn't afford the salary. I have no ill feelings of any of the time I spent on commercial radio, it was a blast! Where else can you get paid to talk every 15-20 minutes (about music), go to free shows, run up free bar tabs, meet bands, etc. etc.? But there's no way I'm ever going back, regardless of whatever salary I was offered.
At any rate, again, the students are a big part of the station, but without Benny, the station would most likely not even exist anymore. It was on the verge of not existing. I believe there were people interested in buying it and turning it into a Christian station. I'm not 100% on that, but I do recall hearing that as well. So if Benny hadn't turned the thing around, those students that came after Benny arrived would have never even had the opportunities they had. As far as any problems Benny may have had with certain students (no references, etc.)I have no idea.


What up Golden Boy?? How's life at the "evil corporate station" ;)

GoldenBoy writes:

I left radio. Doin' the TV thing.

KnoxvilleRepresent writes:

Me too Michael- Im in post production-Reality TV. WHAT WHAT



toneloc1969 writes:

In the real world (which I have forgot more about than lean and green and Margaret G) money does not come easy you have to work hard for it please see the memo below, and you do not get a good job reference just because you show up to work. You have to earn it, Go out an collect it, and make business deals / sales to get it. Disobeying orders and stealing does not usually earn you a good reference. Through my years at Dick Broadcasting and South Central, and before that Stoner Broadcasting (real names in the real world) the behavior and actions of the couple of students mentioned (this whole issue is not what all or a major majority of students think ... its all about one who is upset and crying about it) would resulted in termination without a reference. It's tough out in the real world.

Please read the memo in my next post about UT's budget.

Thanks, Tony F.

toneloc1969 writes:

Here is the memo about UT's budget situation.

Thanks, Tony F.

May 16, 2008

To: UT Knoxville Campus Faculty and Staff
From: Interim Chancellor Jan Simek
Subject: Knoxville Campus Budget Cuts

Over the past several weeks, news reports from Nashville about the
state's economic downturn have generated interest and apprehension among
many here on campus. It is, no doubt, a difficult time for all of us.

Today, I wanted to share the broad outlines of our plan for UT Knoxville
to deal with the budget cut in the next fiscal year as a result of this
downturn. The campus leadership was informed of the specific budget
reduction figures Wednesday and we believe it is important for us to
share as much information with you as we can on this tight timeline.

The state budget shortfall has resulted in a 4.1 percent funding
reduction to the UT system, which has, in turn, resulted in a 5.7
percent base funding cut for UT Knoxville.

First, the central campus administration will handle a 3.7 percent
reduction - thereby reducing the necessary cuts to academic and
non-academic units to an average of 2 percent. The central campus
administration budget reduction plan includes targeted program and
position cuts, increased efficiencies in administrative processes,
reallocation of resources, increases in charges to auxiliary funds, as
well as delays in planned expenses in areas such as the Instructional
Equipment Fund.

While this budget reduction cannot come without pain, it is necessary.
In this plan, there will not be a hiring freeze and we will continue to
fill critical positions. There will not, regrettably, be pay raises for
faculty and staff in this budget.

Our goal is to allow maximum flexibility for the deans and vice
chancellors to make the cuts in their areas, which will result
in more strategic decisions. These cuts must not be across-the-board

The provost will submit the proposed cuts for the academic units after
receiving recommendations from the deans, while the vice chancellors
will submit the proposed cuts for their areas. We will share those
recommendations with the campus community as soon as they are finalized.

While we regret that these reductions are required, we believe that the
institution is harmed more when all programs are cut equally. We will
make tough decisions, with an eye toward preserving the quality of our
programs. In some units, these cuts could come in the form of
elimination of positions. In other areas, it could mean the elimination
of programs. These difficult decisions are best made by those closest to
the programs, who share our commitment to academic and programmatic

cont. on next post. Tony F.

toneloc1969 writes:

Here is the last part of the memo from UT about their budget situation. Thanks, Tony F. Donate to the WUTK-FM GIFT FUND AND buy a ReDistilled CD online or at Cats Disc Exchange, etc.

Even in these difficult times, we will not compromise on our commitment
to providing the best education possible. As a way to deal with the
ramifications of these cuts, we will explore options like limiting
future enrollment, increasing the outsourcing of services and other
inventive solutions.

I will look forward to hearing from many of you about innovative new
ways to preserve academic quality while dealing with these difficult
financial realities.

Thank you for your dedicated service to the University of Tennessee,
Knoxville, and your commitment to serving our students and the entire
state of Tennessee.


Good stuff, loc.

BTW, WTF does this mean?

Me too Michael- Im in post production-Reality TV. WHAT WHAT



Barnacle_Goose writes:

This has all gotten out of hands on both ends.

Derek, Tony, Brock, Michael, Jamie and whoever else posts on this that has experience working at WUTK knows, for a fact, that the efforts of BOTH Benny Smith and the group of student volunteers have made the station the better. Benny is an invaluable asset to the station and everyone who has worked down there knows that. They also know he doesn't do it alone. Let's please leave it at that.

No offense to Michael, Metro Pulse/Mike Gibson could have contacted the current music director, Emelie Matthews (who was available and down at the station) but he didn't. Emelie I'm sure doesn't mind being not being mentioned, on the same hand she deserves mention for her efforts. It's in the past and this bickering sounds completely immature.

If anyone thinks I don't know what I'm talking about or wishes to dispute anything I have said, please email me but leave this article alone. These negative comments are detracting from the purpose of the article, which is to highlight the funding issues of the station.

Also, I know I've done a good job and have had the admiration from Benny and received a national nomination as "2007 Music Director of the Year." All the recognition I need has already been given to me though that and other accolades earned through my passion for WUTK. I am a highly decorated seven-year veteran of the military and have "worked in the real world." I cherish my time at WUTK as much as my time in the military and know Benny's knowledge and training was invaluable to my progression.

Benny is great, the students down there are great. Case closed! Love you all.




I say, "Well played ol' boy!"

KnoxvilleRepresent writes:

Wow- There is a lot of class in this discussion. Shouldn't you two (Tony and Derek) be beyond personal slams on the internet, being that you are both the oldest people in this discussion.

First off- Tony, I have talked to you in detail about the situation you are talking about, and frankly I am very offended that you would bring that bullshit up on this article. But if that's what you need to pander to, go ahead and start spreading rumors.

Derek-Post production is when you do work AFTER production, hence-POST. Reality tv is the shit that you see on TV that they claim to not be scripted i.e. Real World, Cops and several other shows. If you need an explanation for anything else please email me and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Email is short for Electronic Mail, which has become a popular medium for sending information from one computer to another.

If anyone would like to begin personally slamming or spreading rumors about me or anyone else who dedicated numerous hours of volunteer work at the station, please email me at I would love to chat with you about it, because you are both being childish and it's very disappointing.

Tony if you want to take personal shots at me I advise you to call me at the number I gave to you last night when I talked with you and told you how much I respected your opinion.

Stay Classy Guys,


PS I would love to sit here and explain myself even more- i.e. what I did at the station, but now I am just bothered by the immaturity and I won't waste my time explaining myself, those who worked with me at the station knew I did more than just "Show Up". I knew it was only a matter of time before it got ugly.

Dina_T writes:

I quit reading these "battle" comments about halfway through. I believe people are missing the point. The article was not about the people that work at the station, past or present. It is about how WUTK is considered a part of the University of Tennessee campus, and some students are required to participate at the station due to JEM classes, and yet, this radio station receives no funding from UT. The station is left to fend for itself in order to stay on the air. We, as a whole, struggle to keep WUTK on air with underwriting, donations, and the new C.D. “ReDistilled.” It's not a fight for recognition of the "little" people; it's a fight for the entirety of the station, the big picture.
I’m almost positive that any competent individual can understand that any radio station, media outlet, or job environment for that matter, is not a one man show, but Benny Smith is the face of WUTK, so who better to interview for the article?

Are any of us down there because we want recognition for our responsibilities at the station or because we want experience? I can only answer that question for myself. I'm down there to gain experience for the “real” world, life after college. I will walk away from WUTK with a better knowledge and understanding of what the music business is really about, and I know that there is not a better place for a college student in Knoxville to gain that experience than at WUTK. I am proud to be a part of the station, recognition or not. And I say “thank you” to everyone that has taught me more about the business of radio and music.

toneloc1969 writes:

Well put Dina T. You have seen the light.


Derek-Post production is when you do work AFTER production, hence-POST. Reality tv is the shit that you see on TV that they claim to not be scripted i.e. Real World, Cops and several other shows. If you need an explanation for anything else please email me and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Email is short for Electronic Mail, which has become a popular medium for sending information from one computer to another.
No s***. What is this email of which you speak? I was talking about the pwn'd. Yes, I know what it means, it just didn't make any sense there. And where did I slam you?

cturczyn writes:

At this point, the comments are getting way off-topic and are more about
individual disputes. I will turn off the comments if this continues.

--Coury, ed.

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