Pacifica Network Welcomes WMTN: The Student Powered Station in Sewanee, TN

Members of the 2024 WMTN student crew.

WMTN-LP is a radio station at St. Andrew’s Sewanee School in Tennessee, run by students but catering to both students and the entire community on the mountain. It started 20 years ago, beginning in a hangout room on campus, akin to a closet. Now, however, they have both received many nominations and won national awards, most recently the Pacifica Network video contest and their nominations at the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System. WMTN plays an important role connecting their community and providing students a voice and space to practice advocating for themselves. 

The station revamped around 2020 and has grown massively in the last couple years, with students and faculty teaching themselves and each other how to manage programming, and DJ. The ethos of WMTN the radio has been focused on effort and putting the work in to learn, improve, and grow. In this interview Faculty Sponsor James Ankley and senior DJ Mariah Maxam discuss this, WMTN’s history, current student projects, and upcoming work.

St. Andrew's Sewanee School in Tennessee

Responses have been edited for length, order, and clarity. 

Grey Cooper: What drove the creation of a school radio station from a hangout room? 

James Ankley: We have a famous alum – his name is Bud Walters – he said, man, I’d really like to get a radio station going at this high school, my alma mater, and that was in 2002. He owns 33 radio stations. Most of them are big commercial operations, FM 100,000 Watts, you know, major market kind of radio stations. So he thought, Well, I’m not going to do that on this little mountain top in Tennessee, but I could you know, endow my school, my alma mater with a modest low power radio station, which he did in 2002. The station went on the air in 2004. And then what happened is, it went through a couple personnel changes in terms of who was running the station, and it kind of fell into what I call sort of an unattended jukebox for a number of years. During COVID my wife and I were like, ‘hey, let’s wander around, see what’s around campus. And what’s this door go to’ and it was the radio station. It was downstairs in a little tiny cubicle, you know, it was just like this little tiny room, crammed full of microphones and it really did look like somebody’s closet. I’ve done media and music my whole life and know a lot about recording technology – knew nothing about radio. But I knew all the stuff that would allow you to put stuff onto the radio. So over the course of the two years, my mantra was, ‘I don’t know let’s figure it out together.’ We began to get some traction in 2022. I appointed a student station manager. We built the desk I’m sitting at, we put this together ourselves. We built the computer ourselves, I mean literally from the ground up the squares on the wall. Being better is always the goal. 

The Drury Radio award said ‘yeah, you guys are great’. So they gave us a couple national awards, which is kind of cool. I like to measure things and so I’m like ‘okay, my goal is to get one nomination out of these 50 categories.’ Turns out we get six nominations. And out of those six nominations, we get two wins, which is pretty exciting. First time out of the box. Now we have 35 hours of live DJs per week on the air. It addresses everybody on the mountain, which is you know, a really mixed bag of people. 

Grey Cooper: You recently won the Pacifica Network 2-Minute Tour contest. This is a contest to encourage PN Affiliates in making “get to know our station” videos. Can you talk about your experience with that? 

Mariah Maxam: It took us… I want to say two or three days  to record and then a day to actually shoot the video. We did this within a very short amount of time. I was really shocked that we did it with literally three days. 

Grey Cooper:  Mariah, what do you focus on when you’re DJing? 

Mariah Maxam: I share personal experiences and I have a show called, No Tea, No Shade, where I share personal experiences and hopefully somebody can learn from them and don’t do the same mistakes that I did. I’m just putting all that information out there to give insight on situations I’ve been in, and then with Headmaster’s Corner, we come up with different topics; we get community members, faculty, students, or just anybody in Sewanee.


WMTN studio in Sewane, TN. All photos used with permsission of WMTN

Grey Cooper: Do students keep going in radio and journalism related studies? 

James Ankley: I don’t push going into radio. What I recommend is that you become a better person. And that this job  – we don’t call it a class, although it is – will help you do that. It will help you communicate better. We don’t know how to talk for five minutes and make sense. Mariah does because she does her No Tea No Shade. … [Speaking]’s a fundamental skill, because we still teach students to write in high school, but I don’t know that we teach them to speak.

We have one boy going into radio. He’s gonna go to Motlow State, they have got a huge radio program, but he’s also still working at WCYX, which is a literally mom and pop radio station. 

Mariah Maxam: Charlie’s working down there and Lydia is going to ETSU

Grey Cooper: What upcoming projects are you excited for? 

James Ankley: We’re trying to share that we won this Pacifica contest. And we got nominated for 15 awards for IBS. But we’re excited for next year because there’s lots of new things that are coming down the pipe as well. We want to get into sports broadcasting and having more direct involvement with the community at large and inviting guest DJs to voice track, for example. We’ve been doing a lot of specialty shows. I think next year that hopefully they’ll do a lot more of those.