As a high school student in Bowman, N.D. (population 2,500), Jeff Rotenberger landed an unusual after-school job: spinning records for a country radio station.
When he enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy three years ago, Rotenberger didn't know the academy had a radio station. But he was a natural for it.
"I showed up to a meeting my freshman year, and everyone said to me, 'You have experience?' They couldn't believe it," he said.
Nowa midshipman 2nd class, Rotenberger has a prime slot: Friday nightsfrom 10 p.m. to midnight. Since only senior midshipmen can go out onFriday nights, Rotenberger plays to a captive audience.
"Rotoman," his on-the-air name, still enjoys country, but he's a little more rock 'n' roll these days, playing '70s rock by groups like Aerosmith and Boston.
"I really enjoy it," he said. "There's a lot of benefits to it, like learning public speaking and learning to deal with people. It can be a real tension-breaker sometimes. It's a good way to unwind."
WRNV, which broadcasts at 89.7 FM, is like your typical college radio station -- a lot of obscure new music mixed with everything from rock and top-40 to blues and jazz. You don't get a sense that the DJs are midshipmen until they announce the station's slogan: "Allthe way to the left, and a little bit to the right."
Unlike radiostations at the other service academies, which must adhere to preapproved play lists, WRNV's faculty adviser, Lt. Roxie Thomsen, gives the middies free reign. "They are remarkable self-starters," she said. "It's amazing with the horrendous schedules they have. They keep thisstation going 24 hours a day."
The station, in the basement of the eighth wing of Bancroft Hall (proclaimed the world's largest dormitory by the academy), is one of the few places middies can wear jeans and unwind.
"I use it as a way to blow off stress, even though it's stressful sometimes," said Midshipman 1st Class Trey Adams, who broadcasts Wednesday nights and Friday mornings as the "Rock 'n' Roll Doctor."
The station provides a good place to hang out for plebes, who can't have radios in their rooms. Midshipmen often "borrow" some of the station's 11,000 albums, returning them under the door during an amnesty period every spring.
WRNV was started in the 1950s and was carried through the dorm by wiring that, Thomsen admits, was somewhat illegal. In 1973, WRNV became a public radio station.
The station is limited to 100 watts because Towson State University's radio station is on the same frequency. By contrast, WANN-AM broadcasts at 5,000 watts, and some commercial stations in the area broadcast at 50,000 watts.
The broadcast antenna is atop Bancroft Hall, and sound waves bouncing off the dorm create a strange listening audience. The station's signal travels in a northward ellipse, meaning the station comes in crystal-clear in Glen Burnie but sometimes can be difficult to pick up on Rowe Boulevard in Annapolis.
Despite the limited range, WRNV DJs live for signs that the outside world is listening. "It's always nice to get calls from anybody," said station manager Jeff Stutz, a senior midshipman. "It's nice to know that someone out there is listening."
Stutz, a Pleasanton, Calif., native, is the station's progressive music guru. His favorite bands are Midnight Oil and Oingo Boingo. He's viewed as somewhat of a traitor on campus -- he's switching to the Air Force to fly A-10s because the vision standards for pilots of those planes are less stringent.
The station also plays a public service role on campus, providing sound systems for football and hockey games and parties.
But WRNV biggest moment comes each February at service selection time, when senior midshipmen choose their careers. Thomsen said the station is a lifeline to midshipmen then, telling them when it's their turn to choose and what jobs are left.
The station held a call-in show two weeks ago, with representatives from the Marines, Navy Air, surface warfare, submarines and other areas taking calls from midshipmen.
The reality of war in the Persian Gulf seemed to have little effect on middies' career choices --most callers seemed concerned about how long it would take to get into flight school or whether they would get their flight jackets and aviator glasses right away if they signed up to become pilots.
Indeed, last Tuesday, during the career selection, the top choices were the same as any other year: to be Navy and Marine pilots and to serve on nuclear submarines and ships.
The middies took a pragmatic view: most saying they thought the war would be over by the time they went on active duty, after two or more years of training in their specialty.
While senior middies made career choices, the Rock 'n' Roll Doctor cued up Bruce Springsteen and John Cafferty CDs, and Rotenberger broke in with live updates from the commandant's office, where service selection was taking place.
Other WRNV reporters interviewed vice admirals and told listeners what ships and submarines were filling up fast.
Eight hours later, after all 970 senior middies had filed through the commandant's office, Rotoman went straight to bed, tired and hungry.