Discovering my voice, myself on WPEA

Ainsley Fahey ’13 found herself as a DJ of “Cloud 9,” her upbeat radio program. The show’s reunion reprise evoked joy, camaraderie and new insights.

Ainsley Fahey ’13
June 13, 2018
Ainsley Fahey, Tiggy Valen and Caroline Boudreau

Ainsley Fahey, Tiggy Valen and Caroline Boudreau (l to r) back at WPEA for their fifth reunion. 

“Is that really what I sound like?”

That’s a phrase that a lot of people say when they first hear themselves on the radio. It can be a jarring experience – has everyone I’ve ever talked to had to suffer through my nasally whine? From the spring of my lower year to the spring of my senior year at Exeter, having a radio show on WPEA forced me to listen to the sound of my own voice, and the voice of my best friends as we hosted our radio show, “Cloud 9.” My time as a DJ and board-member at WPEA helped me face the discomfort I felt hearing my own voice and taught me to have fun hearing what I had to say. 

In my opinion, WPEA is one of the most unique and important places on Exeter’s campus. As a place that allows 14- to 18-year-olds to play and say (almost) whatever they want on the federally regulated airwaves of New Hampshire, WPEA is often one of the first platforms that students use to broadcast their voices outside of the classroom.

WPEA does not discriminate between the types of shows that it airs. Just ask anyone who has listened to a stretch where [Science Instructor] Dr. Ward’s jam band radio show, “Dorm Radio,” and a sketch comedy radio show play back-to-back. Through the glass of the station, it was rare to see a frowning face in front of the microphone.

The only rule: happy music

In my own case, my radio show was always a place where I could be sure Justin Bieber was on the playlist and my friends would be laughing next to me, while in the classroom, I wasn’t as sure of what to expect. Tiggy [Valen ‘13] and Caroline [Boudreau ‘13] joined me in the station every week and we broadcast “Cloud 9,” a radio show where the only rule was that the music was happy. While I navigated the great highs and lows of my time at Exeter, WPEA was a constant and positive outlet.

At the beginning of this year, with my five-year reunion just around the corner, I reached out to Ms. McGahie [WPEA adviser], to ask if she would allow us back on the air for a special reunion show. She kindly obliged and “Cloud 9” was able to have one last hurrah.

Being back on campus and in the studio with Caroline and Tiggy brought back a wave of memories. The time our friend called to request an explicit song and we pushed the “dump” button just in time, or the show where we talked about nothing else except the fact that Taylor Swift was dating a boy on the Deerfield JV football team. These happy memories remind me of how I felt in the studio — confident and excited — which often contrasted with how I was sure I seemed around the Harkness table. Often at Exeter, I was afraid of my own voice. I didn’t know that what I had to say was valuable and I was almost always sure that someone could articulate my thoughts better than I could. Those fears would mysteriously disappear as soon as I pressed play on the CD in the station, turned the slide up on Mic 1 and the “On Air” light went red.  

Cloud 9” DJs in 2013. Left to right, Boudreau, Fahey and Valen.

Vision and voice. Who, me?

During our reunion radio show, we went around the mics and talked about our younger selves while at Exeter. Caroline was a dedicated and loyal friend, sporty and positive. Tiggy was brilliant and always there when we needed her. When it was Tiggy and Caroline’s turn to describe me, I was surprised as they described my love of WPEA through their eyes; while I viewed WPEA as my little place on campus and devoted my time to the station because I loved it, they saw me as someone with a vision and a voice.

Little things that my board and I accomplished in my time as General Manager of the station are still stamped around the studio. Walking in five years later and seeing the Lion Rampant radio logo and slogan make me proud to have left a mark in my own small way.

I am grateful to WPEA. It is one of the places on campus where I did a lot of my best growing and learned how to appreciate the value in my voice and the importance of my ideas.