No visitors policy halts 49-year long WLUR show

Doug Harwood has been hosting his weekly radio show on campus since 1971. This year, the pandemic prevented that


The WLUR studio is on the bottom floor of Elrod Commons. Photo by Grace Mamon, ‘22.

Lilah Kimble

Doug Harwood started his campus radio show, “The Anti-Headache Machine,” when he was a sophomore at Washington and Lee University in 1971.

Harwood is advocating to get his show back on the air as soon as possible. Photo by Lilah Kimble, ‘23.

His four-hour show has been on-air weekly for most of the last 49 years — he even ran the show on Christmas. Then the pandemic hit.

Harwood hasn’t been able to run the show since late March 2020, after W&L implemented a “no-visitor” policy due to COVID-19. He has been diplomatic but persistent about trying to get permission to re-start.

“I’ve never, in the last 49 years, considered myself a ‘visitor’ at W&L [when running the show],” Harwood said.

He said he thought he would be able to return soon, because he didn’t believe he posed a risk to anyone. He has been vaccinated for over four weeks.

Harwood’s show had missed only two years — one, due to the radio station’s hiatus, and the other is an estimation of the total shows he has had to miss otherwise — he estimates he has done about 2,400 shows.

Harwood has stayed in Lexington since he graduated from Washington and Lee. His radio show has kept him busy outside of writing and editing his monthly paper, The Rockbridge Advocate.

In a telephone interview, one fan of “The Anti-Headache Machine,” Amy Fricano from New York, said that she spent every Saturday night for the past four years listening to it.

Fricano said that the thing she enjoys most about Harwood’s radio show is the way it combines songs, without comment.

“The way it’s put together is what I find so interesting,” said Fricano. “There is a unique sense of humor, without talking, which not very many people can do. You get a serious song and then you get a song, like ‘I’m Proud to Be a Moose.’”

Last October, Harwood called all 15 members of the university’s COVID-19 Committee to let them know that they would be receiving an email about his situation.

Harwood recalls only a few of the members actually answering, so he left messages — and sent copies of his letter, which varied with updates and revisions, to each member afterward.

In the latest copy of the letter, Harwood said that he hoped the committee would look at the limited consequences of allowing his show to return.

“Now, I know that simply saying ‘no exceptions’ can make life easier for those in charge of policies,” Harwood wrote. “But good policies need to be flexible enough to accommodate unusual situations.”

In the latest copy of the letter, Harwood describes the fans who have contacted the WLUR-FM station manager Jeremy Franklin and university president, William Dudley, urging the school to let the show continue, including a letter from a fan who listened online in Maryland, Melissa Doering.

“It would have been nice to hear the program throughout this pandemic, as we are all locked down at home worrying,” Doering wrote. “But [the pandemic] isn’t over yet and it would still be a great help to turn the music back on.”

Harwood said he rarely saw anyone “before, during and after the show,” and that the traffic on the bottom floor of Elrod Commons, where the studio is located, is limited at the time of his show.

“Unless something is happening in the Stackhouse Theater, or an alumni event is in front of the old gym, the ground floor is an extremely quiet place,” Harwood said.

He said that on occasion he would see one or two people when walking back to his car at night. He said he only touched what was necessary.

In order to return the show to its listeners “who have made [it] part of their lives,” Harwood even said in the letter that he would be willing to take weekly COVID-19 tests from the school and reimburse Washington and Lee for the cost.

One member of the COVID-19 Committee, Sally Stone Richmond, had promised to update Harwood on the school’s position after their next meeting. In an email, she said that Harwood’s request had been denied.

“The university policy will persist: individuals who are not students, faculty or staff will not be permitted inside buildings. I regret that this will cause you disappointment,” Richmond wrote.

Unfortunately for fans of “The Anti-Headache Machine,” the “no-visitor” policy that the university implemented over a year ago continues to apply to Harwood.

In a recent email, the chair of the COVID-19 Committee, Paul Youngman, responded to questions about Harwood’s situation.

“Operating during a pandemic has required the university to make many, many difficult decisions. On a campus that is typically overflowing with visitors…limiting visitors has been among the most difficult of [the committee’s] decisions,” Youngman wrote. “We are disappointed to have had to pause ‘The Anti-Headache Machine,’ along with other programming, and we very much look forward to the time when we will be able to welcome Doug back to campus…as we consider him a valuable contributor to campus life.”

Looking to the future of the show, Harwood said that he hopes it will be back by summer. He still doesn’t understand why he isn’t allowed in the station now, especially since he is vaccinated.

If a friend asked why the show wasn’t on, Harwood said he would answer in his deadpan style, “I would say something like, ‘You can’t possibly let a totally vaccinated person be in a totally empty radio studio in a nearly empty building for four hours on a Saturday night. Why would you do that? That would be like letting Typhoid Mary in there.’”

The music will return one day — Harwood and the show’s fans hope that day will be sooner, rather than later.

“I will be grateful when the show is back on the air,” Harwood wrote in one of his letters to the committee. “So will an untold number of listeners, who have made the show part of their lives and relied on it for inspiration, catharsis, escape, and comfort for a long, long time.”