Tuesday, June 3, 2008

College Radio in Iowa City - IASPM Conference Paper

A few weeks back I wrote about Nick Rubin's college radio-themed paper that he presented at the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) conference held in Iowa City in late April. Well, I got my hands on the other radio paper from the conference. On April 26, 2008, Brian Goedde presented his paper "Selling College Radio in the Geographical Place and Conceptual Space of the University, the City, and Beyond," about KRUI 89.7 FM, the radio station at University of Iowa.

It's a nicely written overview of the campus radio station. In particular I like his discussion of who the listening audience is and his tales of DJ foibles. He writes:

"The roles of KRUI are as individual as those who comprise its staff and— I would like to say its listeners, but neither I nor they really know who these listeners are. 'It’s hard to say who the listeners are unless they call in,' [Programming Director] Erica said. There were surveys done years ago, I’m told, but the station has changed substantially since then...

'You ask about my audience,' said...a Pathology MA student...whose KRUI alias, on Fridays between 7 and 9 pm, is 'Frosty.' As Frosty talked his hands hovered over the boards, absently rehearsing his next series of buttons to push. 'I always joke that the number one audience has got to be Micky’s kitchen crew. I’ll get requests like, "I got the shittiest job in the world, I deliver pizzas every Friday night. It’s a lot to do after school, but having Funk music gets me through." Or a kitchen crew will call—"we like what you’re playing" "Well what do you want to hear?" "Nothing, just keep playing it." That makes a guy feel good.'...

'My first show was at was a Tuesday night, 4 am,' he said. 'Errors are more forgivable at that hour. I stayed up all night, then came in here and talked about 150 words per minute when I hit the microphone. It was atrocious. [The station manager] called me after my very first air break at 4:15 and said, "You’re doing a really good job, I’m up late working on a term paper, could you play some Public Enemy for me, and otherwise just slow down a little when you’re talking on the mic." I was convinced this guy never slept and listened to every show. I lived in fear. A terrible show is a lot of mistakes. We’re all learning here; mistakes happen. The board is pretty complex. Just before my show someone hit a button that turned off the mic so I spent fifteen seconds of dead air. That was frustrating.'"

I was also intrigued to read about a show at the station where the DJs don't consider themselves to be all that knowledgeable about music. Instead, they pick their music selections based on the album art. Brian writes:

"In the case of Allison and Derek...co-hosts of the Tuesday mid-day show Grumpy Old Grad Students, KRUI presents music that they themselves are curious to hear for the first time.

'One thing to qualify right away is that we’re not big music buffs,' Allison said...'I have friends who say, "the music you listen to is really interesting" and I’m like, "Well, it’s randomly selected."'

Derek: 'We choose the songs by album cover art.'
Allison: 'And interesting names.'
Derek: 'We get there 10 minutes early and grab some CDs, some that we’ve played before that we like. But I would say 60-70% we’ve never heard.'
Allison: 'But we do good, we played Vampire Weekend and they’re the top indie band. That was a random selection.'"

I don't think these DJs are alone in using album art and band names as indicators of whether or not they might be interested in a release. I wonder if they are truly playing things at random or if they preview the albums right before playing them. If it's totally random, I'm curious how the flow of the show works and if the selections make sense during segue ways.

I definitely play music that I've never heard before, but I always read DJ reviews and preview a bit before playing anything so that I have a good sense of whether or not I like the track. But, I'm pretty focused on creating a specific flow to my show and not every DJ has the same perspective on what the perfect "flow" is.

By the way, KRUI has a nice blog and pretty impressive list of bands and in-studio guests who've come by, including The Pines (coming up this Saturday), Brother Ali, Film School, and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. There are also links to many specialty show blogs from the website, including a metal show, a south Asian music show East India Rock Company, and eclectic post-rock, math rock, ambient, drone metal, etc show Room Temperature Lounge.

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