Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is College Radio Anti Pop?

1980s College Radio Mainstay in WVFI Library in 2008

I just wrote up a piece for the new blog Radio Survivor called "Is Twitter the New College Radio?" about the role of college radio in breaking news and if Twitter has in fact taken over the role of news-breaking machine in 2009.

In my article I quoted from a recent interview with college radio mainstay, David Lowery (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven), about his perceptions of college radio. Here's a bit from his interview in Glide where he discusses social networking today and how it compares to the 1980s:

"Glide: I see you’re on Facebook and fans can follow you guys on Twitter. Quite different from the 80’s…or is it?

David Lowery: Well, exactly. It’s different from the ‘80’s in that it’s much easier to maintain a grass roots following now. But we basically tried all of this networking back then, just in a different way. We collected people’s addresses, we had mailing lists, we had a newsletter. We went around to the college radio stations, which to us back in the early’80’s was our underground blog. We would play on the college stations and then do a show in the college towns and there was this belief that we would associate ourselves with like-minded people, which is a lot like the social networking tools of today."

Renderers Play Pop and Noisy Sounds at KFJC
March 2009

I love this idea that college radio in the 1980s was like an "underground blog" of its day. And I do believe that there is something magical about college radio communities, particularly in small towns. As the interview continues, Lowery makes the argument that college radio was "egalitarian" back in the day, "playing pop music of our generation" and that today it's "more elitist." As stated in the piece:

"Glide: There was something about the popularity of the college radio station back in the 80’s that made music so special. Students today have no idea what that was like…

David Lowery: I’ll tell you what it was. College radio in the ‘80’s was very egalitarian…it was about playing pop music for our generation. I think it’s more elitist now. Like, 'Hey we’re going to play this stuff now that isn’t pop' or something like that. Whereas before, it was our own conception of pop music. I was a college radio DJ through much of the early ‘80’s, so I remember what it was like.

Glide: Where did you DJ?

David Lowery: I started DJ-ing in 1978 at a station called KUOR in Redlands, California. I was actually in high school and I went to their orientation meeting and never said that I was a student and I got my own show (laughs)."

I started DJing in college radio in the 1980s, so I'm fully aware of the nostalgia for this era as well. But, at the same time, I've been involved with college radio pretty much ever since and continue to find the scene to be exciting and groundbreaking. It is true that I play a lot less pop than I used to and have moved on to more obscure sounds, but I'm not sure if that makes what I'm doing less egalitarian. True, there can be a bias against pop at some stations (certainly mine), but that has actually opened my ears to new sounds that I love.

If you take a look at college radio charts overall, it's clear that the anti-pop stations are in the minority and that many are embracing "pop" music for a new generation of listeners. College radio stations devoted to underground sounds regularly bemoan the more mainstream playlists of other college stations, just as pop-oriented stations might critique their peers who are playing lots of noise and experimental music. That's the beauty of college radio, there's usually a little bit of something for everyone.

What do you think? Is your station biased against pop music? Do you feel like college radio was better in the 1980s?

1 comment:

Dairenn Lombard said...

It's so sad and unfortunate that college radio/public radio stations are now anti-pop. Unless you're doing some fusion-jazz-avant-garde-art-rock hybrid, it's virtually impossible to get airplay--especially in Los Angeles. Up-tempo, major chords with harmonies and catchy hooks? Good luck.