Friday, July 31, 2009

College Radio Tidbits: Shiny New Studio at Boise State, HD Program Guide Test in Boston, and WSHU's Student Radio Roots

A few college radio-related stories to share:

Boise State Radio Station "The University Pulse" Gets Shiny New Studio
An article in Boise State's student paper The Arbiter lauds the architecture of the new student union building on campus, including the glistening studio for college radio station, The University Pulse:

"...the new Pulse studio is a beautifully designed, glass-enclosed space near the SUB's redesigned patio entrance. Student producers are often found within, recording radio programs and interviewing all manner of people from nationally touring bands to politicians... The new studio in the SUB is, 'probably the best asset the Pulse has,' said Dustin Verburg, Program Director of the University Pulse student radio station."

Ouch. That's kind of sad that the new studio is a station's best asset. What about the music? The DJs? The shows?

HD Radio Electronic Program Guide Testing at Emerson and UMass Stations
It's primarily a crew of commercial stations in the current testing of an electronic program guide for HD Radio in Boston, but Emerson College station WERS (they have 2 HD channels) and the public radio station at University of Massachusetts (WUMB) are also participating. According to the WUMB website, they've been broadcasting in HD since 2004. Who knew?

WSHU's College Radio Roots
An article in the Stamford News recounts public radio station WSHU's more student-oriented past. According to the piece it used to be a campus-oriented club, but has shifted to being a more professionally-oriented station. According to General Manager George Lombardi:

"'Once I came on board as general manager, it took us a year to join NPR and to qualify for funding and we began to put together the kind of professional programming without draining the University to become what we are today,' he says. 'Over time, our success in fundraising and building an audience, the University looked to us to become self-sufficient, which we did.'

Not that students don't help out -- they still act as interns and help with public address systems, but the station is its own entity now and is no longer considered a college radio station.

They currently broadcast on both AM and FM, offering both classical music and news programming throughout the day."

This raises an interesting question...can a station be both a college radio station and "its own entity"? I think so....

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Princeton Review's "Best College Radio Stations" 2010: Poor Number Three...

Oh goody. It's that time of year when the Princeton Review releases its "Best 371 Colleges" tome and along with that its bogus compilation of the "top" college radio stations.

As I've bitched and moaned about previously, these rankings are taken from student surveys (this year 122,000 students total at 371 colleges, for an average of 325 students per school) in which people are asked about "how popular" their campus radio station is.

So....this isn't any sort of indication of radio station quality, listenership, or anything else really.... It's sort of a "who got out the vote" deal. And, students are simply voting for how popular the radio stations in general are at their colleges rather than voting for particular stations, so it's impossible to pinpoint which station is being specified when a school has a number of them.

This time around in the 2010 college radio rankings, Ithaca College won the popularity contest (they were #5 in 2009 and #4 in 2008), with St. Bonaventure coming in 2nd (same position as 2009 and they were #1 in 2008).

The weirdest thing this year is that the online Top 20 list of school stations does not include a #3 (perhaps it's in the book?). Hmmmm. Who's missing? Could it be one of the two well-known and respected stations that have dropped off since the 2009 survey: Evergreen State station KAOS (great station! was #16 in 2009) or Seton Hall's WSOU (was #6 in 2009). Random.

The majority of the stations on here have been in previous top 20 lists. In fact, the stations ranked 2nd, 8th through 13th and 19th are in the exact same position as last year.

Compared with the 2009 list, one station has returned: Manhattanville College at #20 (they were #18 in 2008).

See my writeups about the 2009 and 2008 college radio rankings to compare and contrast for yourself.

Princeton Review's
Most Popular College Radio Stations-2010 Edition

(note: I've added station names as the Princeton Review only lists school names)

1. Ithaca College (WICB 91.7 FM and VIC Radio, Ithaca, New York)
2. St. Bonaventure University (WSBU-88.3 FM, St. Bonaventure, New York)
3. ??? there is no #3 listed
4. DePauw University (WGRE 91.5 FM, Greencastle, Indiana)
5. Emerson College (WERS 88.9FM and WECB, Boston, Massachusetts)
6. Brown University (BSR 88.1 FM and WBRU 95.5 FM, Providence, RI)
7. Stanford University (KZSU 90.1 FM, Stanford, CA)
8. Guilford College (WQFS 90.9 FM, Greensboro, North Carolina)
9. Knox College (WVKC 90.7 FM, Galesburg, Illinois)
10. Howard University (WHUR 96.3 FM & WHBC 830 AM, Washington D.C.)
11. University of Puget Sound (KUPS 90.1 FM Tacoma, Washington)
12. Carleton College (KRLX 88.1 FM, Northfield, Minnesota)
13. Alfred University (WALF 89.7 FM, Alfred, New York)
14. Reed College (KRRC 97.9 FM, Portland, Oregon)
15. Swarthmore College (WSRN 91.5 FM, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania)
16. Whitman College (KWCW 90.5 FM, Walla Walla, Washington)
17. Westminster College (WWNW 88.9 FM, New Wilmington, PA)
18. Bates College (WRBC 91.5 FM, Lewiston, Maine)
19. Skidmore College (WSPN 91.1 FM, Saratoga Springs, New York)
20. Manhattanville College (WMVL 88.1 FM, Purchase, New York) (back on list this year)

KUT's Assistant MD Talks about His Path to Radio

An American-Statesman article today profiles University of Texas public radio station KUT's Assistant Music Director Matt Reilly, talking to him about his new gig hosting the night-time music show. As the article explains, there's been controversy about this schedule change at the station, as his show is displacing some popular specialty shows by DJ veterans at KUT.

According to the piece, Matt has worked in both commercial and non-commercial radio. Most recently he was at WXPN, University of Pennsylvania's public radio station and of that experience he states that:

"...he learned a new view of public radio's possibilities. 'Those guys foster a lot of interactive-ness.

They would host costume parties, half of the building was a live music venue and bar. And the listeners could not have been nicer.' But Philly has winter and sleet and, after four years, it was time to come back home.

'I knew I didn't want to go back into commercial radio,' Reilly says. 'It's the lack of job security. You can wake up and the whole station is gone.'...

When he got here [to KUT] in 2008, he started filling in. Now he's the assistant music director with a new show at night and plenty of controversy.

'It's been great,' Reilly says. 'It's sort of terrifying when you've been told what to play for years to suddenly go to place where they're like, "You have freedom!" and you're like "Really? That doesn't make any sense"'

Freedom to play a variety of music. Indeed. That's the joy of non-commercial radio. But his comment also makes me wonder how much freedom DJs at public radio stations really have compared with non-public radio affiliated college stations. I bet there are playlist guidelines as there's too much money riding on keeping the listeners donating to these big budget stations.

Sean Hannity's College Radio Past

Many radio folks got their start in college radio and sometimes those early experiences can be quite revealing. Over on Daily Kos there's a post by Journalist in the Room talking about conservative talk show host Sean Hannity's college radio stint in the late 1980s at UC Santa Barbara station KCSB:

"Nine years after his high school graduation, he joined the volunteer radio team at UC Santa Barbara where after less than a year and a sparkling 40 hours of airtime, he was cut for making homophobic remarks and parading an AIDS conspiracy book. He took this amazing new credential by calling himself 'the most talked about college radio host in America'. Hannity said about his time there, 'I was terrible'(what's changed?), but also said it was the left-wing management's fault. It makes you think, does he think he was terrible because he went too far, or becuase [sic] he didn't go far enough?"

Did you have any future fame-seekers at your station. Did they get fired?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Interview with College Radio Vet and "Kill the Music" Author Michael Plumides

I'm always on the lookout for college radio references in pop culture and some of the most interesting happen to be real life tales recounted in books.

A new book, Kill the Music: The Chronicle of a College Radio Idealist's Rock and Roll Rebellion in an Era of Intrusive Morality and Censorship, by Michael Plumides includes college radio as a backdrop. This time the location is South Carolina, the era is the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the affiliated radio station is WUSC-FM. Plumides was a DJ at WUSC and also ran the 4808 club, the site of an infamous incident at a GWAR show involving accusations of obscenity on the one hand and censorship on the other.

I interviewed Michael to learn a bit more about his book and how college radio figured in to the whole Charlotte/Columbia, South Carolina scene back in the day. In our email discussion he talks about his introduction to college radio in the 1980s, his DJ gig at the now defunct WLOZ (University of North Carolina, Wilmington) when it was a cable FM station (and after the station's infamous drug scandals), DJing at WUSC, the current state of college radio, censorship and music, and his "indie" approach to his new book Kill the Music.

On to the interview:

Spinning Indie: What drew you to college radio?

Michael Plumides: College radio. You know, I was always a big alternative music fan: The B-52’s, REM, The Ramones, The Cars, Flying Lizards, Thompson Twins, English Beat, and Talking Heads. Problem was that my hometown of Charlotte, NC, did not and still doesn’t have a true college radio station.

In the early eighties, while in high school, I used to listen to a station at Davidson, the call letters were WDAV-FM; and they had a “college radio hour”, but aired only on Saturday around midnight. WFAE-FM was originally assigned, and licensed to UNC-Charlotte and played easy listening, classical, and big band. WFAE had shows like “Night Moods” playing cool jazz tunes by Earl Klugh, David Sanborn, and Sade, but it was never run by students, and was too adult for my sensibilities.

Anyway, I went down to Atlanta in June of 1983 to see a B-52’s show, but we stopped off in Athens to pick up a friend. That was the first time I heard college radio. WUOG-FM. I was hooked. It was new and it wasn’t Duran Duran. So, when I started college at University of South Carolina in the fall of that year, I tuned in daily to WUSC-FM, when they had just upped their range to 3000 kilowatts. Before then, I had to resort to the back pages of Rolling Stone Magazine to find my music; it seemed to be the tabloid of record for the period.

Eventually, WFAE was moved to Uptown Charlotte, and now is primarily an NPR station. Some students were up in arms. Their position was that WFAE had been high-jacked by the city, and believed that the station had actually belonged to UNCC, where I went to summer school one semester. In an effort to compromise with students interested in establishing a “student run” radio station in the early nineties, the SGA entertained the idea of starting a new station, but insisted on a student poll to determine the future radio station’s format. The verdict? Top 40. Students lost interest.

Spinning Indie: Tell me a bit about the first station where you DJ'd and when you were there?

Michael: The WLOZ-FM station, originally broadcast from UNCW on 91.3 (now public radio WHQR's frequency) before being shut down by administrators in 1983 because of a drug scandal. Supposedly, the student broadcasters called out to their dope smoking customers on-air, using code language to indicate that certain packages had arrived. The death knell came when a deejay took a bong hit while broadcasting.

In the mid-eighties, WLOZ returned as "cable radio station," requiring a special hookup to your cable TV. You had to go to Radio Shack and buy this coaxial antennae device to rig to your receiver. Needless to say, we had a deeply disturbed following. I was in on the “Cable FM” incarnation (90.9) in 1985 and 1986, where I acquired my first FCC license, and then I transferred back to USC. For a time in the late '90s, WLOZ broadcast an extremely weak signal on 89.1 FM that could more or less only be heard on campus. That station ceased functioning in 2001. I understand they’re now a net broadcast.

Spinning Indie: When did you join WUSC and what years were you there?

Michael: I joined WUSC in September of 1986, and I was there through May of 1988, and was Promotions Director for my last year there. They paid me $18 every two weeks. That’s an extra few beer cases every month. Bonus.

Spinning Indie: How did WUSC compare with WLOZ?

Michael: WUSC-FM was very organized, and had recently been celebrated as one of the “Tastemakers” in Rolling Stone Magazine circa October 1986 in the “College Issue.” WLOZ was a good springboard experience for me and taught me my way around a control room. Speaking of which, the one advantage of WLOZ’s control room was it was brand spanking new, and WUSC’s control room was a little more “lived in.” It’s still the same, with some minor changes.

But WUSC was established and very connected. We had deejays moonlighting for Capitol Records, and some got tons of payola, which later became a no-no in college radio. I was fortunate in that when I transferred back to USC, I had radio experience and I was personable. That worked for and against me. But I bypassed all the bull shit that a lot of other trainees had to go through. I guess it was easy for me, and it wasn’t supposed to be.

Spinning Indie: What role did WUSC play in the music community of Charlotte when you were there as both a DJ and a club owner?

Michael: As I mention in the book, “Columbia and Charlotte were only 90 miles apart but they might as well have been a million miles away from each other.” But I would occasionally drive to Charlotte to interview bands at the old Coliseum. Some of the bands performing there, usually the opening acts, were getting airplay in Columbia that no one would touch in “The Queen City” on our station.

WUSC was a fixture in Columbia, SC, by the time I started working there. The station had “partnerships” with certain clubs and bars in town, albeit unofficially. Saved the venues a lot of add dollars. But I think that WUSC was an intricate part of the University. I think it’s a necessary function at any major learning institution to have a college radio station. I think a college radio station adds legitimacy, just as much as a good football or basketball team. Well, at least as much legitimacy as a decent soccer team.

Spinning Indie: In your book you write a bit about conflicts and politics at WUSC and how you were accused of breaking FCC rules even though you had an aircheck that proved otherwise. What did most DJs think of station rules/enforcement at the time?

Michael: Interestingly, my own college radio station, WUSC, has not embraced my book, refusing to interview me on two separate occasions. I guess they’ve taken offense to some of my insights. What I don’t understand is, I was very kind to WUSC-FM in KILL THE MUSIC, and the only scathing commentary in the book refers to the “Fat chicks in black” who abused their positions of authority twenty years ago. There again, Bruce Dickenson of Iron Maiden, took offense personally to the film “Spinal Tap.” Go figger.

The way I see it, some rules are meant to be bent, and others broken. And I was always a “push the envelope” kind of guy. I think I provoked some of the more timid guys to grow some balls and stand up for themselves, because everyone was sick of the Gestapo tactics. In that sense, I may have represented a threat to their system. Maybe I still do. I don’t know. I’m a little far removed from their Cheney-esque, behind-closed-doors decisions. I refer to their politics in the book, where the conniving reminded me of “witches peering over a cauldron of defiance and absurdity” and their plotting and plundering was reminiscent of “Macbeth.”

Spinning Indie: Do you think the 1980s were the heyday of college radio?

Michael: Some refer to that period as the “heyday” of college radio. I think that it may have been, because of college radio’s diversity. College radio created nineties commercial radio. Had it not been for the advances in programming established by college radio, and documented by CMJ, and other media, the Nirvana-era induced alt. rock explosion would have never happened.

At the time, we were playing Bad Brains, Black Flag, and The Replacements, “Left of the Dial” along with Depeche Mode, Sisters of Mercy, and Jane’s Addiction; all landmark bands. I remember us playing Guns-N-Roses way before anyone. The same with Metallica, Motorhead, and Megadeth. That whole metal era was first embraced by college radio. Now college radio has metamorphed into something else. I can’t put my finger on it, or pigeon-hole it, but definitely more “Americana” than before.

Spinning Indie: Do you still listen to college radio? What stations do you admire?

Michael: College radio was more versatile then, than it is today. A lot less eclectic. I think the trend for college radio now is to focus more on the rootsy sound, similar to WNCW-FM, which services Asheville, NC, and surrounding regions, now even Charlotte. They’ve been big supporters of my book. I recently did an interview there, and they have the podcast up on their website.

WNCW isn’t a true college radio station either, but they’ve managed to balance NPR news broadcasts with Wilco, Zappa, and the Avett Brothers. They even simulcasted from Bonnaroo this year, and are funded primarily by private donations. Due to budget cuts, WNCW is struggling a little. I’ve offered to do anything I can to help.

Spinning Indie: Do you think that the incident that you experienced at your club with the GWAR show could happen today? Why or why not?

Michael: Censorship has a way of popping up in the oddest places. There’s legislation introduced before the City Council of Chicago right now to require all hard rock promoters to purchase an expensive license, in order to promote even the smallest shows. Green Day’s new album 21st Century Breakdown was banned from Walmart.

I read recently in The Charlotte Observer that parents were in an uproar in North Carolina about a semi-nude rendering in a recent issue of the DC comic, Batman, a mother purchased at the public library. NC’s film industry was recently scuttled after clamor from the right to review all scripts before films can receive subsidies from the state. The Fed blamed Marilyn Manson for the Columbine Massacre. There are forces at work trying to censor porn on the internet.

Yes, I believe what happened with GWAR could happen again. Americans need villains, to call attention away from their own inequities. And as long as there is sensationalized ‘yellow’ journalism out there to “exploit so you will consume,” there will always be people up in arms about something or another. It gives them purpose. Rock and Roll has always been an easy target, and they come at you when you least expect it.

Spinning Indie: Anything else?

Michael: KILL THE MUSIC will be available in Kindle format August 10, 2009, and right now Anne Saunders, my editor and partner and I are working on our marketing strategies for the upcoming second edition. The book will have an excerpt featured in the fall issue of BLURT Magazine, and soon thereafter we hope to have KILL THE MUSIC in major bookstores such as Barnes and Noble, and Borders nationwide. It's presently being sold in various stores throughout the southeast: Charlotte, Columbia, and Atlanta, as well as on-line at,, and

We've done the whole thing "indie" in every sense of the word; very grass roots, and so far, the reception has been great. Even some talks about a film based on the book. So, something that caused me disgrace and misery many years ago, as illustrated in the book, is now getting me noticed as a writer. Probably the most ironic thing I can think of in all this is, I failed typing.

Thanks so much to Michael Plumides for sharing his tales about college radio. My favorite quote from the interview is something that I'll have to dig up the next time I'm asked why college radio is so important:

"I think it’s a necessary function at any major learning institution to have a college radio station. I think a college radio station adds legitimacy, just as much as a good football or basketball team. Well, at least as much legitimacy as a decent soccer team."

I wish Michael luck on his book tour!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Are MySpace Playlists as Edgy as College Radio?

Record Library at KALX

How many things can take the place of college radio (which still exists!)?

The New York Observer article, "MySpace Music Will Make Stars out of Little People," recaps a recent presentation by MySpace Music President Courtney Holt at the New Music Seminar (I had no idea this conference from days of yore had been resurrected). According to the piece:

"[Holt] plans to take advantage of MySpace Music's edge over Apple's iTunes and Amazon: social media metrics and user-generated content. Mr. Holt plans to make the site a data goldmine for figuring out what's going to be the next big thing in pop music--helpful not only to artists and users, but producers and agents, too. They'll publish trends, track influencers and create lists of top-played and playlisted content of not only major bands and artists but also of all the independent work on millions of MySpace artist pages."

Additionally, Holt explains the benefits of the MySpace community in terms of helping to expose indie and obscure music acts. Along with that, he actually extols the benefits of college radio's more diverse music offerings, comparing what one hears on college radio to the user-created MySpace playlists:

"He added that there aren't as many 'loud media outlets,' like radio, that are willing to take chances on new artists. 'Despite the fact that I think the iPod shuffle has changed the minds of the consumer, most radio stations don't have permission, outside of maybe college radio stations, to play Miles Davis and Bad Brains back to back. You just don't hear that,' he said. 'And yet if you look at the types of playlists that people are creating on our platforms, they are that. You get randomness, you get obscure, you get songs that come from different places and it doesn't feel like a sonic trainwreck, like things just bombarding you. People, they want that randomness, and that notion that they're in control of their programming.'"

He makes a really interesting point here that when creating their own online playlists, music lovers will play unknown artists and mix genres and styles of music in much the same way that a college radio DJ might.

So maybe MySpace Music can be the new college radio.

I'm intrigued to see where they take things. But, of course, I remain loyal to the massive libraries of physical music at college radio stations. I enjoy ceding control to the DJ (when I'm not on the air myself!) and allowing myself to discover new sounds. Discovery. That's what listening to radio is about for me.

College and Community Radio Tidbits: KKUP Seeks Funds for Move, WGMU's Radio Summer Camp, and More on Vinyl Revival

DJ at East Village Radio in NYC

A few college radio-related stories to share:

Community Radio Station KKUP is Moving, Needs Funds
KKUP (91.5 FM) is a long-time community radio station right in my backyard. According to an article in the San Jose Mercury News, they are losing their current lease in Santa Clara so are being forced to find a new home. For this, they are seeking donations from listeners. The piece also points out that they may be one of the few stations that is entirely supported by listeners since they do not even accept underwriting. The article states:

"Started by a group of college students as educational programming in the early 1970s, KKUP now offers music ranging from comical to classical, reggae to barbershop, New Age to oldies, world to bluegrass, blues to gospel, current affairs to philosophy and vintage radio to poetry."

Radio Summer Camp at WGMU
I love that teens get the chance to learn about radio at college station WGMU's annual summer camp at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. According to an article in The Mason Gazette, the camp's been going on for 14 years.

Vinyl Revival among College Students in Kansas
Taking another look at the resurgence of vinyl, The University Daily Kansan ran a piece about young, local vinyl record enthusiasts who own hundreds of records and praise vinyl's sound, permanence, and the beauty of its artwork.

Vinyl Records at WNYU

Dearth of Indie Radio in NYC?
A piece in New York Magazine makes the argument that indie radio offerings in New York City are meager at best, at least as far as terrestrial signals go. Too bad the article didn't mention other over-the-air college stations like WNYU (89.1 FM) and online options like East Village Radio and Barnard's WBAR which are great resources for unheard sounds. The article states:

"Radio listeners who move here from smaller cities consistently discover that their preferred station has no analogue here. We barely have an indie presence, in any genre. (WFUV, Fordham's station, and WNYC itself are reliably smart, but New Jersey’s WFMU barely makes it to antennae on the East Side, and WKCR, Columbia College radio, is similarly underpowered.)"

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

College Radio Loyalists Refute Boston Globe's Dire Report on Radio

Student Station WECB at Emerson College in Boston

There's been some chatter this week about whether or not young people have turned away from terrestrial radio. An article in the Boston Globe (which I discuss further on Radio Survivor) called "Young Listeners Tune Out Radio in Search for New Music" quotes a bunch of teens and 20somethings about how they listen to and discover music. None of those quoted listens to radio. Of course the piece spawned some debate and many have rushed to defend radio's continued relevance.

Scanning through some of the 122 comments on the article, I found several themes.

1. Commercial Radio in Boston Sucks
2. There's No Good Music Anymore
3. Radio in Boston actually Rules
4. College and Non-Commercial Radio is Where it's At

Among all of the noise and banter, there were many amazing quotes from college and non-commercial radio fans (who of course realize that there is tons of great new music and there always has been).

I'm so encouraged that people are speaking out about the importance of the left end of the dial and was inspired by many of the eloquent commentary that I ran across. Here are a few gems that I liked from the sea of comments:

mifmu wrote:

"College radio rules and Boston is one, if not the richest source, of college radio in the nation. There is nothing homogeneous about it. WMBR, WERS, WUMB are all worth listening to for all genres of music and public affairs. And there's something expansive about listening to stuff which you may not like right off the bat. Given a little exposure to new and different types of music, it's surprising what you can grow to like.

The homogeneity of satellite radio is mind numbing, as is the screaming blather of commercial radio. And there's something anti-social and Orwellian about everyone running around plugged into individual MP3 players, oblivious to the world around us.
Wake up and listen, Boston. There's an earful of culchah at the lower end of your radio dial. And unlike most MP3's (all, once DRM is fully enforced) it’s free!"

kalimba writes:

"Boston has the best college radio scene in the country, hands down, and this still has a loyal following here in Boston. WMBR, WERS, WZBC, WMFO, WMWM, WHRB. These are my pre-sets in the car, along with the npr affiliates."

lazrin writes:

"To those of you lamenting the lack of interesting music on commercial FM stations: there's a whole universe of music below 92 on your FM dial, of non-commercial FM stations. Don't be scared; dip your toe in and explore it - there's practically every musical genre imaginable, played by DJs with a true LOVE and PASSION for the music they are playing -that's because most DJs are volunteering their time to play the music they like, and not getting paid to maximize station ratings and ad revenues."

Now that's what I'm talking about. All of us who listen to and love college radio need to tell a friend...and so on...and so on.

University of Idaho Station KUOI as "Personal Mix-Tape for Campus"

Back when I started my Spinning Indie 50 State Virtual Tour of college radio stations a year ago, I was most interested in investigating amazing stations that were in more out of the way places. Stations on the coasts and in big cities get a lot of attention, so it was important for me to learn about places that I had never even heard of.

One of the first stations that got on my radar was KUOI (89.3 FM) at University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. Despite my best intentions I haven't been able to profile them yet for my tour. But, as luck would have it, they just got a cool write-up in student paper The Argonaut. The piece, "KUOI: College Radio with a Personality," goes into detail about the station's lengthy history (around since 1945), interviews DJs (including one who has been at the station for more than 20 years), and points out that KUOI is a freeform station that values vinyl and has over 50,000 items (records and CDs) in its record library. The article quotes Station Manager Mike Siemens on the station's value:

"'This is a great institution,' Siemens said. 'It’s probably my favorite institution on campus. It’s kind of like your own personal mix-tape for campus, which is cool, because you can really just be yourself.'"

He goes on to explain why the large record library is such a benefit:

"[Station Manager Mike] Siemens said his favorite aspect about the library is its extensive vinyl collection, which has been phased out at many other stations. Siemens encourages his DJs to explore this collection.

'I want to start having ‘dig parties’ where we just get all the DJs together, get some food out there and dig through the records and start spinning them,' Siemens said."

That's really an amazing thing about being at a station with a big vinyl collection. One thing that can be particularly awesome is diving into the history of a place through the written comments on LPs. Just last night at my own station I was delighted to pull out a piece of vinyl from the 1980s whose cover was full of handwritten opinions from staffers from way back when. KEXP is actually doing a cool project called Review Revue on their blog where they include photos of old handwritten album reviews and comments (check this one out for Kate Bush). You just don't get that sort of comment wall-style debate on CD jewel cases or on mp3s. Vive la vinyl!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

College Radio vs. Music Aggregators

It was cool to see today that Meredith over at my favorite youth culture blog Ypulse took the time to listen to my interview on the Mediageek radio show about college radio. In response to my argument that college radio is still important because it often showcases hand-picked, curated playlists by human DJs she raises some questions about whether or not these stations and DJs can compete with the online world of music aggregators. In her piece, "Can College Radio Stay on the Same Wavelength as Young Listeners," she writes:

"I'm guessing Jennifer wouldn't be happy to hear that the first thing her description [of DJs curating their own shows] brought to mind was music blog aggregator sites like Hype Machine and We Are Hunted that ascribe these same virtues of authenticity and passion to the process of curating the curators (Hype Machine even creates online radio shows with the results.)..."

While curating the curators is cool and all.... I still like college radio more. I like the mystery involved with turning on a radio station and not knowing what I'm going to hear next. I love discovering new sounds by hearing them before I've heard about them. If you read bloggers to discover music, then often you are getting their take on something before you even happen upon the sounds. I suppose that's the same dynamic as learning about something from a friend or a record store clerk....which is cool. But my magical musical moments have been when I've heard something for the very first time (on the radio, in a music store, at a live show) and have become spell-bound.

Similarly, another point that I made in my interview was that with digital music, for the most part people are selecting what they want to hear before they hear it; rather than ceding control to someone else, like a DJ.

Meredith also writes:

"All this is NOT to question the need for college radio DJs, but rather ask how the traditional role can evolve to embrace this proliferation of music-discovering avenues on the web? I'm sure many are already out generating innovative solutions (that I'd love to hear...)..."

This is an interesting question and I think college radio stations have actually been on the forefront of embracing technology. College stations were early to stream, blog, archive shows, provide live cams, and real-time playlists. So, yes, indeed...many college radio stations are similar to the music bloggers. But radio is still radio and has some inherent benefits. And radio stations have the potential to do so much, from live events, to specialty music shows, to band interviews and live performances, to audio art.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Spinning Indie on Mediageek Radio Show

Studio at WNUR

Last week I was interviewed by Paul Riismandel (one of my fellow Radio Survivor bloggers) for his Mediageek radio show. Paul's been doing a fantastic series of interviews with people in the radio industry for his weekly program on WNUR and I was happy to represent college radio on Thursday's show.

If you missed the show you can catch the podcast online. Additionally, Mediageek is syndicated on a number of college, community and LPFM stations from Alaska to Vermont.

In the interview I mainly talk about college radio's value as an independent media source, particularly when it comes to music that isn't generally heard over commercial airwaves. Clearly my heart belongs to stations that are playing indie music; but this doesn't discount the role played by college radio stations with a different focus.

Additionally, I emphasize the importance of supporting college radio and advocating for one's favorite stations. The economy and assumptions about radio's declining influence have led to the loss of college radio on some campuses and I think it's vital to stop this trend by getting college radio back on the radar. Listen to it. Blog about it. Donate to it. Become a DJ. Volunteer. Tweet about it. Tell your friends. Remind yourself and others why college radio matters.

Tip of the Hat to Former College Radio DJ Guys

KZSU's Samuel Franco
(who isn't on Schmitten Kitten's radar yet)

Schmitten Kitten, a blog that talks about "dudes and dating in Philadelphia," has posted a series of "tip of the hats" to various types of guys, from those who wore heavy metal jean jackets in middle school to those who wear suspenders. Some of their most recent posts are quite college-radio centric, including a nod to some guy Phil's nearly perfect profile picture in which he looks to be working at a radio station. But, best of all, the blog gives a tip of the hat to guys who used to be college radio DJs, saying:

"...guys who had radio shows in college are just plain awesome. It's cute to think about them on the air, carefully curating the songs that they play, excited to premiere a new ditty to their dozens of listeners... They've been to CMJ, they know what a PSA is, and they love to nerd out about b-sides and rare singles. That's pretty awesome. So, guys who had radio shows in college, we tip our hat to you. When you tell us about how you used to play Superchunk, Pavement, and Rocket From the Crypt, we get all fuzzy inside."

I have to admit that one of the many things that got me crushing on my now-husband was learning on the day we met that he had been a DJ in college and still played vinyl records. In our early weeks of dating he even let me borrow a cassette tape of one of his old radio shows (a team show at WVFI). Since I was still a college radio DJ I returned the favor by crafting some radio shows for him that were like love-letter mix tapes. Oh, the geekiness of college radio DJ mating rituals still brings a smile to my face. Thanks to Schmitten Kitten for bringing back some of these memories.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Radio Station Field Trip 17 - FCCFreeRadio in San Francisco

On Monday I had the opportunity to check out a brand new low power FM (LPFM) radio station in San Francisco called FCCFreeRadio.

Located in a secret South of Market (SOMA) location, FCCFreeRadio is a micropower community radio station (they shy away from the term "pirate radio") that is broadcasting both online and at 107.3 FM without a license from the FCC. According to their website they believe that the U.S. government has granted emergency authority for broadcasters to operate without a license during time of war, including the current "war against terrorism."

Board at FCCFreeRadio

The station has been on the air since January 24th, 2009, although the studios have only been recently built. The first live show from the current studio took place on May 30th.

It was exciting to visit such a new station and it's encouraging to me that there are people who believe in radio so strongly that they are willing to start up a new terrestrial station. Thanks so much to General Manager John Miller and Program Director John Hell for taking the time to show me around their new digs.

John Hell and John Miller

Both John Miller and John Hell are enthusiastic supporters of radio and have extensive broadcast experience. Between the two of them they have worked in college radio, community radio at LPFM stations (they were both at Pirate Cat Radio in San Francisco), commercial radio, and in Internet broadcasting.

They both began DJing when they were teens. John Miller started at commercial station KWNE in Ukiah and had his trial by fire when he had to stand in for the regular DJ (who was stuck in jail). He said that from then on he "got hooked" on radio and eventually became inspired by comedy, then Internet broadcasting. He's been involved with many stations since then, including a gig at All Comedy Radio on KPHX 1250AM in Phoenix which aired on 271 stations globally (including South Africa). Additionally, he's been the technical brains being a variety of stations and helped to set up a new LPFM station in Arizona: KWSS. Along with John Hell he helped Pirate Cat Radio build their new studio as well.

John Hell's DJ career started with him spinning tunes at the Ice Capades ice skating rink in Foster City. He went on to DJ at weddings and events, worked at college stations KCSM and KFJC (where he DJ'd for nearly 10 years under the moniker The Reverend Dah Wave), and was part of the crew that started Radio Free Burning Man before he joined SF Liberation Radio and Pirate Cat Radio.

John Miller told me that he'd always dreamed of doing comedy radio in the San Francisco Bay Area and was inspired by the morning show hosted by Alex Bennett back in the 1980s and 1990s on a series of stations including KMEL, KQAK and Live 105. Bennett's show at the time (he's now on Sirius satellite radio) was characterized by a regular stable of comedian guests and a live audience. John's passion for comedy comes through in the current lineup of programming on FCCFreeRadio. He's hosting a morning show that's in the spirit of the old Alex Bennett show and has a programmer on staff who is dedicated to filling the comedy shifts.

Currently FCCFreeRadio is working to recruit DJs and fill up its 2-hour shifts. They have 17 hosts and 16 shows right now in addition to John Miller's weekday morning show (Monday to Friday from 6-10am) with comedian Susan Maletta. When there is no live DJ the station runs automated music programming culled from top hits of the past several decades. John Hell was quick to point out that the automated programming is a temporary solution and isn't necessarily reflective of the more adventurous airsound that they are going for with live DJs. They hope to eventually provide live programming 24 hours a day, but for now are focusing on filling up drive-time shifts. To get a sense of some of the music programming, take a look at John Hell's archived playlists on his website.

Most of the DJs at the station have extensive radio experience already, so on-air training is pretty limited. To get a show, people are required to submit a proposal and upon approval they are trained on the equipment and given a run-down on the short list of rules (don't swear, play station promos, say the station name, and give out the studio number).

DJs at FCCFreeRadio are expected to pay monthly dues and attend monthly staff meetings. Those with music shows must bring their own music since there is no music library. Currently the studio supports the playback of CDs, mp3s, and music from laptops. John Hell told me that any money left over from staff dues will get used for projects at the station, including studio improvements like new equipment and better soundproofing. Being a low budget operation, they are also soliciting help from listeners in the form of underwriting, equipment donations, and real estate (do you live atop a mountain? they need a better spot for their transmitter).

Even with their limited resources and space, FCCFreeRadio has already taken on some interesting projects, including a live remote from a nearby auditorium. DJs regularly have in-studio guests, ranging from musicians to comedians to artists.

In my interviews with John and John I learned more about the mission of FCCFreeRadio, where they fit in to the overall radio landscape in San Francisco, and why they chose a slot on the commercial side of the dial:

Spinning Indie: What's the overall mission of your station?

John Miller: I would say to your question to the over all mission of FCCFREERADIO is to provide a place for community radio. All the staff will be doing something each week that will link their show to the community. We are putting the local back into radio.

John Hell: This is something that is ever evolving, but I know it's safe to say that part of our mission is to serve the SF community that we broadcast out of. We want to pay attention to the concerns of the neighborhood, and we strive towards being a voice for those in the neighborhood that have no voice. With that being said, we also believe that music programming should be challenging as well. We don't believe that we should be playing the "hits," from any genre or era. There are plenty of other stations in the bay area that are doing this.

We've asked the staff to take the next few weeks to think about the mission. We plan on putting it in writing and on our website within a few months. Check back.

Spinning Indie: How do you differentiate yourselves from other low power, community, and college radio stations?

John Miller: Well this question is one that I have never thought about, at least to the point that should matter. I have built a LPFM because I was without a home for my program. That's where it started... after that I am just running a station like I would run any other LPFM station. I just want my hosts to be on the top of their game, with all hosts working each week to do better for themselves and their programs.

John Hell: There is plenty of room in this largely populated and diverse bay area for many non-commercial, LPFM's. Our station is personality driven. Most of our staffers have at least 10 years radio experience; many have over 20 years experience. John Miller and I have a passion for radio as done in the days of KMPX/KSAN's "Big Daddy" Tom Donahue, KYA's Emperor Gene Nelson and Bob Mitchell; and of course the King of Pirate Radio, Wolfman Jack.

FCCFreeRadio's show log

Spinning Indie: Were you influenced/inspired by any existing radio stations?

John Miller: Well, all but 2 morning hosts are gone from the airwaves in SF. I grew up to Alex Bennett for my morning show (My program The John Miller Program with Susan Maletta has the foundation of The Alex Bennett Program with Lisa Thompson.) From KOME.... Dennis Erectus, One of the kings of working the FCC.

From KSJO Lamont and Tonelli. They have somehow been on the air in the Bay Area for over 25 years. I am personal friends with both and back in the day helped with live remotes when I could.

Last, well maybe not the last, but the last for this list...Tom Leykis. He owned afternoon drive for years and before they put him on FM he owned AM. Shame to see the talent of yesteryear not on the air.

John Hell: I was influenced by the '80s morning show of Frazer Smith, of KLOS in LA, and M. Dung of KFOG. Dung also hosted the Sunday Night Idiot Show, which he would sometimes do live at Wolfgang's (owned by the late rock impresario Wolfgang Bill Graham). I would attend those live shows as often as I could.

View into a Phantom Studio

Spinning Indie: Can you explain a bit more about how you selected 107.3 FM?

John Miller: Well I did not want to be down in the basement so I have always been on the upper side of the dial doing my radio program. So with that I went looking and found 107.3 FM was open for San Francisco proper. With that I liked being between CBS's KCBS and Cumulus station The Bone. Both huge stations with a very broad group that tune in.

The Ubiquitous Radio Station Couch

Thanks again to John Miller and John Hell for showing me around FCCFreeRadio. And kudos to them for believing in the power of local radio!

Previous Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips:

Field Trip to WECB at Emerson College
College Radio Field Trip 2 - Cal Poly's KCPR
College Radio Field Trip 3 - Notre Dame's WVFI
Radio Station Field Trip 4 - WFMU in Jersey City
Radio Station Field Trip 5 - East Village Radio in NYC
Radio Station Field Trip 6 - WNYU in New York City
Radio Station Field Trip 7 - Northwestern's WNUR
Radio Station Field Trip 8 - Stanford's KZSU
Radio Station Field Trip 9 - University of San Francisco's KUSF
Radio Station Field Trip 10 - Santa Clara University Station KSCU
Radio Station Field Trip 11 - UC Berkeley's KALX
Radio Station Field Trip 12 - KSJS at San Jose State University
Radio Station Field Trip 13 - WBAR at Barnard College
Radio Station Field Trip 14 - KFJC at Foothill College
Radio Station Field Trip 15 - UC Santa Cruz Station KZSC
Radio Station Field Trip 16 - Haverford College Station WHRC

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Radio Show from Gang of Four Member

According to Pampelmoose, two members of famed band Gang of Four (including post author Dave Allen) are currently hosting radio shows. Hugo Burnham's gig "30 Years in the Hole" is at the New England Institute of Art's online-only station All Independent Radio. Recent shows have included themes such as "Leeds vs. Manchester."

Dave Allen's show "Pampelmoose New Music Hour" airs on Internet-only station (formerly a commercial FM station).

Can you think of other rock luminaries hosting shows on indie stations?

Monday, July 6, 2009

College Radio on Film

KSJS Playlist

Last year I wrote a short post about images of college radio on television (hello original 90210 and Felicity) and today I just found out another instance of college radio in popular culture.

The celebrity-filled 1998 horror movie "Urban Legend" features a scene where a college radio talk show host (Tara Reid) is stalked and murdered at her campus station. Creepy!

I also just found a reference to the 2008 movie (not sure if it was released) College Radio Sucks. You can view a trailer for "College Radio Sucks" on their MySpace page. And, hey, it was filmed at KSJS in San Jose, one of the stations I visited this year. Has anyone seen it?

Can you think of other films where college radio makes an appearance?

College Radio Tidbits: Programming Changes at KUT and WUFT, WZBC's Radio Enlightenment, College Radio DJs and Free Music

A few college radio-related items to report:

Programming Changes at KUT and WUFT
Now that it's summertime, college radio news is a bit sparse. However, there's still lots of action on the public radio front. Public radio stations KUT (University of Texas) and WUFT (University of Florida) have announced some programming changes. According to, KUT will be reducing the hours of some locally-produced evening shows in order to make room for a new local music show starting tomorrow night (hosted by assistant music director Matt Reilly) and for the syndicated night-time show Undercurrents.

Similarly, WUFT is expanding the amount of programming that it airs from National Public Radio and will also increase its classical programming on one of its HD channels, according to an article in University of Florida News.

KMSU Gets Local "Station of the Year" Award
According to a piece on Fox 12's website, Minnesota State University radio station KMSU has

"won the 2008 'Station of the Year' by the Association of Minnesota Public Educational Radio Stations.The station earned the award for its infrastructure improvements, adding a remote portable studio in the student union, and winning the 2009 Pathfinder Award."

Radio Enlightenment on WZBC
I remember catching a bit of the WZBC (Boston College) radio show "Lucid Sounds/Expanding Awareness" as I was driving around Boston during a recent trip. It was an interesting collage of astrology reporting, Tangerine Dream-like music, and spoken word. The Musings from Boston blog seems to be posting regular updates about the long-time show (the host is a psychic and has been doing his radio gig for more than 30 years), including this plug for the most recent installment on July 4th. You can listen to archives of the show from the WZBC website too.

Perk of College Radio DJ Gig: Free Music
On her blog, musician Allison Weiss lists off all the ways that one can get her music for free. She reveals that one of the perks of being a college radio DJ or music journalist is free music and provides a press link for those with aforementioned credentials. It's kind of interesting to see how she acknowledges the challenges in getting people to pay for music. Of course there's a strategy behind that and I bet she's hoping that people will dig her honesty so much that they'll pony up and pay for a CD or two.

Youth-Media Movement and Radio

It's reassuring to me that there's still a lot of energy around teaching kids and teens about radio. A number of organizations are focused on providing radio training to the youngest media mavens and there are also summertime opportunities like Digital Media Summer Camps at YouthVille Detroit. One of the programs this summer is "Web Radio and Broadcast Journalism," where students will learn to DJ and will produce their own shows on YouthVille Web Radio.

Another program, Youth Media Project, teaches high school students in Santa Fe about radio production and airs some of their pieces on local radio stations. A recent Santa Fe Reporter piece interviews Executive Director (and DJ) Judy Goldberg. Judy explains in the article that:

"The curriculum is rooted in gathering stories from the community and having that integrated into academic learning."

She also speaks a bit about the broader trend of the youth-media movement, saying:

"Only recently I’ve been brought into a national awareness of the youth-media movement. It’s rising in tandem with youth leadership and service learning. I’ve been asked to participate in the Youth Media Reporter, which is a publication that comes out of New York, and they are the forerunners of trying to help amass those who practice and teach youth media."

Does your station do anything to help get young people involved with radio?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

College Radio Tidbits: WMUL's 89 Radio Awards, Student Body Prez Show at WXYC, and New High School Radio Station in UK

A few college radio-related items to report on today:

89 Radio Awards This Year for WMUL
An article on outlines the numerous awards recently received by Marshall University student radio station WMUL in Huntington, West Virginia. According to the piece:

"Marshall University’s student radio station, WMUL, set a new station record during the 2008-2009 academic year with a total of 89 awards.

The previous record was 77 awards during the 2005-2006 year. The total includes 34 first-place awards, 15 second-place awards, seven third-place awards and 33 honorable mention awards. Since 1985, WMUL-FM student broadcasters have won 906 awards."

That's a whole lot of awards. I don't even know if the stations where I've been a DJ have even entered such contests. Does your station compete?

WXYC's Student Body President Show
Does student government have a voice at your radio station? According to an article in the Daily Tar Heel, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's student radio station WXYC has been airing "the Student Body President Show," in which the student government leader addresses students via the airwaves. The article states:

"Student government will not only be communicating to students through the radio, but also on Student Television and in The Chapel Hill News."

Listeners are also able to submit questions via IM and shows will eventually be podcast as well.

New High School Radio Station in UK
It's so great to hear about new radio stations popping up around the globe and it's even cooler to here that this one is at a high school in the UK. A piece this week outlines the new venture:

"TEENAGERS at a city secondary school have launched a radio station, which people will be able to listen to online. Isca College of Media Arts launched Isca Radio at lunchtime yesterday, with live music from school bands and singers, poetry readings and a competition to win an iPod...The school hopes to start broadcasting live shows once students get used to putting them together.

Susy Dunne, the school’s community arts coordinator, said: 'Radio has been one of our priorities from when we decided to become a specialist media arts school. The second phase of the specialism has begun and it’s something we are keen to get off the ground.'

She said that the radio station would increases students’ knowledge of broadcast media."

It's nice to see that she understands the ongoing relevant of radio. To hear their first radio broadcast, visit the school's website.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Economy Hits Public Radio on Campus

There have been lots of stories recently about the financial struggles that many college and public radio stations are facing. Here are a few more examples of college-owned public radio stations dealing with an uncertain economy:

KCSM (College of San Mateo, California)
According to an article in the San Mateo Daily Journal, public radio station KCSM is located on a college campus (College of San Mateo) and gets some funding from the district. The jazz-oriented station is facing a financial crisis, as donations are down and money from the school is being reduced.

KOCV (Odessa College, Texas)
The future of Odessa College radio station KOCV is a bit uncertain at the moment, according to an article in Odessa American Online. Apparently the public radio station used to be student-run and programmed at some point in its history, but is now affiliated with National Public Radio. According to the article:

"OC has had to put in close to $100,000 a year to cover a shortfall in the station's expenses. KOCV has not had a full-time station manager in a long time, and its transmitter is from the Vietnam War era and losing power. The station only reaches a small portion of Midland County.

'We have made progress toward solidifying partnerships, but it's still part of talking possibilities,' Vice President For Instruction Clayton Alred said."

I wonder if they'd ever consider transitioning the station back to the students?

WHIL (Spring Hill College, Alabama)
Here's another campus-based public radio example. According to an article in the Mobile Press-Register, WHIL announced that it was doing a week-long emergency pledge drive in order to raise needed funds.