Friday, February 29, 2008

First-Time College Radio DJ Tells Tale...

The great thing about the Internet is that you can find diary-entry posts like this one today from a college radio DJ after his first time on the air.

"I spent my first two hours on air this morning from 4 to 6 a.m.—first time in my life on the radio as a DJ. It was the most amazing thing...So why am I so wired now, even hours later? Perhaps it was the performance of the DJ art. That really might be it. Mostly, however, I loved the precarious nature of live local radio: I had the airwaves to myself, and, if I screwed up, we’d have dead air and unhappy listeners across northern Vermont. I’ve done stage work before, playing to a few hundred on a theatre stage, but who knows how many were listening this morning. At 5 a.m., perhaps it was just a dozen folks coming off work or going to—or maybe it was a few hundred. No way of knowing in community radio..."

I have no idea how I felt after my first show, but some of the emotions shared in this post feel familiar to me today, even after being on the air for years and years. There is something very energizing about doing live radio and the author captures that feeling when he writes about djing at University of Vermont's WRUV 90.1 FM. And, indeed, those graveyard shifts are the home of many new DJs and can sometimes be a lonely place (wondering just who's out there listening) or an invigorating place full of creativity and experimentation.

Social Networking and Indie Music-from Uplister to IndieMV

I'm a bit of a Luddite when it comes to music, preferring to listen to records and CDs as opposed to mp3s. I don't own an iPod, so I don't have a computer full of downloads. That means that I've kind of missed the boat when it comes to some of the intriguing online music communities like Mog and

Now there's an indie-oriented music community where one can find other music fans based on taste. IndieMV is "social networking for the indie music community" and they issued a press release yesterday about their plans for a "radically different licensing model for independent musicians. The new approach...will...give independent musicians and independent record labels a significantly larger, less encumbered, more immediate, more controllable, and more lucrative share of proceeds from the online sale of their music and videos..."

Their online community, IndieMV is focused on connecting indie musicians and fans and looks like it could be pretty fun, even for someone like me without a library of mp3s. According to their website:

"IndieMV: the indie music community is built on a simple yet effective principle: unite passionate indie music people from all walks of life. Finally, with IndieMV, there is an online destination that lets you build your own 'scene' - connecting you with great new indie music, the people who make it and those who love it."

Whenever I hear about new music-oriented social networking websites I get a little bit giddy in anticipation that they may rival the cool times I had when I worked at Uplister before the iPod revolution. Uplister was narrative playlist-sharing community from 2000-2002 where many college radio DJs and music obsessives wrote High Fidelity-style lists about break-up songs, driving music, first concerts, etc. I'm all for finding a community that recaptures the passion and creativity of Uplister. If you've found one, let me know!

P.S. If you want to read more about Uplister, here's a link to a "The Playlist is the Thing," a paper that I presented at an International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) conference about the Uplister community. The paper also gives some context about the digital music scene during that era around 2000 when a whole bunch of companies were looking at ways to provide music recommendations in light of the success of Napster.

Radio Arte Gives Voice to Latino Teen Producers

Probably my most inspiring work experience ever was working on my high school newspaper, where we had an inspiring adviser who respected teenagers and supported the rights of a free student press. We wrote about divorce, suicide, abortion, teen drinking, campus rivalry and even the usual stories about campus litter and cafeteria food. I'm sure that because of my positive experience on my paper, I'm a big fan of teen culture and am particularly impressed by teens involved with journalism and radio. A piece this week profiles a Chicago-area public radio station WRTE 90.5 FM that provides opportunities for teens to produce radio shows. According to the article:

"A group of Chicago Hispanic teenagers say they are tired of how underrepresented their community is in mainstream media. They have turned their frustration into action and are now vocal journalists on a mission to provide a voice for the underrepresented. These youth, or 'producers' as they are called at work, get their voices heard on the radio for an hour every Monday through Thursday evening. They are volunteer journalists at Radio Arte, 90.5 FM, a nonprofit Latino public radio station based in Pilsen. The 10-year-old station has made a place for teen producers since it was founded."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

WXCI Celebrates 35th Anniversary

Happy birthday to another college radio station as Danbury, Connecticut's WXCI 91.7 FM (Western Connecticut State University) celebrates 35 years on the air. They have eclectic programming (including jazz, folk, punk, black metal, country, electronica, grind core, funk, hip hop and indie rock) and loyal alums (see their WXCI Memories blog)...but what's intriguing to me is that they use DJ automation software between regular shows so that they can be on the air 24/7. Cool or creepy? I'm not sure. According to their website:

"In August of 2004, WXCI implemented a state of the art DJ automation computer (a.k.a. the 'Super Computer'). The computer can randomly play any song from our library, while also promoting our specialty shows and playing important Public Service Announcements. The automation computer works continuously between regular DJ airshifts and shows, and is what makes it possible for us to broadcast 24 hours a day!"

I would think that those automated shows could sound pretty weird if they are truly picking random songs from the entire library. What I love about college radio is hearing DJs who actually program their own shows, so that listeners get an organized glimpse of their point of view on music, not just an iPod on shuffle (whose basic concept the control-freak DJ in me just can't stand).

MACRoCK College Radio Conference

Mark your calendars for music and radio conference season! Noise Pop is in San Francisco now through March 2nd, up next is SXSW in Austin (music panels are March 12th-15th), and on its heels is MACRoCK April 4th and 5th in Harrisonburg, Virginia. MACRoCK (in its 11th year) is organized by staff of James Madison University's radio station WXJM 88.7 FM and looks like an amazing, grassroots event for the college radio and indie music community. It will feature bands (including Aloha, Elf Power, Antlers and others), panels, workshops, and a label expo and it's a steal at $12-$18 for a weekend pass. According to their website:

"The Mid-Atlantic College Radio Conference (MACRoCk) is the annual celebration of college radio and the independent music community perpetuated by student volunteers at WXJM (the Harrisonburg college radio station) and local residents. MACRoCk aims to create a support network amongst college radio, the independent artists and labels for whom college radio exists, and all other aspects of the independent scene."

From my experience college radio stations can be somewhat insular, so it's always great to hear about events that work to build community between stations. If anyone is going to MACRoCK I'd love to hear some reports, especially about the panels and workshops.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fifty Percent of Teens Not Buying CDs

Research firm The NPD Group issued a press release today with results from their studies of music consumers (thanks to YPulse for the lead on this). They say that people are buying more music, but fewer CDs. One of the most interesting findings is that nearly 50% of U.S. teens did not buy a CD in 2007. If that's not evidence of the imminent demise of CDs, I'm not sure what is. According to NPD:

"...the amount of music that consumers acquired in the U.S. increased by 6 percent in 2007. A sharp increase in legal digital download revenues could not offset declines in CD sales, which resulted in a net 10 percent decline in music spending (from $44 to $40 per capita among Internet users)...

NPD estimates that one million consumers dropped out of the CD buyer market in 2007, a flight led by younger consumers. In fact, 48 percent of U.S. teens did not purchase a single CD in 2007, compared to 38 percent in 2006...

Legal music downloads now account for 10 percent of the music acquired in the US...Apple’s iTunes Music Store became the second-largest music retailer in the U.S. after Wal-Mart, based on the amount of music sold during 2007..."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Indie in India

The discussion of indie spans the globe, as this posting about a conference presentation at Freed.In called "Independent Music Ecosystem" about Indian indie music site RadioVerve attests. This presentation looks at the many definitions of indie and focuses on indie being equated with artists maintaining their copyrights. is dedicated to the open-source movement and their website states that one of the goals of the event this week in New Delhi is "promoting freedom in technology, software and other related fields, and personal privacy." This event also featured a presentation about community radio.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Retro Mix Tape Kit

Oh, the beloved mix tape...and by that I mean the actual cassette mix tapes that we used to spend hours curating (using record players and cassette recorders) for friends, family, and crushes. I just spotted (in Star Magazine of all places) a blurb about the Mix Tape USB Kit, which is retro mix-tape packaging for your modern mp3-filled playlist. You just make your playlist on the USB memory stick and pop it into the box and it looks like an old school tape.

Happy 50th Birthday to WFMU

A piece in the New York Times today profiles the amazing New Jersey free-form radio station WFMU, which used to be a college station before their Lutheran school (Upsala College) went bankrupt. Since 1994 they have been an independent, non-commercial station after WFMU purchased the FCC license from Upsala College. WFMU starts its fundraiser this week and in March will also be doing a 50th anniversary benefit show in Austin at South by Southwest. Their programming is eclectic and well-loved and the station has been named "best station" in the U.S. and New York by a number of publications and surveys.

According to WFMU's website:

"WFMU's programming ranges from Edison Cylinders to Punk Rock to Breakcore and beyond; lots of flat-out uncategorizable strangeness, psychedelia, experimental, obscure 50's-60's blues, R&B, soul, hot-rod music, demonic world music, 78's, 8-tracks, indiepop, schlock-a-billy, exotica, Downtown art music,Radio Improvisation, dopey call-in shows, interviews with obscure radio personalites,interviews with notable science-world luminaries, Spoken Word collages, Gospel, Good Ol' Country Music, and much, much more."

It's amazing to me that WFMU persisted and was able to raise the funds to buy the license from their former campus, especially in light of so many stories about campus radio stations that do not survive financial crises and dwindling support from universities.

SF's Noise Pop Festival This Week

San Francisco's 16th annual Noise Pop Festival happens this week and it includes lots of shows, films, art, merch, and an educational series. One of the things that I've enjoyed over the years are the educational panels at Noise Pop. They are typically a time to hang out with and get tips from musicians and others in the music business. In 2002 there was an epic set of panels about indie music featuring many of my music journalist heroes like Ann Powers. This year's Expo-Educational Session is March 1st and there will be panels and opportunities to chat with artists, college and commercial DJs, club bookers, and label folks.

Chico State University's KCSC on XMU Today

Today on XM satellite radio station XMU's "The Student Exchange Program," (where college radio stations take over the airwaves for a few hours each week) Chico State's Internet-only radio station KCSC was featured. I caught a bit of the program and heard upbeat pop, electronic and some hip-hop flavored tracks, including Go! Team ("Grip like a Vice"), Justice Part 2, Battle Royale, Prints ("Blue Jay"), The Confusions ("The Pilot"), Fischerspooner ("Cloud"), Rivers Cuomo ("Chess"), and Galactic ("...And I'm Out).

KCSC has an interesting and tumultuous history and you can view 2 documentaries about the station from their website. They began in 1951 broadcasting radio dramas over the school's PA system and eventually were voted best college station in a reader poll in Spin magazine in 1987. Over the years they've faced funding crises, periods of student apathy (station going off the air for periods of time), and changes in how they were broadcast (many moves, periods on FM, periods on cable, and now Internet-only).

According to a station documentary from 2005, they did have an FM frequency that they lost in the late 1970s because they couldn't afford it. For some reason it always saddens me to hear about stations losing their FM licenses, although one of the documentaries on their website discusses how liberating it actually is to not be regulated by the FCC and that they have more freedom to play what they want.

P.S. The next college station on "The Student Exchange" will be Radio UTD (an Internet-only station from University of Texas, Dallas) on Sunday, March 1st from 3-5pm CST.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Underground Music Devalued at Colleges?

A piece from today's Columbia Spectator critiques Columbia University's lack of support for underground music, even though the school has impressive facilities and talented students and graduates. The author cites examples including lack of press coverage for the successful alum indie band Vampire Weekend, little support for renovations to their pioneering experimental music program, and limited practice space for bands. The author writes:

"...Columbia’s Electronic Music Center (today, the Computer Music Center) was not only the first of its kind in the country, but a... pioneer in largely experimental music. Many of the pieces created at the EMC debuted on WKCR, the first licensed FM radio station in the country. More recently, music sampled from the center found its way into Radiohead’s Idioteque. Today... the building housing the CMC...suffers from routine heat failures and a desperate need for renovations."

The piece also mentions that free-form campus radio with an emphasis on indie & underground music is off-campus at Barnard's station WBAR-FM (although Columbia does have a well-regarded radio station WKCR-FM).

Too bad about Columbia's situation. Unfortunately I bet this is a widespread problem that universities provide little support for experimental music programs. Are there schools that have an impressive track record as far as fostering underground music?

Community Radio on KPOO, Ozcat, and perhaps People of Progress

A few recent articles on community radio stations highlight the great variety of stations out there with very specific programming philosophies for their local listeners.

KPOO 89.5 FM San Francisco
BeyondChron did a piece on low-power community radio station KPOO 89.5 FM and its recent benefit fundraiser. According to the article, KPOO was "the first Black-owned, noncommercial radio station west of the Mississippi when the low powered frequency kicked off in 1973..." KPOO's website states, "KPOO gives voice to the concerns of low income communities in San Francisco. Founded by Poor People's Radio, Inc., KPOO's ongoing mission has been to open the airwaves to the disenfranchised and underserved." They air a variety of music and public affairs programming and according to their website, "KPOO was the first Bay Area station to play rap, salsa, and reggae music. In 1983 KPOO was the first station on the west coast to broadcast an 'all rap' show. KPOO was also first to air Irish, Palestinian, Filipino, gay, veterans, women's and prisoner rights programming." Impressive, but I always wonder how we can really know which station was the first to air certain songs, bands, and genres of music, as many make similar claims.

Ozcat Radio-1670AM in Vallejo, California
Ozcat Radio is an all volunteer non-profit, non-commercial station playing indie and local artists. They say they are "eclectic and free-form" and that they help support/promote community events and non-profits. They are applying for a non-commercial FM license for a 100 watt station, but currently operate with low power on AM using a "...1-watt legal unlicensed low-power AM antenna..." The station was founded in 2006 by musician David Martin and his wife after their own frustrations about the difficulty of getting Martin's music played on commercial radio. According to their website, "The Martins decided to...create a company where artists would find encouragement, assistance and local radio airplay..."

Redding, California Community Radio in the Pipeline?
A Redding nonprofit People of Progress (which began 30+ years ago as a food co-op) applied for an FM license during the Fall 2007 application window and some folks in the community are optimistic, while others wonder about its evidenced by the comments attached to these articles in the local press.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Music World (College Radio Too) Still a Boys Club

It's pretty sad that in 2008 we're still hearing women who are bashing other women for being less intellectual about music. Jezebel covers the backlash after a female radio big wig described women's reactions to music as emotional vs. men's intellectual take on music. Wow.

A BBC female executive was speaking about programming changes at a radio station when she said, “For women, there tends to be a more emotional reaction to music. Men tend to be more interested in the intellectual side of the music, the tracks, where albums have been made, that sort of thing.” (Quoted from The Times)

Of course this is a huge generalization and being personally involved with scenes full of music fans and intellectuals, I can find counter examples for each of her assertions.

However, as the BBC exec's quote highlights, there is institutionalized sexism in the music industry, in part because women are often in the minority in radio, college radio, and record labels. In the music biz women still don't often hold positions of power.

The "boys club" vibe within the music industry and college radio was covered in Ellen Riordan's PhD dissertation (2000) "Negotiating Commodified Culture: Feminist Responses to College Radio." She provides a lengthy overview of institutionalized sexism in the music industry, including reactions from some female label owners who talk about their struggle to be taken seriously when talking about music on a critical level.

She also covers the Riot Grrrl scene and how female DJs with riot grrrl sensibilities worked to resist sexist practices in the music industry. Summarizing her interviews with female college DJs she writes, "A re-occurring that college radio stations represent a very androcentric or male-centered environment...this was referred to in several interviews as a 'juvenile boy' culture." (Riordan, 235-6).

She points out, however, that not all female DJs consider themselves to be feminist or program their shows with a specifically female or feminist sensibility. Even those who do maintain feminist leanings aren't often willing to make those known. She argues that, "...several women interviewed who produce explicitly feminist shows did not identify their shows accordingly because they thought it would be too political and cause a reaction from some people at the stations." (Riordan, 262).

I'd have to agree. Based on my college radio experience, resistance among women (and other station minorities) is often subversive, versus explicit. I consider myself a feminist and that informs the way I program my radio show in a subtle way, but it isn't necessarily obvious to listeners or station staff.

The author, like many of the female radio scholars I've encountered (perhaps I'll cover some of them in future posts), was also heavily involved with the radio scene and even now as a professor at University of St. Thomas (Minnesota), she's the advisor to the campus cablecast radio station KUST. It's inspiring to me to find radio scholars who are also radio participants, especially in college radio.

College Radio Benefits this Week include Kucinich and Sean Penn Supporting Metal

It's not new news that college radio stations struggle with funding and according to a piece in the Daily Beacon, Knoxville, Tennessee's WUTK 90.3 FM actually receives no financial support from University of Tennessee (how does that happen?). They are holding a series of benefit concerts, including one this week. According to the Daily Beacon article:

"UT’s student-run radio station WUTK kicks off its second concert Saturday in its attempt to become more 'radio active' with the Knoxville community. Knoxville bands Ganasita, Llama Train and Big Deuce will be rocking out the World Grotto...The 'Radio Active' concert series allows local listeners of WUTK to help support the station, which is not funded by the university."

Another college radio station (Ohio's WJCU-FM at John Carroll University) benefit this week got a bit of buzz when Sean Penn and Dennis Kucinich dropped by and even introduced the metal band Ringworm playing the concert. That's the first time that I've heard of a politician publicly supporting college radio. The Cleveland Free Times piece quotes a station staffer:

"'Dennis was out campaigning and saw the listing in the paper for our WJCU benefit and wanted to stop out and support college radio. I talked to him and he was pretty up on the college radio scene here in Cleveland,' says concert organizer Bill Peters, longtime host of WJCU's Friday evening Metal on Metal show. 'I asked [Kucinich and Penn] if they would go on stage and introduce Ringworm and they said sure.'"

Radio Columnists a Dying Breed in Print Journalism

The Infinite Dial's Sean Ross did a piece this week about how radio news is rarely covered in the media these days. He praises the radio columnists that still exist (like Robert Feder of the Chicago Sun-Times), but worries about a time when radio will not be covered at all. He writes:

" was gratifying during the '90s to see daily newspaper coverage of radio proliferate in many markets. Much of the coverage, of course, was frustrating -- people who clearly didn't like radio in the first place and were now determined to make PDs pay for their failure to play enough (insert name of obscure critical favorite here). But the increased coverage also reinforced the notion of radio as a major medium and if broadcasters didn't take sufficient advantage of it, you can't blame the messenger. So with newspapers, facing their own financial travails, continue to thin their workforces, you have to wonder what's going to happen to media coverage, and radio in particular. Writers who cover radio as a beat -- even the avenging angel rock critics -- generally have a better, more informed take on the industry."

Ben Fong-Torres writes about radio every other week in his San Francisco Chronicle column Radio Waves, which is great to see...but what I miss is more than a passing mention of non-commercial stations, in particular college stations. When Brad Kava was with the San Jose Mercury News he actually wrote profiles of college radio DJs in the San Francisco Bay Area, which was nice recognition that talented, long-time successful DJs aren't necessarily on commercial stations. I haven't read the San Jose Mercury in awhile and just learned that Brad Kava's radio column and blog is no longer there (as of 2007). He's now got his own radio blog Kava's Radio Soup and in his inaugural post in July 2007 he explains the plight of dying radio coverage in print:

"You can no longer get radio news from a boring grey newspaper. Now, you have to get the scoop from Kava's radio soup. Glad you found it. This will be a place to read news, opinions and comments from radio listeners and station staffs, all unfiltered through the dull, lifeless and characterless editors that made you stop reading newspapers in the first place."

Ouch. But true. Many of the intriguing bits that I've been finding about radio lately have been online, granted that's mainly because I'm accessing coverage from around the world, from websites, from blogs, and from smaller local and college papers.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Students Vote to End Fees in Support of College Radio Station CKMS

In response to a recent election in which students at the University of Waterloo in Canada voted to end automatic funding of radio station CKMS through student fees ($5.50 per term), Macleans OnCampus published this opinion piece about the declining importance of college radio to college students. According to the author of "Who Killed the (Campus) Radio Star?":

"Frankly, the FM band is pretty much a dead medium for the typical university student. Personally, I have a wind-up radio for emergencies and that’s all - even then, I will be on the AM dial. I get my radio over the tubes. (Right now, I am listening to WNYC - the NPR station in New York City) I can’t even think of the last time I used FM. In short, the university radio station is no longer fulfilling its purpose - its not reaching students. This cannot really change. In the 80’s there was no choice, one could not get more than a half dozen stations decently in a urban area, maybe one could get a dozen - but one was limited. Today, I can get anything, anytime, from anywhere. If I want an intellectual discussion, I go to the internet. If I want indy music - again, the internet."

These are valid points about how students use radio, but I'm a bit frightened by the following comment that those using radio should pay for it. The author writes:

"If there really is a demand from the community at large for the service, the users should pay, not all students. Instead of fighting against the will of students, campus radio stations should look at the National Public Radio model for their future."

I hope we're not moving towards a system where we need to pay for all forms of media. Additionally, all of us are members of organizations (colleges included) where we pay fees to support a variety of services and activities even if we aren't personally involved or invested and I think that's OK. Most colleges provide financial support to their campus radio stations, but this money may not be directly apparent in the breakdown of student fees. I wonder why this station's funding was linked to a specific student fee? I don't believe college radio should evolve into a National Public Radio model as there's something very special about the local and eclectic nature of independent college radio stations.

For a little more background on the situation at this station see this piece on Indyish, which includes a press release about the referendum. Also, according to the college's election website, the turnout for this vote was less than 13%, so it is clear that many students didn't care about the station or the election.

My experience with college radio is in the U.S., so it was interesting to read that in Canada campus radio station licenses are not held by the university housing the station. According to the CKMS website:

"Radio Waterloo, Inc. is the corporation that holds the licence for CKMS-FM. It is a requirement of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that the licence for a campus radio station is held by a corporation separate from the associated university and student union, and that the board of directors of this corporation meet certain requirements for its membership and structure."

Assorted indie music news items

A few items of interest in the news today related to indie music. Indie record label TVT is filing for bankruptcy (New York Times), indie-focused digital distribution organization IODA (Independent Online Distribution Alliance) announces they will sponsor party at SXSW featuring a number of independent artists in March ( their record insert logo!), a new indie electronic music portal and social networking site called Electrogarden Network that features blogs, online radio stations, charts and video focused on industrial, gothic and electronic music officially launched, and Spacelab reports on the Forrester Research study-"The End of the Music Industry as We Know It" that predicts that digital downloads will overtake CD sales in the next few years.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Radio's Lowly Position in Bedroom Project Study

A presentation during Radio Active: The Canadian Radio Conference (part of Canada's upcoming Music Week in March) will discuss the Bedroom Project, an ethnographic study of the media habits of young people (17-28 years old) conducted by Arbitron. According to the executive summary of the study,

"Radio is often relegated to a secondary media choice, and an alarming number of Bedroomers do not have (or rarely use) an AM/FM radio in their homes. In some of the interviews, radio is a nonfactor until the required trip to the car. For those who don’t have a radio in their primary dwelling, its role in their overall media/entertainment scheme is minimal. For everyone else, there is typically more enthusiasm about other entertainment choices and newer technologies. Radio’s lack of CVC (control, variety, and choice), combined with perceptions of excessive commercials and being 'old school'—often drops its status among other media. As noted, most of the meaningful radio discussions in these interviews occurred when we visited the respondents’ vehicles. To that end, radio’s traditional listening locations are being threatened by new devices. Portability has been usurped by personal MP3 players, in-home radio listenership is overshadowed by myriad gadgets, and even in-car listening is being challenged by current and future MP3 connectivity."

The Bedroom Project website is also hosting some video clips from the interviews with teens and young adults from L.A. and Columbus, Ohio discussing the role that radio plays in their lives. One respondent actually mentions how much she loves radio and likes the fact that she can select stations based on her mood.

Based on the report and clips, it should be an intriguing, yet depressing presentation for the commercial radio audience at this conference! On Arbitron's website you can access additional free reports about radio, including format trends and trends in listenership by age.

Exploring Indie's Definition

A piece posted today on Blogcritics, "Indie Music: The Undefinable Term" by Seraphina Lotkhamnga, explores the term "indie" and its many contested definitions. This is a topic close to my heart, and in fact my interest in interrogating the controversies and nuances of indie in relation to music and college radio was the main impetus behind starting Spinning Indie. Seraphina (who also writes the blog Top Eights) does a good job of highlighting the many different ways that people look at indie--from the aesthetic (sounds like...) to the economic (independent of corporate control) to the cultural (indie lifestyle). She begins her essay with an example from radio:

"Today, it’s not surprising to have a person in their twenties and on down tell you, 'Oh. Well, I don’t listen to anything on the radio.' Usually when someone says this, you can assume that this person listens to mostly indie music. 'Indie,' the short term for its original term 'independent' in reference to record labels, is what you listen to if you’re a cool hipster these days."

As this example points out, most people assume that there is nothing indie on the radio anymore and that fans of indie music aren't radio listeners. It's true that many teens and young adults (and people in general) have turned away from radio, but it's unfortunate that they are missing out on opportunities to hear both indie music and indie voices on non-commercial and college radio stations.

Wired's Piece on Why Radio Sucks

Thanks to Future of Music Coalition for blogging about a piece in Wired about Why Radio Sucks. The usual culprits are mentioned (big business, shorter playlists) and the article also points out that radio listenership is down among young people:

"Listenership among 18- to 24-year-olds is down 20 percent over the past decade. Stations have responded not with bold programming but by cutting costs. They've also expended considerable resources to squelch competition from low-powered FM stations and Internet radio. Not that it has helped — 85 percent of teenagers now discover new music through sources beyond the FM dial."

I agree that most radio sucks, but like FMC, I still maintain hope that radio still has some sources of excitement, energy and creativity, whether from college stations or non-commercial community stations.

Future of Music Coalition's Series on Community Radio Applicants

The Future of Music Coalition (FMC) is an amazing organization and their website is full of great information about radio. They are supporters of non-profit, non-commercial radio and worked with other organizations (including the low-power FM advocacy group Prometheus Radio Project) on Radio for People to encourage cultural and arts groups to apply for FCC radio licenses last fall. In January they began a series of blog postings about the flurry of full-power non-commercial FM license applications in October (according to FMC, the FCC hadn't accepted new non-commercial FM license applications since prior to 2000) and provide a good overview of the whole process. According to the post:

"The FCC accepted roughly 3,200 applications from October 12-22, according to Public Radio Capital. Nearly 40 percent of those applications came from community and public radio groups, according to a statistical sampling analysis performed by PRC. The rest came from religious groups, including those Christian broadcasters that already operate large networks of stations all over the country and are eager to acquire even more. Last fall, the FCC decided to accept a maximum of just ten applications from each applicant; if the cap hadn’t been put in place, religious megacasters would have no doubt kept submitting. (At least 49 groups whose name includes 'Calvary Chapel' filed during the window.)

FMC has profiled several stations who have applied for licenses, including
the North Fork Angling Society in Colorado and the Hare Krishna community of New Vrindaban in West Virginia and will continue to highlight radio station applicants on their blog. They also include a link to the complete list of organizations that applied for FM licenses in Fall's nice to see that there are some colleges/universities on the list.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pitchfork's Penchant for Indie

Interesting blog post about this academic project Pitchformula in which the author did a bunch of data crunching on Pitchfork music reviews and found that indeed music critics on Pitchfork had a penchant for lo-fi indie music. It's not new news (the project came out in 2004)...but just got on my radar. You can also use a special tool Pitchfilter when scanning reviews on the Pitchfork website and it will highlight particular words in reviews that generally indicate a positive or negative review. I wonder if Pitchfork reviewers are more self-conscious about the way that they write reviews in the years following Pitchformula's press?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Radio Shows as Mix Tapes

5 of 9er posted one of his KPSU (Portland State) college radio show playlists from 1996. I love it! The DJ said that he often used tapes of his radio show like mix tapes, giving them to friends. I remember doing the same thing, and even programming entire radio shows with someone in mind (yeah, usually someone who I had a crush on) and giving them a copy of the tape later, with a nicely decorated cover. I've also done radio shows with secret messages and meanings buried in the song titles for those who pay attention to the playlists. Every week I find that crafting a radio show can be cathartic or joyous, depending upon my emotional state. Creating the right mix has helped me get through the stress of school exams (I played all compilations when I was studying for "comps" aka comprehensive exams in grad school), deal with the grief from losing a friend (I devoted a show to her featuring bands from a music series she curated), and diffuse the anger over job loss (I have had several lay-off themed shows). But I also use radio playlists in happy times, choosing songs to celebrate meeting the right guy, finding a cool job, seeing an amazing show, or just having a great day.

A Tale of Two Stations at Notre Dame (and Bowling Green) and Not Enough Radios

It's true that at many college stations the typical listener may not be a college student. I know that listeners for my college radio shows have been eclectic--ranging from teenagers to senior citizens to record store employees to prisoners. So, it's not really a surprise that Notre Dame is having trouble attracting student listeners to its classical station WSND 88.9FM. In an attempt to gain more listeners they've broadened their playlist to include "college rock" music, but acknowledge that one of the big problems may just be that students don't own radios anymore. Wow...not only does college radio have to compete with commercial radio, iPods, and the Internet for listeners, but it also has to contend with the fact that radios themselves are disappearing from our landscape. According to The Observer article, " of the major obstacles the station faces is the sheer lack of radios on campus." Is this true, that college students don't own radios anymore?

Notre Dame has 2 college radio stations and the WSND website provides a nice history of the radio stations on campus, describing periods when stations operated on carrier current, AM and FM. When my husband was in college he had a show on the then-AM station WVFI (formerly WSND-AM) at Notre Dame, which since 2000 has been an Internet-only station. They claim to be Notre Dame's only student-run radio station and their format is primarily indie label college rock.

In contrast to WVFI, WSND has long-time staff members and includes members of the community in addition to students. According to the website, "WSND is a fine arts and educational station owned by the University of Notre Dame and operated by students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College, as well as volunteers from the surrounding communities." Staff at WSND do include students, including the current Station Manager and Music Director, so I'm confused about why WVFI is student-run and WSND isn't. I'm also curious to learn more about the two stations and how their cultures differ from each other.

When I was at WBGU-FM in Bowling Green there was also an AM commercial station on campus WFAL. When I was there (1995-1997), my perception was that the station DJs and staffs were VERY different, with the AM station attracting pre-professional telecommunications students and the FM station attracting music fans (students and volunteers from the community--some of whom are still there today). Is this still the case at WBGU and WFAL? And, do many schools have multiple stations? How do the stations work to differentiate themselves? I can see that WBGU is actually simulcasting some WFAL shows, so it looks like the stations are working more closely than when I was there in the 1990s.

Notre Dame Historical Note: WVFI alums include musician Ted Leo (DJ and Music Director) and Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis (Sports Broadcaster).

BG Historical Note: I just read that WFAL started as a pirate radio station in 1970. Very interesting, considering that they were seen as less indie/underground than the other campus station WBGU when I was at Bowling Green.

Punk Houses Profiled in Coffee Table Book

A piece in the San Francisco Chronicle today reviews the coffee table book Punk House: Interiors in Anarchy, which documents punk houses from across the country.

From the article: "So what, exactly, defines a punk house? Mostly, it's a space where the residents, usually in their 20s, live cheaply and maintain alternative lifestyles...Many punk houses host underground art and rock shows, often bringing in cutting-edge bands from across the country. They're places where Dumpster divers, hitchhikers, train-hoppers, radio pirates and skinny-dippers congregate."

I think I've only been to one "punk house" and it was to see a Thinking Fellers show in Michigan. We all crammed into the basement to see the band play and I was elated as I was a huge fan. When I was living in small town Ohio, shows weren't always in standard bar/club venues because there weren't as many options. So, I'd go see indie bands play in sports bars (Modest Mouse), living rooms, basements, dorm lounges, coffee houses and halls for fraternal organizations (was it the Elks Lodge, VFW or AMVET in Bowling Green where I saw a punk show?).

What shows have you seen at punk houses or at atypical music venues?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

XMU Student Exchange Playlist from KSLU

A DJ from KSLU (St. Louis University) posted her playlist which was featured on XMU's "Student Exchange" program February 3, 2008 so that those of us not tuning in can get a glimpse of what the show is like. She started with Tortoise & Bonnie Prince Billy and also included Animal Collective, Angels of Light, John Vanderslice, Beirut, and others.

Her blog also works as a companion to her radio show "Kite Flyin' with Shoestrings," in case you want to see a bit more about a DJ at one college station.

I still haven't seen information about which college station was featured on XMU February 10th--anyone know? I'd also love to see more "Student Exchange" playlists if anyone has them.

Related post: KSLU on XMU's Student Exchange

Monday, February 11, 2008

Utah Community Radio Station To Replace some Volunteers with Paid DJs to Increase Listenership and Preserve Funding from CPB

An article from yesterday's Salt Lake City Tribune points out why the acceptance of funding from corporations like Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) can come with a high price. Utah community radio station KRCL 90.9 FM gets huge grants/financial benefits from CPB, but in exchange they expect that the station will work hard to increase their listenership. In this case, this means pressure from CPB to cut volunteer DJs, change the music format (to possibly adult album alternative or AAA) and hire paid DJs in order to attract more listeners (donors?).

From the article:

"...Salt Lake City community-radio station KRCL (90.9 FM)... announced last month it will streamline its eclectic weekday music programming by replacing 18 volunteer on-air hosts with three paid disc jockeys."

"Managers say the changes were prompted by a letter KRCL received two years ago from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the largest single source of funding for public radio and TV. The letter warned that the CPB's annual grant to KRCL - about one-eighth of the station's $850,000 operating budget - would be in jeopardy unless KRCL increased its sagging listenership."

This pressure from "public" funding sources happens at college radio stations as well and it's a shame that in order to maintain a high level of financial support a station must scrap volunteers and spend money to pay DJs. I didn't realize that companies like CPB also provided administrative support to stations in respect to music licensing. The article states that,

"...the CPB also negotiates complex music-licensing agreements for KRCL - an invaluable service for a noncommercial station with seven full-time staffers... So last year the station applied for and received an additional $195,000 grant from the CPB. Under the conditions of the grant, KRCL agreed to hire the three DJs, including a music director."

Staff and fans of the station are distressed by these developments, yet the station claims that it will still retain its independent mission. "'The reports of our corporate takeover have been greatly exaggerated,'" said Troy Williams, producer of 'RadioActive.' 'KRCL is absolutely going to remain independent and commercial-free. We're still dedicated to the core progressive values that have always defined the station.'"

According to their website, "The purpose of KRCL is to provide media exposure for music, ideas and viewpoints that are under-represented in mainstream commercial media. KRCL airs 56 different music programs and 27 public affairs programs each week." I wonder how this lineup changes with the firing of the volunteer DJs? We'll see in a few months.
The station posted a letter to listeners explaining the changes and promises that volunteers will still be a vital part of KRCL. I'm sure there will be some tension there in the coming months!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Vermont College May Sell off Its Commercial Station

The difficulties being faced by college radio stations today are demonstrated by this sad story from Vermont. Commercial station WBTN 1370 AM in Bennington, Vermont was donated to Southern Vermont College in 2002 and has been losing money ever since ($75,000-$100,000 a year). The school is concerned about the economic drain of the station and is considering selling off the station or eventually turning it into a non-profit community station.

According to an article in the Bennington Banner today, "It could be sold or leased to a community group or business; the college could sell a majority of its interest; or the college could hold the station's license for a year, under FCC regulations, and reopen the station as a non-profit on campus..."

A college trustee said, "'The college must focus on its main mission and must concentrate its efforts and resources on educating students with exciting new academic initiatives,' ... 'Unfortunately, we cannot continue to subsidize a commercial radio station.'"

Let's hope that the school realizes how vital a resource a campus radio station can be and decides to allow the station to go non-commercial. Perhaps they could also help the station out by giving them a modest annual budget and providing fundraising assistance too.

Support Your Local Record Store! Celebrate National Record Store Day April 19th

Mark your calendars for April 19th, when that vital indie music institution of the record store will be celebrated nationwide on Record Store Day. (Thanks to Tiny Mix Tapes for the heads up on this). Of course locally-run record stores inhabit the same underground network that includes college radio stations, indie record labels, and small music venues, so this is a project worth supporting.

According to the event website: "On this day, all of these stores will simultaneously link and act as one with the purpose of celebrating the culture and unique place that they occupy both in their local communities and nationally."

I think it's really important to shop locally and am a huge fan of independent record stores. I have fond memories of picking up gems in some of my favorite stores over the years--like Plastic Fantastic and the Mad Platter (Mads?) near Philly, Madhatter in Bowling Green, Ohio (RIP) and Aquarius, Streetlight, Record Finder (RIP), Grooves and Amoeba in the San Francisco Bay Area. Think Indie is one record store consortium that promotes buying at small independent retailers and their website has an extensive list of stores all over the U.S.

In semi-related news, here's another piece about the resurgence of vinyl records. "Digital Backlash Drives Vinyl Revival" covers the trend in the context of the 20th annual Eugene Record Convention.

Friday, February 8, 2008

New NYC commercial Radio Station Claims to Allow DJs some Programming Freedom

Kind of crazy...there's a new commercial rock radio station in NYC as of February 5th that says that DJs may actually have a say in programming decisions. According to the press release about 101.9 WRXP, "The New York Rock Experience":

"'On-air personalities will play a direct part in choosing the music,' announced...Program Director Blake Lawrence. 'It's unheard of in radio these days, but 101.9 RXP is about the music and not so much the music business--we're merging rock styles and generations into a singular community that we call The New York Rock Experience.'"

Now, I'm not entirely sure how a commercial radio station can say it isn't about the "music business," but it's a noble effort. They say that they came up with this new hybrid format (which doesn't sound very radical) after extensive research. I guess it's reassuring that radio stations are finally starting to think about broadening their playlists, even if it's still fairly conservative. What's potentially different is their claim that it's a "unique & custom radio station," especially since so many stations across the country utilize the same exact formats, meaning that the majority of radio stations sound the same.

They plan to feature rock music from different eras including Velvet Underground (the first song played when the station premiered was Lou Reed/Velvet Underground), The Who, Nirvana, R.E.M., Oasis, and Bruce Springsteen in addition to music by local NY artists (Nada Surf, White Rabbits, Santogold). It will be very interesting to see how listeners react and if, indeed, DJs have much control over what they play. Here's The Infinite Dial's commentary on the first few hours of programming, including the playlist. Earbender also has a 45 minute sample that you can tune in to. Nice mix of music for commercial radio, although still fairly mainstream.

KSLU on XMU's "Student Exchange"

Here's another article about the satellite radio show "The Student Exchange" on XMU (the show that highlights different college radio stations each week). Discussing last week's show featuring KSLU, this piece explains that the KSLU Music Director selected their playlist and pre-recorded the show on campus. I wonder if this is the case every week, where one DJ is the voice of the participating station? I'd still love to see some of the playlists from this program and hear insight from featured stations. I'm also waiting to hear which station will be on XMU this coming Sunday...

According to the article:

"KSLU will reach a national audience when XM Radio features Musical Director Christine Sanley on XMU's 'The Student Exchange Program,'...KSLU's Station Manager Kyle Lewis said that SLU's student-run station was selected personally by the brass at the network: 'They contacted us … They select a few [stations] that they think are of good quality to feature on XM.' Lewis said that Sanley was an obvious choice to serve as the program's DJ...The program was prerecorded in KSLU's fledgling production studio, and Sanley believes that it will entertain students across the nation. 'I worked really hard on the playlist to make sure that it kicked ass,' she said. 'It's two hours of awesomeness.'"

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Should College Radio Stations be Accessible or Subcultural Spaces?

I've been a DJ at several college radio stations and at each school it seemed that the majority of students were completely unaware of the existence of the campus radio station. Often college radio stations cater to students who have more obscure tastes in music and their staffs typically mirror that. In fact, I think it's a huge benefit that at many schools the college radio station is an oasis for kids who may feel like they don't fit in with the general campus scene. This was definitely the case when I was at Bowling Green State's radio station WBGU in rural Ohio. I'd come from a big city where it was relatively easy to find like-minded music fans, but in small towns in middle America it can be more of a challenge. WBGU was a place where many of the indie rock fans, punk and emo kids, local band members, and other folks with non-mainstream music tastes connected, thereby building an amazing subcultural community in a very conservative town.

An article today from the University of North Carolina's student paper discusses the sense of disconnect that some college students feel from their school's radio station, WXYC-FM. In this instance, a student body presidential candidate (who also happens to be a major label campus rep) actually initiated a meeting with her campus station in order to discuss making the station more accessible to students. I'll be curious to see how this story plays out and hope that it doesn't mean that current staff and fans of the station will become displaced or disenfranchised.

From the article:

"UNC student body presidential candidate Kristin Hill said WXYC has 'kind of lost touch with student interests.' Her campaign platform includes plans to work with the station to help it cater to more students, especially by working with other student organizations...Hill also is a student representative for WEA, the parent company of Warner Bros. Records. But she said her affiliation with the label has nothing to do with her interest in helping to make changes with WXYC...And Hill said she doesn't see this as a conflict of interest; she is open to the possibility of collaboration between WEA and WXYC. 'Whatever we can do at Warner without overstepping boundaries of what WXYC can do - we can collaborate that way.' Regardless of her motivations, Hill said the station should be more accessible and sees future changes at the station as an important step."

P.S. Cool historical notes: Rick Dees is a station alum (back when it was carrier current WCAR) and in November 1994, WXYC started broadcasting online, making it the "first radio station in the world to offer a live Internet simulcast of an off-air signal."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

True College Radio Dying Off?

An article in the student newspaper at University of Maryland, profiling the campus radio station's new General Manager raises some great points about the state of college radio and how it is threatened by various factors related to funding, control, outside regulations, and formatting decisions. The GM at WMUC argues that their station is one of the few remaining student-run freeform stations in the area and in the country and elucidates nicely why student radio and freeform programming are great alternatives to mainstream, corporate radio and its narrow playlists.

According to the GM at WMUC:

"One of the things that makes us different, especially in, you know, the D.C.-Baltimore-Virginia area is that we're one of the last true college radio stations left. And by true college radio station, I mean we're broadcast over FM, we're totally student-run, and we're free-format. We don't tell our DJs what to play. We give them a block of time and say 'Hey, this is your time; do what you want, and show us what you got.' And there's very few of those left in the country, period."

He goes on to argue that many universities have actually sold off their stations, made them commercial, or turned them into public radio affiliates. At WMUC he's trying to champion the indie-minded college station, with the students running the show and loose formatting rules. He also mentions that some stations who've lost their FM license transition to online-only stations, but that has its pitfalls as it doesn't carry the same cache.

He also points out that the station's mission is to be an alternative to "bland modern radio," saying:

"...Especially because of media consolidation, you can listen to radio stations in different cities that are all playing the same playlists over and over and over because they're all owned by the same conglomerates. I think people are starting to turn to stations like us for something different, for something that they didn't hear on bland modern radio. Over the last past decade or so, there's been this new appreciation for the culture of college radio, sort of an anything-goes kind of atmosphere. While we are trying to fulfill our educational mission, we do want to remain free-form because that's an important part of our mission."

This is what I love about college radio and what I also why I believe that it's an increasingly important bastion for independent programming.

P.S. I just read on WMUC's website that the station's been around since 1937 and that Connie Chung is a station's always fun reading station histories....

No surprise-Grammys not that Indie

With the Grammys coming up this Sunday, an LA Times blog piece "Can the Grammys get indie?" just bubbled back up to the surface, pointing out that the Grammys are missing an opportunity to showcase independent artists. The music biz awards show continues to emphasize major label fare, whereas film awards do actually pay attention to the independents. Todd Martens writes, "...the Grammys will only look like a relic from another era if they continue to deny that independent artists are making a bigger impact on the marketplace." He continues, "The Grammys... are still sticking to conservative (top-selling) choices. But as today's superstar artists sell less and less, Grammy omissions will only become more glaring."

A few indie notes: The Shins (on Sub Pop) are nominated for best alternative album (and are probably the only band in that category on an indie label, albeit one with a relationship with the major Warner) and Grammy-nominated Feist (including Best New Artist) just won the 2007 Shortlist Music Prize honoring lesser known artists (whose albums haven't gone "gold" as of the nomination date), even though they are on major label Interscope's "emerging artists" sub-label of Cherry Tree Records. It's always fascinating to unpeel the layers of who's new, who's indie, and how that gets categorized by the industry and music fans.