Tuesday, September 30, 2008

CMJ Preview and Pontification

The CMJ New Music Marathon is rapidly approaching (October 21-25 in NYC) and the list of bands performing over the course of the week keeps growing and growing. In the piece "Madison Bands Invade New York City," for Dane101, The Collaborative Blog for Madison, Wisconsin, Jesse Russell outlines some of the local Madison bands that are performing during the CMJ fest.

In the post Jesse also includes a critique of the music biz, discussing CMJ's tier system for college radio and the associated record label pressures. According to the piece:

"...CMJ's rating system is somewhat controversial in college rock circles due to the station hierarchy. The publication has a six-tier weighting system that puts more value on certain college radio stations than others. If your station falls into one of the top three tiers it is considered a 'core station' where the charts have more value and inasmuch it is guaranteed to receive nearly every single release promoters send out. If a station falls into one of the bottom three tiers the music directors can expect to beg for service from the less scrupulous promoters."

It never occured to me that stations with lower "status" might actually be more tempted to strike deals with labels in order to get sent promo copies of releases. Jesse goes on to relay an anecdote about his experience as a college radio music director:

"As the former music director of a level three college radio station I would rarely get the same type of pressure that the lower level stations would receive. The extent of pressure on me was when none of the DJs at my station were playing the new Nine Inch Nails album, so therefore it wasn't charting, and the promoter threatened to not send us the new Weezer album if we didn't start charting it. Instead of giving in to such a ridiculous threat I instead instituted a station boycott of Interscope records for the remainder of my term as music director and stopped taking calls from that promoter. My experience was small potatoes compared to the favors and trades lower level tier music directors had to dish out and often those favors were called in at the CMJ Music Marathon which could also be considered college radio's payola-a-thon."

I definitely overheard pressure-filled phone calls like the one relayed above in the 1990s. What do you think, is this kind of pressure and system of favors and rewards as rampant today as in the past?

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 3 - UMass Dartmouth's WUMD

This is the third installment of my series of excerpts from the QRD "Radio Special" issue full of interviews with college radio music directors. Thanks again to Silber Records head honcho and QRD founder Brian John Mitchell for allowing me to share his excellent interviews. My interview with Brian goes into detail about his process for selecting stations and about his connection with college radio.

This week, I'm presenting a bit of Brian's interview with the Music Director of WUMD-FM from University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. According to WUMD's website:

"WUMD Radio is a public service of UMASS Dartmouth and has been bringing listeners a world of music and information for over 25 years. WUMD is a non-commercial student organization serving the campus and community with in-depth public affairs programming, and an endless variety of musical alternatives."

MD Geary Kaczorowski is a radio veteran, having been involved since the 1970s. He chats about the station format, digitization, vinyl, DJ automation, and specialty programming. According to the interview:

QRD – How much control do you let individual DJs have over what they play & how do they deal with requests?

Geary – Our DJs have complete control over their shows. We don’t tell them what to play at all.

QRD – What’s the importance of specialty shows at your station?

Geary – Very important. They bring in a huge audience.

QRD – With your experience in radio, are you jaded or hopeful for the music industry?

Geary – I have been in the music industry since the late 70’s so I’m completely jaded about it.

QRD – What are the best & worst parts of your job?

Geary – Worst part: dealing with the childish nature & irresponsibleness of the DJs. Best part: the music.

QRD – I imagine a lot of the younger generation of DJs pretty much exclusively use MP3s over CDs (much less vinyl). How do you feel about the situation?

Geary – I’m all for it. But I still love spinning vinyl. Our station has a very extensive vinyl & CD collection.

QRD – How do you feel about automation for overnight or unfilled DJ slots? What program do you use for automation & how does it decide what to play?

Geary – We use automation for all open slots. Our automation programmer has done a great job with placing very interesting songs into the rotation. It’s set at random with IDs, PSAs & promos slotted in at the appropriate moments. I think we’re using I-Tunes for our automation.

You can read the complete interview with Geary over on QRD. Next Tuesday, October 7th, 2008 I'll write about QRD's interview with the MD from University of Georgia station WUOG.

Previous QRD MD Interviews:

Interview with Brian of Silber Records about QRD Radio Music Director Issue

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 1 - Wesleyan's WESU

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 2 - McGill's CKUT

Monday, September 29, 2008

FCC Fear Creating Blander College Radio?

I've heard rumors over the years about groups that have taken a strong interest in acquiring new radio frequencies and will go to any means necessary in order to bump existing stations off the air. I've been at stations where there's been fear that there are people out there who are specifically listening to college radio in order to catch a station airing FCC violations. According to lore, these groups will then report stations to the FCC in the hopes that they will ultimately be fined and shut down, providing an opportunity for said group to steal the college station's FM frequency.

I'm not sure if this ever happens, but there's an interesting opinion piece in the University of Dayton student newspaper Flyer News that addresses this topic. A former DJ at WUDR (FlyerRadio), writes about his displeasure over programming changes at the station that he believes were prompted by FCC fears. In "Flyer Radio Has Lost What It Means To Be College Station" he writes:

"I Am A Former Show Host At The Radio Station On Artstreet...I Had My Own Supply Of Records, Cds And Ruckus Downloads To Choose From And Play At Will. It Was A Beautiful Job For A Music Lover Like Me.

Sadly, This Can No Longer Be The Case. Outside Pressures Have Been Trying To Take One Of Our Frequencies By Any Means Necessary, Calling 'foul' Toward Anything Potentially Inappropriate To The Fcc. To Correct This, The Station Has Effectively Removed The Personal And Eclectic Tastes Of Music That One Tends To Expect From A College Radio Station. They Have Asked That The Radio Personalities To Choose What They Play From A Pre-determined Play List, Compiled Of Rock, Pop, And Rap Music (which Were The Top Three Genres Chosen In A Recent Survey). I Know For A Fact That My Show Could Never Fit Inside The Bounds Of Rock, Pop And Rap Music, No Matter How Broad Or Generalized Those Genres Could Become. Trust Me, Moving From Dijerido's And Gregorian Chants And Romanian Techno To "soulja Boy" And "i Kissed Something" And "i'm So Rich, Buy My Album" Music..."

The author goes on to argue that the programming changes have led to a much blander radio station that veers away from its essential "college radio" roots. It's hard to know what precipitated these changes, other than a student survey. According to the WUDR website:

"We are currently reformatting our station's music play list, but expect to hear everything you love! We'll bring you all the greats from the top pop, rock, and hip hop/R&B artists!"

Not everyone is opposed to this format change and you can read another student opinion piece in support of the station's decision to narrow their playlist.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

BlazeRadio Playlist from Today's XMU "Student Exchange Program"

Today college radio station WBLZ (aka BlazeRadio) from University of Alabama-Birmingham made its first appearance on satellite radio station XMU. For their stint on the "Student Exchange Program," the Internet-only station dusted off both new hits (Fleet Foxes, Raconteurs) and college radio classics like Dinosaur Jr., Fugazi, Joy Division, Pavement, The Pixies and Sonic Youth. Kudos to them for mixing things up a bit with the old and the new.

According to an article in University of Alabama student newspaper, The Kaleidoscope, the General Manager of BlazeRadio caught a bit of "the Student Exchange Program" one day and then decided to contact them about being on the show. Within a few months, BlazeRadio got their wish, so it certainly sounds like interested stations should contact XMU. You could be next!

BlazeRadio hopes that their satellite radio debut might help to increase student interest and involvement in the station. The article states,

"Raising campus awareness about Blazeradio has been no easy task in the past. The station has previously seen a decline in staff, due to lack of interest in volunteer positions, until now.

'We’re currently working on filling the DJ schedule, and this has been going great. We hope that with our new advertising campaign, the upcoming XMU broadcast and increasing working relationships with all groups on campus, we can increase our listenership and bring Blazeradio into the spotlight as one of the best college Internet radio stations in the nation,' [General Manager Lonnie] Goldberg said."

Coming up next Sunday, October 5, 2008 (1pm Pacific/4pm Eastern on XMU channel 43) is another new station for XMU: Villanova University's WXVU-FM.

Blaze Radio (University of Alabama-Birmingham)
"Student Exchange Program" Playlist

The White Stripes - The Hardest Button To Button – Elephant
Dinosaur Jr. – Been There All The Time – Beyond
Sonic Youth – Kool Thing – Goo
LCD Soundsystem – Tribulations – LCD Soundsystem

Civet – Pay Up – Hell Hath No Fury
The Pixies – Head On – Trompe le Monde
My Morning Jacket – Anytime – Okonokos
The Chemical Brothers – In Began In Afrika – Come With Us
Fugazi – Cashout – The Argument

Be Your Own Pet – The Kelly Affair – Get Awkward
Bif Naked – Nothing Else Matters – Superbeautifulmonster
Brazilian Girls – Jique – Talk To la Bomb
Damone – Out Here All Night – Out Here All Night

Joy Division – No Love Lost – Substance
Pavement – Conduit For Sale! – Slanted And Enchanted
Fleet Foxes – Blue Ridge Mountains – Fleet Foxes
Girl In A Coma – In The Background – Both Before I’m Gone

The Raconteurs – Many Shades Of Black – Consolers Of The Lonely
Kerli – Love Is Dead – Love Is Dead
Elbow – Red – Asleep In The Back

The Rolling Stones – Paint It, Black – Live Licks
Shiny Toy Guns – You Are The One – We Are Pilots
Radiohead – Idioteque – I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings

Friday, September 26, 2008

College Radio Field Trip 3 - Notre Dame's WVFI

This week I was in my husband Brian's home town of South Bend, Indiana so we decided to take a trip to his college radio alma mater WVFI aka "Voice of the Fighting Irish" at University of Notre Dame. Brian DJ'd at WVFI about 20 years ago, probably in 1987 and 1988 when the station was heard only on campus on AM. He hadn't been back to the station in all that time, so it was the perfect opportunity to do the 3rd radio station field trip for Spinning Indie (this time with family in tow).

Former WVFI DJ Brian with the Stylin' Station Hoodie

In the years since Brian's stint at the station in the 1980s, WVFI has dealt with various equipment issues that made it difficult to achieve a large audience. According to the Winter 2000-2001 article "WVFI Goes Global" in Notre Dame Magazine,

"The station abandoned its place at 640 on the AM dial in 1999 in hopes of attaining a more powerful FM frequency like that belonging to WSND, the mostly classical music station that broadcasts from campus. Lack of upkeep and an outdated carrier current had caused WVFI's transmitter to deteriorate to the point that only a handful of residence halls could receive its signal. Increasing computer use on campus also interfered with the signal.

Because it could take years for WVFI, whose call letters stand for Voice of the Fighting Irish, to obtain an FM license, station managers turned their attention to the Internet. The University agreed, and in fall 1999 WVFI moved to the web."

Retro Images from WVFI's Past

Although WVFI is in the same location in the student center building as it was in the 1980s, a lot has also changed. As mentioned above, the formerly AM station is now Internet-only, available on-campus since 1999 and globally as of 2000. But, unlike my 1st college station, WVFI has still hung on to its large collection of vinyl from decades ago. In our trip to the "Vault," which is kind of their morgue for old CDs and vinyl, we spotted Styx records and plenty of stuff from our early days of college radio in the 1980s. I also saw some dusty old carts in one of their back-up studios.

Office/lounge at WVFI

When we stopped by WVFI on Monday afternoon, we were impressed to see several station staff members hanging around in the station's lounge area. Station Manager John Siegel chatted with us about the station, while other DJs and exec staff members chimed in with their observations. They told us that they enjoy being an Internet-only station and that it actually means that they get more listeners. John told us that it's also more cost-effective to be Internet-only. Other station staff mentioned that it's a lot easier to listen to streaming radio than AM or FM since everyone has laptops and most people on campus don't have radios. The students who we met at the station told us that they did not own radios.

Everyone we met was super friendly and warm and I came away from our visit with the impression that WVFI is a very democratic, egalitarian place. First of all, it seems like most people who are interested in getting a show are able to get on the air. Many of the slots are short (30 minutes to 2 hours) and are filled by teams and trios of DJs, making for a very large on-air staff. One of the folks we met was the station's DJ Relations Director and it's her job to facilitate the "DJ community" at the station through various events, parties, etc. It's kind of a cool idea, since often DJs are just in and out of the station to do their shows. That's also part of the reason why the staff we met were dedicated to spending time just hanging out at the station and having regular office hours, so that people felt welcomed and included in a station community.

Music Awaiting Review from Music Committee members

Additionally, the Music Directors are not the sole musical gatekeepers. According to John Siegel, there's a "music committee" of up to 40 station staff members that reviews music that gets sent to the station. I was shown a CD carousel in their lobby that contained CDs that were awaiting DJ reviews. If a CD sits around long enough without an interested reviewer, then it doesn't get added to the library. Additionally, they aren't fans of mp3 releases, so primarily it's CDs that get added to the station.

The Vault at WVFI

I was also impressed to see that WVFI has a respect for its history. Right when we walked in they pulled out a binder full of newspaper clippings from the station's past in an attempt to find pictures or articles from my husband's era at the station. They also maintain their "Vault" of out-of current rotation music under lock and key so that all of that material is kept safe and secure. I was told that all the current DJs are given a code for the Vault so that they have access to that material in case they want to play it. Listeners can also peruse some of the CD titles in the collection online. Additionally, John told me that they believe it's important to not purge music from the station and that they are dedicated to maintaining their music collection since at some point in history the records in the vault "meant something to someone."

Entrance to WVFI
(I was assured that the 7"s were all duplicate copies of music in their collection)

In terms of what gets played, the station is mainly focused on "college rock," but there are also shows that play punk, hip hop, sports talk, etc. Although the station only gets sent vinyl on rare occasions (a recent Sigur Ros release for example), they do have a vinyl-only show, which warms my heart! DJs must fill 50% of their playlist with music from the station's current rotation (usually between 120 and 200 releases from CMJ's current rotation) and can fill the rest of it with whatever they want, including material from DJs' own collections of CDs, vinyl, or mp3s. Specialty shows at the station include metal, world music, jazz, sports, and a new show with weekly interviews with musicians. WVFI also broadcasts football games and other sporting events (they once aired a basketball game that reportedly got 10,000 listeners).

WVFI's Broadcast Studio
(I absolutely love the retro board, encased in actual wood.)

WVFI also publishes a music magazine called Mindset, which we were told was a great creative outlet for DJs to share their passion for music. The magazine also helps to raise students' awareness of the station, although John guessed that 50% of students probably already know about WVFI. He also told me that most people know someone who does a show at the station.

Like many college radio stations, WVFI does not have live DJs 24 hours a day. Between 2AM and 9AM the station is on "overnight shuffle," which is a randomized mix of music created by using an iTunes smart playlist based on DJ comments on a semester's worth of music. The station is also off-the-air during the summer months when the campus is not filled with students.

Another shot of the "Vault" at WVFI

By the way, Notre Dame also has a public radio station, WSND-FM, which has paid staff members and plays mainly classical music. They also have jazz, opera, and some rock programming at night; but the impression we got was that WVFI is much more of the student station. As with most schools with multiple radio stations, we were told that there's a bit of a rivalry between the two. Yet, both have really different goals and audiences, as John succinctly expressed, saying that WVFI is "more public and modern" and that WSND is "less accessible" since it's on FM. It certainly depends on the audience, but, this is an important and eye-opening statement about how radio is consumed by college students today. P.S. Back in February I wrote about WSND and WVFI and discussed my own experience of being at a school with two radio stations.

Radio has a lengthy history at Notre Dame and both WSND and WVFI were formerly part of the same organization, whose history you can read about on the WSND website.

Future College Radio DJ B, Crashes out on WVFI Couch

Thanks so much to John Siegel and all the WVFI staff members who took the time to share their station with us. As always, it's so much fun to catch a glimpse of another college radio station. You can see more pictures from my field trip to WVFI on the Spinning Indie Facebook page.

Radio UTD Playlist for 9.21.08 XMU "Student Exchange Program"

Last Sunday September 21st, Radio UTD out of University of Texas, Dallas had another stint on XMU satellite radio show "The Student Exchange Program." See below for the Internet-only station's playlist. Coming up this Sunday, September 28, 2008 (1pm Pacific/4pm Eastern) will be University of Alabama, Birmingham station BLAZE Radio making its first appearance on the show. Alright!

Radio UTD-University of Texas, Dallas
XMU "Student Exchange" Playlist
September 21, 2008

Air France - Collapsing At Your Doorstep - No Way Down
HEALTH - Triceratops (Cfcf Rmx) - HEALTH/DISCO
B-E-A-T-B-O-X - Beatific - Glass Candy
Vega - All Too Vivid (Original Mix) - All Too Vivid
Moby - I Love To Move In Here (Holy Ghost Rmx)

Fight Bite - Widow's Peak - Emerald Eyes
Oneida - Lavender - The Wedding.
The Mae Shi - Young Marks - Hillyh
Abe Vigoda - The Garden - Skeleton
Marius Cultier - Guanavaco - Calypsoul '70 Caribbean Soul & Calypso Crossover 1969-1979

Okkervil River - Westfall - Dont Fall In Love With Everyone You See
Deer Tick - Standing At The Threshold - War Elephant
Department of Eagles - Too Little Too Late - No One Does It Like You
Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes
Sunset - The World Is Awaiting - The Glowing City

Why? - Sanddollars - Sanddollars
Bound Stems - Cloak Of Blue Sky - The Family Afloat
Tapes 'n Tapes - Insistor - The Loon
Shugo Tokumaru - Parachute - Exit

Mighty Mighty - Law - NME C86 Comp
Port Obrien - I Woke Up Today - All We Could Do Was Sing
Bodies Of Water - Under The Pines - A Certain Feeling

Dirty Projectors - Naked We Made It - The Glad Fact
Animal Collective - Winter Wonder Land - Strawberry Jam
Karl Blau - Make Love That Lasts - Natures Got Away

Parenthetical Girls - Windmills Of Your Mind - Entanglements

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 2 - McGill's CKUT

I'm really happy to be presenting the second installment in my ongoing series of excerpts from Music Director interviews conducted by Brian John Mitchell of Silber Records. Earlier this year Brian did a "Radio Special" issue of his music 'zine QRD, in which he interviewed music directors from a variety of college radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. Be sure to take a look at my interview with Brian to get more background on this project.

For the next 8 weeks I will be excerpting a bit of each of the MD interviews. Last week Hunter King from Wesleyan University (Middletown, Connecticut) station WESU 88.1 FM was featured, and this week it's Andrea-Jane Cornell, the Music Director of McGill University's campus-community radio station CKUT-FM.

In her interview with QRD, Andrea-Jane Cornell, MD of CKUT-FM, talks about the freeform station in Montreal, Canada. In the lengthy interview she discusses her music taste, her role at the station, and how she works with labels. She's got a great list of personal dislikes related to promo material (confetti in the envelope, distasteful naked cover art, digital releases, phone pestering, etc.) that's definitely worth a read. CKUT also seems to have a really great relationship with the music community of Montreal as you can see from this interview excerpt:

QRD – How is your station involved in the local music scene?

Andrea-Jane – ...We currently have an artist in residence program where a producer/musician gets the Tuesday 2 to 5 slot for a month, the show is called The Montreal Sessions & during the course of each show the host must perform or diffuse one of their original compositions/projects, & they have to have a local musician or band in for a live performance.

We do remote broadcasts of bands where we set up at the venue & broadcast the concert live on the air. One of our hip-hop shows has the rap hour half hour where people can call in & freestyle along to a live DJ mix; it’s a really popular segment. We do a whole lot of co-presentations where we run ads for local events for a ridiculously cheap rate. & then a lot of shows have live guests in for in studio performances &
interviews - folk musicians, steel bands, noise makers, reverberators, 11 piece bands, keytar players, we’ve had ‘em all!...

That's awesome that they are so devoted to live performances and local music. I also found it interesting to read how the station deals preventing the theft of special releases:

QRD – When I worked in radio, there was a big problem with theft at the station. Since so many people these days just use MP3 players, do they just steal the music rather than the physical disc & do you feel as a DJ they have a right to personally access any music from the station library at any time?

Andrea-Jane – ...Theft or “borrowing” is still common, it’s frowned upon & puts me in a bit of a rage that passes after a few days, & pisses off some of the programmers who rely on our library to have the releases that they need to program their show. All members have access to the library around the clock, I think that it is important that programmers be able to access the music library at all times; it’s the station’s greatest asset & belongs to everyone, if we start making it off bounds the releases will just sit & collect dust.

There are some selections that are under lock & key which need to be signed out because they are worth a lot of money, but this is only about 200 or so releases & box sets.

Radio began at McGill Univesity in the 1960s, with CKUT's predecessor CFRM going on the air in 1966. In 1987, CKUT began broadcasting on FM. According to their website, "CKUT's programming adds up to nearly a quarter million hours of independent, freeform broadcast programming: no playlists, no corporate sponsorships, no traffic reports, no political pundits, no ads for home security, no marketing demographic..."

Another cool thing about CKUT is that they provide archives of many of the shows on their website. It also says a lot about the spirit of the station, that they performed a special Sun Ra-influenced ceremony to christen their new studios. According to the list of station milestones on the CKUT website:

"June 14, 2008: CKUT Intergalactic Studio Chrissening. CKUT welcomes its newly renovated studios into the world with an interview with Marshall Allen, Michael Ray and Ray Scott of the Sun Ra Arkestra on Funky Revolutions. We feel that the Sun Ra experience was an important one to imbue our new studios with. The CKUT High Programmers (Sarah Fahie, Meghan, and Shelagh) performed a grand ceremony to welcome the new space and purge it of any lingering evil radio spirits, specifically the spirits of "technical mishaps," "radio feedback," and "awkward radio babble." A small gathering of garden partiers congregated outside over beverages and snacks."

Stay tuned. Next Tuesday, September 30th I'll be featuring an excerpt from Brian John Mitchell's interview with Geary Kaczorowski from University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth station WUMD.

Thanks again to Brian for allowing me to share portions of his excellent QRD interviews!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pennsylvania College Radio Love by Former Teen Metalhead

The cover story of The Weekender this week lauds the importance of college radio in its home zone of Northeastern Pennsylvania. In his editorial lead-in, "Turn on, Tune in, or Lose out Words," Michael Lello writes about his love for college radio and his nostalgia after finding an old cassette tape that he'd recorded off of a college radio metal show when he was in high school. He writes:

"...When I was in an almost-obsessive metal phase during my high-school years, I found out about 'Metal Monday,' a show on WCLH, 90.7 FM, Wilkes University’s radio station. I would always have some blank cassettes at the ready on Monday after school in case a DJ played something I wanted to keep...

...it’s fairly reasonable to conclude that I put together this little collection of songs in 1992. I was 15 years old. Why is any of this important? Well, it may sound a bit odd that a 15-year-old kid was listening to a college radio station. But it’s not that out if the ordinary. And not understanding (or understanding and not caring) that many listeners are adventurous and curious is one of the reasons commercial radio has become so out of touch...

But you don’t have to eat from the same trough. There have always been new and unique flavors out there, thanks to college radio, and more recent additions, namely satellite radio and online streaming. Campus radio has long been one of the most innovative and refreshing outlets for new and overlooked music, and these stations are more important now than ever, as many commercial stations dig in, cut budgets and refuse to take risks..."

In the cover article, "Academic Airwaves," he writes:

"Scanning the lower-frequency end of the FM band, you came across a punk or metal song you’ve never heard before. You were intrigued and waited until the DJ told you the name of the artist. Or during a road trip, frustrated with the numbing and repetitive sameness of the radio landscape, you pressed the seek button until your index finger got sore, begging for something different to keep you awake, until something fresh caught your ear. If this sounds familiar, you’ve listened to college radio."

He goes on to spotlight the following local college radio stations in Northeastern Pennsylvania:

WSFX 89.1 and 105.5 FM (Luzerne County Community College, Nanticoke, PA)

The article includes a quote from WSFX's Music Director Pat Yurista, who says, "'We base our music off the nationwide magazine, the CMJ New Music Report.'" Pat continues, saying, "...'A lot of new bands use that as a launching pad, but you’ll also see Coldplay and the Foo Fighters on there. We also get in touch with local and nationwide record companies to get them to promote their music. We’ll take the time to listen to the CD, and if it’s good enough, we will play it.'"

VMFM 91.7 FM (Marywood University, Scranton, PA)

The format of this station is college alternative, with some exceptions. According to the article,

"There is room for variation, though, explained Brian Johnson, VMFM’s program director, including a weekly country show, a metal and hard rock show called 'Mayhem Til Midnight' and a Top 10 show, which combines songs on the CMJ charts with VMFM’s own most-played 'currents,' or newly added tracks. Some of the songs VMFM works into its rotation can also be heard and seen on shows like MTV2’s 'Subterranean.'"

WRKC 88.5 FM (King's College, Wilkes Barre, PA)

WRKC is a 440 watt station at King's College that's been around since 1942. According to their website, "WRKC programming includes alternative, hardcore, punk, emo, Christian country, blues, gospel, electronic, dancehall, reggae, Triple A, alt country and rpm."

The article in The Weekend points out that on the station,"...you can catch 'Smooth Jams' — a show that juxtaposes aggressive hard rock and metal with soothing, smooth-talking DJs — or even the 'Radio Home Visitor,' in which the Rev. Tom Carten reads community news to the visually impaired."

Cougar Radio (Misericordia University, Dallas, PA)

According to the article, Misericordia College's station "...debuted...on the university’s campus cable system before it began streaming online a year ago..." and "...is working on re-establishing the station online."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Omaha Indie Radio Show

Today on Lazy-i, Tim McMahan writes about the state of indie radio in Omaha, Nebraska (there isn't much) and lauds the efforts of one weekly radio show at Iowa Western Community College station KIWR-FM that provides an outlet for independent sounds. He also mentions that Omaha (the station's main market) doesn't have a "real" college radio station. I guess that's in part due to the fact that KIWR seems to operate more like a commercial station. I can't find much about its history, besides the fact that it's been "alternative" format since 1996 and was a classical and/or jazz station prior to that.

In his column today, Tim writes:

"There continues to be one dim, lonely light burning in the dark, lifeless chasm of local radio. And now that light just got a little bit closer, a little bit brighter. A couple weeks ago, local FM 'alternative' rock station 89.7 The River moved one if its few valued assets -- the 2-hour indie-music program New Day Rising -- from 11 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday nights, making it
slightly more within reach to all of us who have to work in the morning.

Since its inception in December 2004...New Day Rising (named after a Husker Du song) has been the sole source of College Music Journal-style programming on the Omaha FM dial, a fact that goes beyond irony to imbecility, considering that our city has been recognized in the national and international press as one of the most vital music scenes in the country. Omaha radio's non-support of our lauded local talent is nothing less than embarrassing...

A typical episode combines just-released indie rock with older underground standards and a sprinkling of local offerings. Last Sunday's show included tracks by such indie stalwarts as Jenny Lewis, Neko Case, Conor Oberst and The Shins as well as not-so-familiar acts like The Action Design, The Spinto Band and The Black and White Years, along with a track by local geniuses Little Brazil. Every episode is capped with a classic track from Sonic Youth. 'They epitomize what I think the indie or alternative world is supposed to be about," Leibowitz said. 'They're this generation's Velvet Underground.'"

The article also mentions that the show proudly uses the term "indie" to describe its music, although four years ago there was some debate over its relevance. According to the piece:

"Back when New Day Rising first rose, 'indie' was a dirty word that Leibowitz's original co-host forbade me to use when describing their radio show. 'That's one thing that's changed over the past four years -- we've taken indie back,' Leibowitz said. 'It used to be that the 'I-word' was something that people avoided; now it's a badge of honor.'"

I wonder why "indie" was such a dirty word initially? Did the term become too trendy or too identified with a specific style of music?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 1 - Wesleyan's WESU

As I wrote last week, I'm excited to be presenting excerpts from Silber Records' chief Brian John Mitchell's "Radio Special" issue of his music 'zine QRD, in which he interviewed music directors from a variety of college radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. Be sure to take a look at my interview with Brian to get more background on this project.

For the next 9 weeks I will be excerpting a bit of each of the MD interviews. First up is Hunter King from Wesleyan University (Middletown, Connecticut) station WESU 88.1 FM.

MD Hunter King talks about the station's devotion to freeform and that DJs are allowed to pretty much play whatever they want, but are asked to play 5 new releases an hour (unless they have a specialty show). He also mentions the makeup of the station staff, saying,

"We're a 50-50 student/community member mix & though we have some really strong student shows, some community members have been with us for 20+ years & have really built up a following. We have dedicated shows for oldies, funk, Caribbean, gospel, doom metal, psychedelia, surf, girl groups, blues, Latin music; & specifically Columbian music, Balkan music, & others & they really help define our station. We straddle a ton of very niche groups & I think all of our DJs, even if they’re spinning top 200, are very proud to be a part of it. Often as they become more acquainted with other shows & DJs, they even start to diversify their own shows."

He also has some interesting insight about how music format (CD, vinyl, or mp3) can end up altering the entire vibe and energy level of a radio show and gives the example of playing 2 minute surf songs that need to be cued vs. just sitting down for an entire show toggling through iPod tracks. According to the interview:

QRD – I imagine a lot of the younger generation of DJs pretty much exclusively use MP3s over CDs (much less vinyl). How do you feel about the situation?

– Oddly enough, our DJs play their own songs off iPods, but ignore digital adds in favor of CDs. I've done an MP3 player show before & it’s so much less involved. These kids sit on their ass & just wait for the song to end so they can mumble about nothing during their next voice break. Not only do I think the frantic pace of cueing songs (especially on my surf show where your average song is 2:30) gets your head more in the game, but it builds up an energy that you can't get sitting down, which I never do on my show. & the listeners notice, I get a lot of calls saying, "You must be dancing up a storm in there," & usually they're correct. As for the mediums themselves, I play a lot of scratchy 45s & I find that nobody cares about the quality (well, I already knew that given the crappy MP3s our DJs play), but the older crowd really appreciates that authenticity, & the older crowd listens to a lot more terrestrial radio than the younger crowd these days.

I would imagine this is a huge issue. When I visited WECB, it seemed that iPods were regularly used by DJs. Yet during my visit to KCPR I learned that regular format DJs aren't allowed to play music from their iPods (or any music from their home collections), but that specialty show DJs were allowed to (along with music from home). I'm sure policies on this vary tremendously, but count me in the "old school" camp that likes the energy of playing music on vinyl and CD.

Coincidentally, there was an article in the Wesleyan Argus last week about WESU. The piece,"WESU Expands Programming," talks about the large number of community member DJs at the station and discusses the goal of increasing the broadcast range of the station. By the way, WESU claims to be the 2nd oldest college radio station in the country and the history section of their website has some great anecdotes about the early DIY days of the station, including:

"WESU began its life as a mischievous idea in the minds of our founders, two young men living in Clark Hall in 1939. Inspired by the first college radio station in the nation (which, anecdotally, was at Brown University, though this hasn’t been confirmed), they hooked a small transmitter up to a phonograph. In order to broadcast to the whole of Clark Hall, the two broke into Wesleyan University’s maintenance tunnels through the Clark Basement, and hooked the transmitter up to the water pipes. The old dormitory effectively became an antenna for their 2-4 hour broadcast day..."

Stay tuned next Tuesday, for an excerpt from Brian's interview with the Music Director of McGill University's campus-community radio station CKUT-FM.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Where Was the First College Radio Station in the U.S.?

The history of college radio has always been a bit confusing to me, since its early days were marked by DIY experiments that weren't regulated or necessarily documented. Today I saw a post by someone trying to track down the identity of the very first college radio station in the U.S. and this post reminded me that I have heard conflicting reports about who claims this distinction.

On his Times-Union blog Class Conflict, grad student Brandon Mendelson writes:

"I’m attempting to figure out if: 1) Union College does indeed have the first college radio station. Wikipedia confirms this, as does the motto for their station, “The First Station in The Nation”... 2) If the FCC does differentiate between wireless and broadcast transmissions. I think it does, but if it doesn’t, that opens up the question as to whether or not UAlbany’s wireless transmissions from the physics department would qualify the station for being older than Unions."

I'd heard about Union College's claims before, but recently I also learned about another contender that had never been on my radar before: St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. According to St. Joseph's University radio station WSJR's website, "WSJR has always been a pioneer; it opened the first college radio station on AM in 1922. In the 80's, it moved to FM radio. Following a hiatus, WSJR now broadcasts exclusively on the Internet."

The National Radio Club website also has the following radio tidbits (excerpted from 1981's Famous First Facts by Joseph Nathan Kane):

"In the United States, the first. . .

EXPERIMENTAL RADIO LICENSE issued by the Department of Commerce following the International Radio Convention and Radio Act of 1912 (37 stat. l. 302), August 13, 1912, was serial number 1, granted St. Joseph's College, Philadelphia, Pa. (3XJ, 2 kilowatts)...

COLLEGE RADIO STATION was WRUC, Union College, Schenectady, N. Y., which went on the air October 14, 1920. It instituted a series of weekly programs on October 15, 1920, consisting of vocal and instrumental phonograph records. The programs were broadcast from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. with a three-minute interval. They were initially heard within a 50-mile radius; this increased under favorable weather conditions. A 5 50-watt U-2 transmitter was used. Frederick L. Ganter was President of the Radio Club of Union College; Wendell W. Key, the chief engineer, and Francis J. Candle, the chief operator. The station was owned by the trustees of the college.

EDUCATIONAL RADIO STATION LICENSED was WOI, Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, which received the call letters 9Y1 (375 meters frequency, using 100 watts) on November 21, 1921. On April 28, 1922, the station was granted a license to broadcast on 360 meters (834 kc.) using 1000 watts...."

So, clearly there are many different ways for college radio stations to be "first" on the scene. We've covered Union College and St. Joseph's University, so here's a bit more about the history of radio at Iowa State. According to the WOI website history section:

"The history of broadcasting at Iowa State University dates back to 1911. That is when physics professor Dad Hoffman rigged a transmission line from the campus water tower to Engineering Hall and asked for money to establish a wireless telegraph station. In 1914 the electrical engineering department of Iowa State College installed and began operation of a small transmitter under the call letters 9YI. Newspaper reports from 1913 indicate station 9YI was regularly sending and receiving weather reports by Morse code. In 1915 the engineers took the show on the road and took the amazing technology to the Iowa State Fair."

Additionally, Louis M. Bloch, the author of "The Gas Pipe Networks: A History of College Radio 1936-1946," argues that Brown University was one of the originators of college radio. The RadioActivity blog provides a nice summary of this claim in a post from January 2008 (scroll down to catch it). Indeed, Brown University has done a nice job documenting their radio history, as I wrote about earlier this year in my post "From Gas Pipes to Websites: College Radio History Project at Brown."

So, what do you think...which of these is the REAL first college radio station? Definitely hard to say.

Campus Radio in Singapore

I haven't had much exposure to college radio outside of the United States, so it was interesting to find an article this week about a campus radio station in Singapore. From the piece it's clear that they share many of the same struggles as U.S. stations. According to the article, "Low Audience Count for Campus Radio" in The Ridge News:

"Two years after its official launch, the National University of Singapore’s campus radio, Radio Pulze is still struggling with a low audience count. Officially launched on Feb. 14, 2006, Radio Pulze has since scored low on tune-in rates. Marketing Director Lee Jie Xian estimates an audience count of around 300 listeners per week, barely 10 percent of the campus population."

I'm not incredibly surprised that only 10 percent of students listen to the campus radio station. In the U.S. many college radio stations attract a very specific, niche audience, which could certainly be a small percentage of the student population. The article continues:

"Run solely by undergraduates, Radio Pulze is the university’s official campus radio station. The station broadcasts on weekdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. with repeats from 9 p.m. to midnight. A random poll of 25 students by the ridge showed that Radio Pulze is doing its publicity right – all the students polled said they have heard of the campus radio through IVLE alerts, posters, emails and friends. However, this awareness does not seem to translate into behaviour as majority confessed they do not tune in."

Clearly the limited hours of the station may be a big reason for the small number of listeners. Additionally, as the article points out, there are technical hurdles to deal since the online station is only available through the campus Intranet. Those wishing to tune in off-campus must log in to a VPN.

It looks like the station must broadcast privately over an Intranet in order to comply with copyright requirements. According to the Radio Pulze website, "This RadioPulze intranet broadcast is for NUS students and staff only, as specified by the sound recording and music copyright holders' license terms. Unauthorized access, copying or re-broadcasting
is strictly prohibited." That's fascinating. I guess that's why they don't broadcast to the world at large over the Internet.

Campus radio in Singapore is a relatively recent phenomenon, with the first campus radio station in Singapore was Radio Heatwave, which began in 1992.

SCAD Radio Playlist from Yesterday's XMU Show

I'm thrilled to see that college radio-loving satellite station XMU is beginning the fall semester with some new blood on its weekly "Student Exchange Program."

Yesterday's show featured the Internet-only station SCAD Radio from Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, Georgia). The station has been broadcasting online since January 2002. According to their website, "SCAD Radio is dedicated to offering music and programming not heard on other Savannah radio stations, with particular emphasis on music performed by SCAD students and other local artists."

To learn more about SCAD Radio, be sure to read the lengthy September 2007 interviews with their Student Media Advisor and General Manager (at the time) on Connect Savannah.

Coming up next Sunday, September 21, 2008 (1pm Pacific/4pm Eastern) on XMU's "Student Exchange" will be frequent contributor Radio UTD from University of Texas, Dallas.

SCAD Radio (Savannah College of Art and Design)
XMU "Student Exchange Program" Playlist
Air Date: 09-14-08

James Pants - We're Through- Welcome
Ponytail - Small Wevs - Ice Cream Spiritual
Bonjour's Parties - Magpie Will Peck A Hole In My Plaster Cast - Pigments Drift Down To The Brook
The Walkmen - Seven Years Of Holidays (For Stretch) - You & Me

Stereolab - Self Portrait With "Electric Brain" - Chemical Chords
The Silent Years - Ropes - The Globe
Tiny Specks Of Many Things - Electrocution - The Choir Invisible
Chad VanGaalen - Cries Of The Dead - Soft Airplane
System And Station - Out On The Wall - A Nation Of Actors

Ratatat - Falcon Jab - LP3
Takka Takka - Everybody Say - Migration
Horse Feathers - Working Poor - House With No Name
The Floorboards - The Proverbial Handouts - The Floorboards EP
Mad Gregs - Old Man -Big Nun
SBACH - Track 07 - SBACH

Sebastian Tellier - Kilometer - Sexuality
Experimental Dental School - Microscope Lab Voices - Jane Doe Loves Me
Alias - Resurgam- Resurgam
The Notwist - Alphabet - The Devil, You + Me
Aux Arc - Put It On Your Pancakes - Aux Arc Is Marshall Trotter
Pattern Is Movement - Peach Trees - All Together

Calexico - Two Silver Trees - Carried To Dust
A Night In The Box - Le Me Know - Write A Letter
Forward Russia - Spring Is A Condition
Hercules And Love Affair - Hercules Theme - Hercules And Love Affair
The New Up - Top Of The Stairs - Broken Machine
Jeremy Jay - Alpha Rhythm - Alpha Rhythm

Friday, September 12, 2008

CMJ Interview with Pirate Promotions Sheds Light on College Radio Pressures

CMJ's Staff Blog posted an interesting interview this week with radio and new media promo person, Doug Blake, from Pirate! Promotions. In the interview Doug talks a bit about college radio, saying that stations aren't as adventurous as maybe they once were. He says:

"...When I started at college radio it was all about the new band or whatever they thought was good independent of outside sources. Now, not so much. This of course does not go for everyone as there are some great stations out there still pushing the envelope. But it seems more and more that stations won’t touch something unless it has been Pitchfork approved or they have read about it on another one of their favorite blogs."

I've definitely heard these complaints before. He goes on to admit that often college radio Music Directors might feel pressured by promoters and labels, saying:

"I think so many stations have become afraid to do their own thing because of the pressures some of us [promoters] put on them. I think a lot of it has to do with fear of being yelled at or being thought of as wrong, but there is nothing to be afraid of. Stations should listen to the records and form their own opinions on them and not base decisions on a review score or what some promoter tells you to do...My advice is to do what’s best for your station and not what’s going to be 'cool' or best for some promoter. If someone stops talking to you or you get kicked off a list, it’s one less person to talk to. And I am sure you can find the record on the internet anyway."

This is really great advice, to just stand up for yourself and your station and be confident in your own opinion about music.

Black College Radio Stations Role in Public Radio?

An article in the most recent issue of Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, discusses potential opportunities for college radio at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU). According to "Media Experts Say HBCU Radio Stations are Underused,"

"Addressing a group of HBCU presidents, faculty and staff, Loretta Rucker, executive director of the African-American Public Radio Consortium (AAPRC), said, 'The biggest kept secret among [Black colleges] is a network of African-American stations that could be providing all the things to our community mainstream stations are not.'

The AAPRC was created in 2000 to provide the financial means to better serve Black listeners. The consortium is currently composed of 20 member stations, most of which are located at HBCUs."

It definitely makes sense to me that these college radio stations could help to expand the listening audience and perspectives presented on public radio, as the article points out:

"According to information provided at the forum, HBCU radio stations reach half of all Black public radio listeners across the nation. Texas Southern University’s radio station, 90.0 FM KTSU, reaches 300,000 people a week, Rucker said. 'How do we galvanize [our resources] to put our stories on national public radio?'

There are roughly 60 Black college radio stations scattered across the nation. Wendy Williams, general manager of WCLK FM, a public radio station licensed to Clark Atlanta University, is in charge of one of most successful. With a 10-person staff and a six-figure budget, Williams is forging a strong bond between the institution, CAU, and the city of Atlanta."

However, it's clear that there are tons of non-public radio affiliated college radio stations doing cool programming for their communities. Does that necessarily mean that they are missing out? I think the "media expert" (who clearly has a vested interest in public radio) quoted in this article didn't realize that she was inadvertently slamming a lot of "campus" stations who are doing a lot of great work. The article states:

"Campus radio stations are not a new phenomenon. For years, colleges and universities have provided training outlets for their students to learn the fundamentals of sales, promotions, programming, producing and news writing for radio. HBCUs must advance the mission of the campus station, and, consider a public radio format, Rucker suggested. 'Let's stop thinking it's just campus radio. It's really about serving the public,' she said."

Wow...what do you think? Does "campus" (meaning non-public) radio not serve the public? In my opinion, just because there is no public radio affiliation, it doesn't mean that a college radio station doesn't present a variety of community perspectives and serve the public. In fact, I'm aware of so many fantastic college radio stations that think far beyond the campus.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

KAMP Dodges Budget Bullet and Hopes for FM

There's an article in the Tucson Weekly today, "Listener-Funded," that provides an update on the situation at University of Arizona radio station KAMP. Earlier this year their annual funding was threatened due to student opinion about various activity fees. According to the article:

"The station is...broadcast on AM 1570 within a mile of campus. On-campus students can also get a listen through closed-circuit TV on Channel 20, and UATV in the dorms and at the Student Union.

Since 1998, when the station became part of Arizona Student Media, KAMP has had a secure funding source through a $1-per-semester student fee, reapproved by students every five years.

At the beginning of the 2007-2008 academic year, KAMP general manager Neema Eshrati says, the staff was well aware that the five-year funding cycle was coming to an end. Eshrati says the fee provides about $80,000 a year, and is even refundable if students don't want to give up a dollar to student radio."

The article continues with more on the background of the funding crisis:

"Before previous five-year funding cycles, a KAMP-only referendum was presented to students in the fall, asking them to approve the $1-per-semester fee. In the fall of 2007, however, the UA's student government took a different approach by lumping KAMP into an Associated Students of the University of Arizona (ASUA) student-activities fee survey, asking students to approve student activities based on their importance.

Eshrati says it was like comparing apples and oranges: KAMP was competing with student services it had nothing in common with (like counseling and leadership programs).

The result: KAMP came in last on that survey. It looked like 20 years of on-campus student radio could be coming to an end."

After some hard work by staff at KAMP, a second referendum was presented to students in March 2008, with favorable results this time. In August 2008, the Board of Regents officially approved the student fee, so the station's future funding looks secure.

Up next, KAMP is hoping to someday expand its coverage by seeking out a permit to go FM.

Underground Hip Hop on Canada's Co-Op Radio

College radio is often the space where underexposed music gets played. On Finale, Gyromite writes in "I Can't Live Without my Radio" about learning about hip hop through college radio, even at a time when maybe some folks were hitting the Internet to discover new sounds. According to the post:

"When I grew up I owe college radio or community radio as the main reason I got into Hip Hop. Growing up we didn't have the Internet, not because we were too poor but just because it wasn't readily available. Those free AOL disks didn't come by my house til maybe 3 years after high school so my Jr high years and high school years were based around radio and TV.

Underground radio was everything to me, I would stay up late at night to tape the show, and have to stay up for an extra 30 mins to flip my tape over. I had a shoe box full of tapes of a show called The Krispy Biscuit.

When I got to university I wanted to do the same thing, and quickly got involved with college radio and started a show called the Promised Land. Long story short the Promised Land expanded to more shows, but only one radio show lives now, the Urban Renewal Project which is Western Canada's number 1 hip hop radio show."

The Urban Renewal Project airs on Vancouver, Canada community radio station CFRO-FM (Co-op Radio) on Tuesday nights 10pm-1am (Pacific time).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New Social Network for Michigan State Radio Alum

Michigan State University has started an interesting social networking project for alumni. A portion of it is devoted to its campus radio stations (at one point there were 6 in total!). According to the campus radio website, they have created a special student radio group on their campus's new alumni social network (aka ning) Spartanology.

Discussion topics in the new student radio group include histories of the various campus stations. I was amazed to read that Michigan State had a number of stations over the years, including WMSN (the all-campus station) and a number of dorm-based stations. Another discussion forum includes links to airchecks from a number of the campus stations.

Much of this history of the campus stations (along with pictures of program guides, playlists, etc.) can be found on MSUCampusRadio, but the social network on Spartanolgy gives alums more of a chance to for discussion and interaction.

Another cool thing is that every year at Homecoming, there is a campus radio reunion, with the next one being October 4, 2008. I'm not sure that I know of other college radio stations that have annual reunions.

Today's student-run campus radio station at Michigan State, WDBM (aka Impact 89 FM), has been around since 1989. You can catch a video profile of the station that was produced by Michigan State on their website. Read a short history of the development of radio at Michigan State on MSUCampusRadio.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

KSPC Profiled in CMJ

I just realized that CMJ did an interview with the MD of fabulous Pomona College radio station KSPC-FM last month. I DJ'd at KSPC for a brief stint in the 1990s and it was a really amazing place.

In the CMJ interview, Summer Music Director Rachel Smith talks about the programming philosophy of KSPC (which has been on FM since 1956), some of the specialty shows that they air, and their connections with the local music scene (including Shrimper records and the LA "Smell" scene). According to the interview:

"...We also have a variety of specialty shows, for which DJs can be pre-approved to play music from their own collections. These include reggae, polka, metal, prog rock, old-time radio theater, and (a big fan-favorite) the Retro Videogame Music Show, which consists entirely of 8- and 16-bit videogame soundtracks. We’re open to music of all genres and eras, as long as we believe it upholds our mission of supporting new and independent artists and providing a home for music not commonly heard on the L.A. airwaves."

Rachel talks about the indie-orientation of the station, stating:

"...our rock, hip-hop and electronic programming does skew overwhelmingly towards indie artists and labels. Our choices are sometimes criticized as too obscure or inaccessible, but I think there’s something to be said for niche appeal, and I think our listeners would agree."

She also mentions that Frank Zappa DJ'd at the station in the 1970s. I'm not sure I ever knew that tidbit...

Praising College Radio and Defending '80s Music

On Spongey Monkey, Chris has a nice post defending the music of the 1980s and chatting about the role that college radio (and comic shops and indie music purveyors) played in his musical awakening. In his post "Dodging a Bullet," he writes:

"...At the age of 37 now I think the 1980's were quite formulaic for me in my musical tastes and exploration.

I do admit that I did listen to quite a bit of Top 40 (hey, I was living in Alaska at the time, so there were slim pickings) in the early 80's, but as I got into junior high and high school I found the college radio station KSUA, plus I met other people who introduced me to new music which I guess can be called 'post-punk' now, but was also referred to as 'new wave'. Probably the biggest influence though was a place called The Comic Shop...it also had a small section of independent, punk, new-wave, avant-garde, and just plain strange records..."

He goes on to describe his own stint in college radio at Oregon State's KBVR-FM:

"After I graduated high school in 1989 and went on to college, one of the main factors that influenced me to choose Oregon State in Corvallis over Washington State in Pullman was the proximity to a big city where bands played and the college radio station (both schools had radio stations). My first term at OSU my friend James and I immediately got involved with the radio station by apprenticing then getting our own shows. I quickly found out there was so much more out there to listen to than the latest Cure, Oingo Boingo, and Depeche Mode albums (which I still enjoyed).

...I have to say that the 1980's overall did NOT suck for music, if you searched beyond the commercial crap forced down your throat. The best year for music is all relative, mainly to one's age and their own personal tastes."

I think he's right, that there's always great music out there, especially if you're hooked in with the indie scene, either through friends or college radio.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Interview with Brian of Silber Records about QRD Radio Music Director Issue

Being the college radio geek that I am, I was thrilled to have just found a treasure-trove of college radio morsels in the April 2008 edition of music 'zine QRD. The editor, Silber Records' Brian John Mitchell, did an entire issue focused on interviews with radio music directors.

I'm going to do a series of posts highlighting his fine interviews since it's a great opportunity to explore 9 different stations and learn about issues facing college radio today.

I also had a conversation with Brian over email about what he learned from the project and his thoughts about the state of college radio:

Spinning Indie: How did you select the station MDs to profile? Did you already have relationships with them through the label?

QRD: I had sent a general email out to the hundred or so American radio stations that I normally service & get airplay with for the Silber Records catalog. One of the things that makes Silber a little different than other indies is that I do all the promo work myself & do in fact try to build personal relationships with the music directors. Over the years there have been several music directors that I’ve had friendships with & stayed in touch with for a while when they went to other employment.

Spinning Indie: How many MDs did you contact?

QRD: I’d guess around 100. There were a few who were supposed to do it & ran out of time or whatnot & some whom I really wanted that didn’t work out for whatever reason. There were also some people who I really didn’t know so well & it was nice to feel like I knew them afterwards.

Spinning Indie: How did your college station experience compare to other stations you've encountered through your work/interviews?

QRD: Well, my college radio experience was that I grew up in an area (Raleigh, NC) with some pretty well listened to stations with pretty big broadcast radiuses. So I thought that was the way college radio worked, but when I got to college (Boone, NC) I found that not to be the case. No one in Boone knew there was a college radio station & you couldn’t pick it up on the entire campus.

I was in college in 1994 and the station had just made a major format change from essentially pop to alternative (when that was still a semi-legitimate term). It was pretty exciting & there was a lot of energy at the station like something was about to happen. Of course nothing did change the world. I was a bit surprised by how "rotation" worked & that I didn’t have 100% say of what was on my daytime non-specialty show. I think most of the good stations still have an energy like something is about to happen. That’s why people like those stations. They want to hear the edge that’s going to be the next big thing & the people working there want to do their part to make those things happen.

Spinning Indie: How do you think college radio has changed since you were a DJ in the 1990s?

QRD: Well, when I was a DJ one big thing was some people not wanting to play vinyl. Now people don’t want to play CDs. One thing I had a problem with then that seems even more prevalent is people coming in with a pre-made playlist, essentially just press play on a mix-tape. Now people hook in their iPod & that’s that. Of course this isn’t true with everyone, but it’s common enough for people to think that an MP3 player on random is as good as a DJ.

So I think it’s true now more than ever that it’s important for a DJ to talk to the audience & connect with them. I love it when DJs play a song & then talk about seeing the band or that they hate playing a song because of an ex-girlfriend but it was a request or doing some kind of a themed show with only cover songs. Of course it goes the other way too with DJs talking too much. It’s a real art.

A thing that has changed really unfortunately is stations as a whole seem to play the same hits more. It used to be that there were a lot of regional college radio stars. The big bands in the charts in Texas were different than North Carolina or California. Now they all read the same. Part of this is the growth of affordable radio servicing & ease of finding stations, but it would be nice if “local bands” didn’t just get spins on the “local music” shows. I actually only attended college three semesters, if I’d gone two more I probably would have gotten into being a music director as I already did help getting some more labels to service the station & reviewing discs for airplay.

Spinning Indie: Are you willing to reveal who your dream interviews were that you didn't get?

QRD: Well, Brian Turner at WFMU would have been nice. Also Brandon at KBOO. Those guys are institutions that have helped shape the musical world & I’m sure neither would admit it. On a personal level I wanted to interview Ryan Kuehn (WCSB) & Matthew Reese (WLJS), because I’m friends with them; but their college course work got in the way. It would have been nice to get closer to twenty interviews than ten.

Spinning Indie: On the whole, what's your feeling about the state of college radio today?

QRD: I think there are some great stations & great DJs, but they’re fighting an uphill battle to make the kids think they’re important. There are so many ways to discover music these days on the internet that you don’t run into people who stay up late at night listening to college radio to hear something new & interesting. I think some of the stations are becoming more important because of their internet presence & it’s unfortunate that smaller stations are starting to only get serviced by major labels. I loved the relationship I had with Will Dodson when he was at WMMT. I did a radio session at midnight in rural Kentucky & high school kids were calling in & that was awesome. There need to be more things like that.

Spinning Indie: What was your favorite piece of learning from the interviews?

QRD: It’s hard to say. A lot of the things I learned reinforced what I suspected (like discs needing to be in jewel cases & the importance of accurate blurb stickers), I was a little surprised to hear no one really seems to look at other stations’ charts anymore. But my favorite thing was maybe Andrea-Jane’s little story about building towers of the same CD from a band pushing servicing from multiple fronts.

Thanks to Brian for the great interview!

Every Tuesday for the next 9 weeks, I'll be posting excerpts from all 9 of Brian's Music Director interviews from QRD. Next week it will be tidbits from his chat with the WESU (Wesleyan University) MD. Stay tuned!

Morningside College Radio Station Turns 30, Changes Frequency

There's a nice article on Quad Cities Online today, profiling college radio station KMSC from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. According to "Sioux City Listeners Tune In to College Radio," KMSC recently had to change its FM frequency from 88.3 to 92.9 because of the appearance of a more powerful Catholic radio station on a nearby frequency. Although the station seems to be doing just fine, it's kind of a bummer that they were off the air for 6 months while they awaited FCC approval for a new place on the dial and missed their official 30th anniversary date. The article states:

"...the station missed its official 30th birthday in March, which disappointed KMSC student general manager Matt Wilmes. 'KMSC first went on the air in the spring of 1978, but we'll now be celebrating our birthday in October,' he said. 'We'll be commemorating the event by playing our top 500 songs in a 36-hour marathon broadcast.'"

The station has a "college alternative" format during the day and prides itself on playing new music before it hits mainstream stations. Additionally, they air specialty shows, broadcast sporting events and will soon offer video streaming of football game highlights on their website.

Spinning Indie on Facebook

For those of you who are addicted to social networks, I've started a Facebook page for Spinning Indie and invite you to become a fan. There is a feed of stories from the blog on that page, as well as albums of additional pictures from my radio station field trips to KCPR and WECB.

WERS Playlist from Yesterday's XMU "Student Exchange"

Yesterday (September 7, 2008) Music Director John Parsons of Emerson College (Boston, MA) radio station WERS-FM appeared on the XMU "Student Exchange Program," presenting some of their station's favorite tracks.

Now that the summer has drawn to a close, XMU will be featuring some new college radio stations in the coming weeks. I'm excited to hear what the Savannah College of Art and Design station SCAD Radio will be sharing during their stint this Sunday, September 14th (1pm Pacific/4pm Eastern).

If your station wants to broadcast your good taste to the rest of the country on satellite radio, email studentexchange@xmradio.com to get the scoop on how you can be on XMU's Student Exchange Program.

Student Exchange Program Playlist
AIR DATE: 09.07.2008

Eli 'Paperboy' Reed & The True Loves - Take My Love With You - Roll With You
The Walkmen - Four Provinces - You & Me
Sam Phillips - Little Plastic Life -Don't Do Anything
Okkervil River - Starry Stairs - The Stand-Ins

Hayes Carll - I Got A Gig - Trouble In Mind
Calexico - Writer's Minor Holiday - Carried To Dust
Sonantes - Defenestrando - Sonantes
Raphael Saadiq - 100 Yard Dash - The Way I See It

The Moondoggies - I Want You To Know - Don't Be A Stranger
Stereolab - Three Women - Chemical Chords
Silver Jews - Strange Victory Strange Defeat - Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
Elvis Costello & The Imposters - Harry Worth - Momofuku

Sigur Ros - Gobbledigook - Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down - Violet - We Brave Bee Stings And All
Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue - Pacific Ocean Blue
Neil Halstead - Pain't A Face - Oh! Mighty Engine

Dan Dyer - Love Chain - Dan Dyer
The Cat Empire - Panama - So Many Nights
Nina Simone - Gimme Some - Verve Remixed 4
David Byrne and Brian Eno - Strange Overtones - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

Peter Moren - Social Competence - The Last Tycoon
Nikka Costa - Can't Please Everybody - Pebble to a Pearl
Ray LaMontagne - You Are The Best Thing - Gossip In The Grain
Ratatat - Black Heroes - LP3

Friday, September 5, 2008

College Radio Field Trip 2 - Cal Poly's KCPR

Over the Labor Day weekend I was finally able to resume my series of field trips to college radio stations around the country, which began in March with my first field trip to WECB (Emerson College).

This time around, I went closer to home, visiting California station KCPR 91.3 FM at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. One of the station General Managers, Brian Hildebrand took time out of a busy day to meet with me and chat about the 40 year old station.

The first thing that struck me was that the station name was emblazoned across the top of the Graphic Arts building where the station was housed. That's some incredible exposure for the station and when I asked Brian about it, he said he had no idea how they got so lucky. The station has had a number of changes recently, not the least of which was a station move/remodel and a change in their transmitter location in order to gain wider coverage. While I visited, they were also gearing up to broadcast their first football game.

When I arrived, DJ "Otto" was in control of the board. As I'd suspected, "Otto" is an automatic DJ used when there isn't a live DJ available to fill an airshift. Cal Poly was still on summer break, thus the presence of Otto on a few slots. While I listened to the station over the weekend, I heard several Otto DJ shifts and the music sounded really good, most likely because KCPR takes a lot of care in choosing the music that is fed into the virtual DJ system. They have a beautiful, brand new board in their on-air studio that's connected to studio automation software called "NexGen Digital," that seems to do a lot of the work when there isn't a live DJ.

It says a lot about the station that even when the board is on Otto-pilot, the station still sounds great and is very listenable. I talked to both Brian and one of the Music Directors (Jack La Porte) about the station's programming philosophy, which leans heavily towards playing underexposed, mostly indie music. As a testament to that, KCPR also has a large vinyl library and regularly adds vinyl to the station (although they don't receive a lot in the mail). Additionally, they have a show called "Vinyl Frontiers," in which DJs go through the station library playing hidden vinyl gems that fit with a particular theme.

Vinyl Being Played during Jack's shift

KCPR features both format and specialty shows. Format DJs are required to play 7 "current" releases per hour, which equates to about 50% current per format show. Additionally, all music played on a format show must be from the station's library. However, specialty show DJs can bring music from home and are not subject to "current" requirements. Format shows are very eclectic, as I got to experience first-hand while observing Music Director Jack's show during my visit.

On the Summer 2008 schedule, some of the specialty shows included "Electronic Immersion," "Soul Patrol," "New Noise," "Slaytanic Carnage" ("the only death metal show on the central coast" and a big hit with the incarcerated residents of the nearby "Men's Colony" according to Brian), "Urban Landscapes" (urban show that's been on for about a decade) and "Psychedelic Gospel." The airstaff includes student, faculty and community member DJs. One of their longtime DJs, Disgusting Old Hippie (aka English Prof. James B. Cushing), has been hosting the acoustic jazz show "Miles Ahead" since 1997. Brian and Jack proudly told me that James was also featured in the film "Decline of Western Civilization."

Brian also talked about a recent article in the campus paper "America's Oldest College Radio DJ?" about KCPR's oldest DJ Charlie B, who hosts "Musica Americana," in which he plays old-time music.

I was intrigued to hear some station lore during my visit too, including tales about Weird Al's stint at the station. To hear more about the Weird Al connection, see some classic photos and read one KCPR alum's account of his time at the station in the 1970s, visit "My College Days at KCPR." There's also a Wiki for KCPR alum and you can find all sorts of goodies there, including pictures of old playlists, program guides, etc.

Paper Playlist

Speaking of playlists, KCPR still uses paper playlists, which surprised me in light of their glamorous new board. The MDs tally up the lists each week in order to compile their charts for CMJ and labels. I remember those days not so fondly.

Thanks again to the staff of KCPR for allowing me to tour their excellent station. I'm always thrilled to learn more about the inner-workings of other college radio stations and it's particularly cool when the station is devoted to underground sounds. I'll be keeping tabs on KCPR and look forward to hearing what they're up to as they celebrate their 40th anniversary this fall.