Wednesday, October 8, 2008

College Radio Debate Continues at WUDR

A few weeks ago I wrote about an opinion piece that discussed programming changes at a college radio station in Ohio. The author talked about how University of Dayton station WUDR (aka "Flyer Radio") created rigid programming rules in response to fears about FCC crackdowns. This was disappointing to him, as he felt like the station had become blander.

Another piece this week provides the perspective of a current DJ, who argues that station management had to standardize programming because of DJs who repeatedly flaunted FCC rules, thereby risking the station's license (which religious groups were chomping at the bit over). John Bedell writes:

"...They had to standardize the programming because of some knuckleheads who thought they could swear on the air and play whatever kind of music they wanted regardless of lyrics. We've been warned as DJ's for the last two years that if the language- both spoken and broadcast through songs- did not improve then there were going to be some changes in order to keep WUDR. But a handful of hard-headed DJ's continued to play and say whatever they wanted on the air. Since the stern reminders didn't seem to sink in with the staff, here we find ourselves."

If that's the case, it's really disappointing that DJs refused to follow simple FCC guidelines and put their station at risk. I don't know enough about the new programming rules to decide if they were an over-reaction or not.

Regardless, the debate continues, and this week there's another opinion piece. This one, written by a former Music Director of the station, gets to the heart of what people might think the essence of "college radio" is and whether or not "rules" about what gets played (or not played) are in the best interest of the airsound.

In the article, Paul Barbatano writes about how in his day, DJs went through an application process and were "screened" for having broad music taste before getting on the air:

"...I was the Music Director of Flyer Radio as an undergraduate long ago in the dark ages when Flyer Radio was a small, untidy, smelly pit above the KU dining hall and not its new ultra-swanky digs at the ArtStreet complex. When I was music director we carefully (to the best of my knowledge since I chose a majority of them) screened each and every DJ application to ensure we were 'hiring' the best, most creative people for DJ shifts. "Best" in this case meaning those who included a wide variety of musicians and bands on their applications."

He goes on to argue that DJs should have complete freedom to play whatever they want and that a station that screens music is "oppressive." According to Paul:

"To think that a 'college radio' station should ever in any way limit what is played on the air is in my opinion, completely unheard of. The entire point of 'college radio' is to play a wide variety of eclectic musical selections unhindered by any type of screening process. The notion that all songs have been pre-approved is totally insane to me and should be for anyone who actually wants to listen to radio free of oppressive control; George Orwell knew a thing or two about that. I've tried my best to listen to Flyer Radio in its current state and have heard lots of inane chatter about sports teams, Led Zeppelin, and dead air."

He also points out that in his day the station tried to emulate WFMU and WNUR and that college radio should be "incredibly inconsistent and varied." He writes:

"When I was music director my assistant and I were attempting to emulate major 'college radio' stations like WFMU and WNUR, radio stations that define exactly what it is 'college radio' should sound like, incredibly inconsistent and varied and leaning towards things you'd never hear anywhere else. Good luck finding something "different" if you listen to Flyer Radio now."

Personally, I don't think it's a bad thing to have some sort of screening process in place for music (isn't that the job of the Music Director?), so that a station has some sort of point-of-view. I prefer stations that screen in the "indie" direction, aiming to present artists that do not get airplay elsewhere. But, I also agree that the amazing thing about college radio is the opportunity for DJs to select their own music for their shows. I think it's still possible to have a creative, freeform station with some musical guidelines. It doesn't sound like that's happening at Flyer Radio, which is too bad.

What do you think? What kinds of rules does your station have? Do rules help or hurt the airsound?

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