Tuesday, November 24, 2009

5 Favorite College Radio Stations?

One of the reasons that I started Spinning Indie was because I wanted to help connect college radio DJs with folks from other stations. I love meeting other college radio DJs, seeing stations all over the country, and getting ideas from others who love music and radio.

For that reason, I'm always impressed when I hear about college radio stations who support and give credit to stations other than their own.

In today's Daily Nebraskan, KRNU Music Director Casey Welsch devotes his column to a run-down of his 5 favorite college radio stations. They include WMHB (Colby College), BIRN (Berklee College of Music), Pulse Radio (London School of Economics), WNYU (New York University), and WESU (Wesleyan University).

He mentions that he listens to these stations via iTunes radio and that part of his motivation is to see how his station at University of Nebraska is doing compared to others.

What do you think of his list? What are your 5 favorite college radio stations?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Canadian Student Station CKMS to Cease Broadcasting

Back in 2008 I wrote a few pieces about the situation at Canadian college radio station CKMS and haven't really followed their plight since then. Well, it turns out that after they lost funding from the University of Waterloo in 2008, the station revamped itself a bit and continued under the name SoundFM.

This week they again attempted to gain school funding via a referendum presented to students. Students were asked if they would pay a refundable $2.50 fee (less than what students paid in the past to fund the station) in order to help support the radio station.

Well, the referendum lost yesterday, with only about 18% of students voting.

Yesterday SoundFM announced that the station will cease broadcasting on December 4, 2009. According to a statement on their website, they would like to continue operating as a radio station and supporters are encouraged to contact them:

"If any campus or community members would like to share any ideas or support please get in contact with the President of the Board of Directors, Steve Krysak.

We will be holding a general meeting in two weeks time, with a location and exact date to be announced, to discuss potential options for continuing broadcast and get feedback from SoundFM supporters in the campus and community. You do not have to be a SoundFM member to attend this meeting."

I'm always going to be on the side of keeping radio on campus and I hope that CKMS/SoundFM figures out a way to continue operating; especially since radio dates back to the 1960s on campus.

It saddens me to read in various articles that student apathy and lack of interest in radio (and reliance on iPods) are a few reasons for the station's demise.

College Radio Woodie Awarded to KUPS

mtvU just announced their 2009 winner for the annual College Radio Woodie Award. After many rounds of voting, KUPS from University of Puget Sound (Tacoma, Washington) was selected by popular vote. According to the article on the MTV website, over 3.1 million votes were cast.

New York DJ Matt Pinfield of WRXP (hey...I just saw him a few weeks ago!) actually showed up at KUPS on Friday to present the staff with their award and there's a great picture of that on the Weekly Volcano's Spew Blog.

The official mtvU Woodies Awards Ceremony takes place tomorrow in New York City and will be broadcast on various MTV outlets on December 4th. Although I've been focusing on their college radio award, the Woodies also include awards for best artists, videos, etc.

Congratulations to KUPS. It's awesome to see a station win this award that hasn't been on the top of some of the other recent college radio award lists and I appreciate that voters helped to mix things up a bit.

Take a look at my previous posts (I was a little OCD in terms of tracking the Woodies this year) about the 2009 College Radio Woodies to find out about the nomination process that began with more than 300 stations and was narrowed down to 100, then 50, then 25, and finally culled to five finalists.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Radio Station Field Trip 19 - RXP 101.9 "The New York Rock Experience"

Emmis Communications- Home of WRXP

It was never on my agenda to visit a commercial radio station. My assumption has been that a corporate radio station in 2009 would be a very boring and depressing place. To me the horrors of commercial radio these days are the results of fewer and fewer station owners, resulting in tightened playlists, less local programming, and more DJ automation.

However, when I saw a panel of DJs and staff from WRXP (aka "the New York Rock Experience") at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City last month I actually became intrigued again about the potential of commercial radio and decided that I wanted to see this New York City rock station in action.

Leslie Fram on Mic During "The Rock Show"

Thanks so much to Program Director Leslie Fram for welcoming me to the station and for allowing me to be a fly on the wall during her morning show. Also a big thanks to her co-host Matt Pinfield, Producer Matt Ianni and DJ Greg Russ for talking to me about RXP.

WRXP has been around since February 2008 as a rock-oriented station in New York City owned by Emmis Communications. Previously, 101.9 was home to a number of formats, most recently smooth jazz up until to the change to rock.

I visited the station on the morning of Friday, October 23, 2009 during the last hour of the morning drive show hosted by Matt Pinfield and Leslie Fram. Dubbed "The Rock Show," it airs on weekdays from 6 to 10am.

Matt Pinfield Selecting Tracks During His Morning Show on RXP

When I arrived, former college radio DJ Matt Pinfield (perhaps you remember him from his days hosting MTV's alternative music show "120 Minutes" or from his regular gig during DirecTV's SXSW coverage) was actually selecting music to play during the final hour of the show which they call "Spinfield."

In advance, he'd creating a list of possible tracks to play and I watched him pick and choose his final selections. He changed his mind about a couple of things as he heard the music play, making comments like, "I need something kind of synthy." It was something I could relate to as a DJ and I was so happy to see him excited about crafting interesting segueways. He also seemed really moved by listener feedback and was elated when a comment came in on his mobile phone from a listener saying, "you made my day."

He played both classic (Elvis Costello) and new (Killers) stuff and even through in some bands that were completely off my radar like The Raspberries (by listener request). I was surprised and delighted to hear him throwing on one of my '80s favorites The Chameleons and impressed that on the fly he decided to nestle that next to Black Sabbath. Matt was downright giddy about that particular musical segue and it became so obvious to me that he loves music and radio. You can view his entire playlist for that hour on the RXP blog.

Although it wasn't a revolutionary hour of music, it was refreshing to see that there's a commercial station out there where DJs actually have some say over what they are playing. And....it wasn't all digital music. Matt played some CDs during the show and I also saw the 10AM DJ arriving for his shift with a CD wallet in hand.

Following my visit I talked to Leslie about this a bit and she told me over email that,

"RXP reminds me of the 'spirit' of radio when I first started. We are all very passionate about music and are excited to have the opportunity to work for a company that allows us to offer our listeners a different kind of rock radio station in the Tri-State. DJ's that can actually talk about the music, program their own features and play new music and unsigned bands!"

It was obvious during my visit that Matt and Leslie love music. They talked about artists who they were planning to see and seemed super enthusiastic and engaged.

Music Brought in by the Next DJ

But, as you might guess, being commercial radio it's not all wild and anarchistic. Like all stations, they have a log of "business" that they must attend to every hour, including commercials, public service announcements, ticket giveaways, etc. The producer of the show maps out the overall flow of things in advance and you can actually take a peek at what one such flow sheet looks like on this post from the RXP blog last week. Music being played also includes requests and some emphasis on local artists with their "Local Licks" selection during the hour that I was there. To get a sense of all of the music being played, you can take a look at the station's playlist archive for the past 2 weeks.

During the hour that I was in the studio, I was kind of amazed by the lengthy sets of music, with the DJs only really taking a few breaks. They called these breaks "stop sets" and they seemed to last for about 5 minutes, including DJ banter and ads.

After Matt and Leslie finished their show, I got a quick tour around WRXP. Being a part of the Emmis radio group, they share space with a few other radio stations. Greg took me around to the WRXP production studio, green room (complete with gross couches--a staple of any radio station!), and through farms of cubicles housing sales, HR, accounting, and the web teams.

Requisite Nasty Couch in the Stations' Shared "Green Room," complete with Dead Tree

Programming and Music Directors had offices with doors and I even spotted a vinyl record reflected through the glass of the Music Director's office. Although I didn't see any sort of music library, Greg did point out a locked cabinet of music for one of their fellow stations. Mail tubs full of music were also in the hallway outside the Music Director's digs.

Music Director's Office at RXP

Believe it or not RXP also has a show completely devoted to vinyl. The Sunday morning "Vinyl Experience" show airs from 9 to 10am and is hosted by vinyl enthusiast Paul Cavalconte. It actually debuted on October 25th, just a few days after my visit. Although the station doesn't have a vinyl library, they do have turntables which they set up in the Control Room for that particular show. Do you know of any other commercial stations with vinyl-only shows? I'd love it if that was a growing trend.

Thanks again to the crew at RXP for showing this college radio gal around the station's digs. Although many things are different (commercials, salespeople), many things were surprisingly the same (stinky couches, enthusiastic DJs).

Previous Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips:

Field Trip to WECB at Emerson College
College Radio Field Trip 2 - Cal Poly's KCPR
College Radio Field Trip 3 - Notre Dame's WVFI
Radio Station Field Trip 4 - WFMU in Jersey City
Radio Station Field Trip 5 - East Village Radio in NYC
Radio Station Field Trip 6 - WNYU in New York City
Radio Station Field Trip 7 - Northwestern's WNUR
Radio Station Field Trip 8 - Stanford's KZSU
Radio Station Field Trip 9 - University of San Francisco's KUSF
Radio Station Field Trip 10 - Santa Clara University Station KSCU
Radio Station Field Trip 11 - UC Berkeley's KALX
Radio Station Field Trip 12 - KSJS at San Jose State University
Radio Station Field Trip 13 - WBAR at Barnard College
Radio Station Field Trip 14 - KFJC at Foothill College
Radio Station Field Trip 15 - UC Santa Cruz Station KZSC
Radio Station Field Trip 16 - Haverford College Station WHRC
Radio Station Field Trip 17 - FCCFree Radio in San Francisco
Radio Station Field Trip 18 - Flirt FM in Galway, Ireland

Goodbye to Student Radio at KAUR and Hello to MPR

After getting a comment on an old post of mind about college radio station KAUR at Augustana College in South Dakota, I decided to loop back and find out the status of the station. Back in May I reported that the school dropped the station's FM signal and that KAUR would continue to broadcast as an online-only station.

At the time one of the reasons cited for this change was outside interest in the signal from religious and public radio groups.

Well. It turns out that public radio won and college radio lost on this one.

KAUR is on the air over FM now, but as of September 15th it's been broadcasting an all-news format from Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and there are no plans to air local content. Additionally, the school decided to no longer maintain even an online-only student radio station.

I just hate stories like this.

Apparently in recent years the staff of KAUR had dwindled down to one student and that lack of student interest is cited as one of the reasons for the administration opting out of managing the station.

It's sad to me that such an amazing campus resource (around since 1972) just faded away.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Crazy Final Day at CMJ: Radio-o-Rama

The final moments of CMJ 2009

My final day at the CMJ Music Marathon 2009, Friday, October 23, 2009, was jam-packed with radio-related adventures. In the morning I headed over to commercial radio station WRXP in order to hang out and get a tour of the station. It was a really fun experience and actually made me a bit more optimistic about the potential of commercial radio. My next post will be a full write-up on that tour.

College Radio Mentor Session with KDHX's Kate Estwing
Following that, I raced back over to NYU to take part in a short "college radio mentor session" that I'd arranged the previous day. Students participating in College Day the day before were entitled to sign up to have 15-minute chats with various folks from the industry, including radio promoters and community radio station KDHX.

KDHX's Program Director Kate Estwing talked to me about the St. Louis station. She mentioned that her station streams the past 2 weeks-worth of shows and said that the streams are really successful because "people don't like appointment listening anymore." I was also heartened to hear that KDHX plays vinyl and features a lot of in-studio performances (200 this year!).

The station gets its funding from members (they're doing a fundraiser right now), grants, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Right now they're in the midst of a "Station Renewal Project" grant from CPB and the ultimate goal is to get the station to a place of self-sufficiency.

Man Behind the Curtain Engineering during KEXP Session

KEXP Sessions at the Cutting Room
Next, I raced over to the Cutting Room to see some of the live music that KEXP was hosting and broadcasting from there. On that particular day they were only doing acoustic sets and I caught a bit of the performance by Choir of Young Believers. There was lots of documentation happening, as the set was being filmed, photographed, and recorded for the archives and live stream. The set-up wasn't super conducive to having a live audience; but it was fun to hang in the hallway, meet folks from KEXP and see a bit of how radio was covering the festivities at CMJ.

Internet Radio: A Free-for-All
The final panel that I was able to make it to was all about Internet radio and featured a range of folks from KEXP, East Village Radio, the Future of Music Coalition, SoundExchange, AOL Radio, and Yep Roc. Much of the discussion focused on licensing and fees related to Internet radio and the affiliated rules and regulations. After a long week (and little sleep) I had a hard time focusing on all of the nitty gritty details of the conversation, except to recognize that there's much complexity surrounding these issues.

We heard that podcasting is different from streaming in that a podcast is considered a "distribution of a sound recording" and streaming is a "public performance" according to Kyle Funn from SoundExchange. SoundExchange helps artists get paid for streaming radio.

People talked about fee structures, reporting requirements and the currently imperfect methods for getting royalties to artists when not every song being played is necessarily reported. Internet Radio was described by Casey Rae-Hunter of Future of Music Coalition as having "tremendous promise" in terms of breaking new music and a future was imagined in which "a new breed of entrepreneurs" work to sort out all of the connections between radio, technology and reporting on artists/songs being played.

AOL's Peter Schiecke pointed out that the majority of the money that AOL Radio makes is used to pay royalties, meaning that it's "not a booming business." He suggested that there should be rates in effect that aren't "driving people out of business."

A few highlights/quotes I liked:

Emch Subatomic (KEXP, BrooklynRadio.net): Internet Radio is "a little bit of the wild west...right now."

Peter Schiecke (AOL Radio): Internet radio... "it still feels like it's in its infancy."

Jeremiah Lewis (Yep Roc Records): Radio is "a source for us to make money" (singles sent to radio are meant to encourage album purchases)

Peter Ferraro (GM, East Village Radio): "We are not making money at the present time...it's been a promotional vehicle for the restaurant [Little Frankie's] more or less...[that is] funded by tomatoes and dough and flour."

Casey Rae-Hunter (Future of Music Coalition): He uttered my favorite word all week: "Earballs"

Artist Lounge at the Pure Volume House
My final stop before departing NYC was the artist/press-only "lounge" at the pop-up venue at Collective Hardware dubbed Pure Volume House. This was a place where bands could hang out, get free haircuts, and the occasional free pizza slice. Press (like me) were also allowed, although I was initially denied access to the exclusive loft area where the hair cutting and massages were taking place. As is often the case, when one is told that something is off-limits it often sounds way more interesting than it turns out actually to be. I was in and out in a flash as there was no free food in sight. On my way out I ran into some college radio kids from KSCR who had been hanging there all week disguised as the KSCR Family Band. Rock on.

Previous Posts about the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon:

CMJ 2009 Band Name Trends Revealed
Radio is Alive and Well at the CMJ Music Marathon (for Radio Survivor)
Radio's Presence at CMJ
CMJ 2009 Music Marathon Recap Part Two (10/20/09)
Social Networking, Metal Radio & Digital Music, and Miles Davis in 1959 (10/21/09)
CMJ 2009 College Day Part One- College Radio and Competition
CMJ 2009 College Day Part Two: Music Directors' Summit
CMJ 2009 College Day Part Three: Making Executive Decisions Panel
CMJ 2009 College Day Part Four: College Radio Awards
Small Beast Showcase at The Delancey During CMJ: Theremin, David J, and David Lynch Covers

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Small Beast Showcase at The Delancey During CMJ: Theremin, David J, and David Lynch Covers

David J at The Delancey in NYC

My all-time favorite show during the CMJ Music Marathon this year was a showcase at The Delancey on Thursday, October 22, 2009. As part of the "Small Beast" series, this collection of acts played in the small bar area on the ground floor of the club. Downstairs one of the most happening shows of CMJ was taking place and a line of people stretched out the door. But I was happy to be inside at a less populated, more experimental, and (can you believe?) free show. Nestled in a velvety booth, I felt like I was transported to a crazy cabaret inhabited by characters from a Wim Wenders film, with Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen orchestrating the soundtrack.

This particular event was the 40th show in the "Small Beast" series, curated by Paul Wallfisch. He was the MC of the evening as well as a performer and even passed a tip jar to collect donations for the musicians between sets.

I was lured to the show by the promise of not only David J, but also musicians incorporating theremin and David Lynch covers into their sets. It seemed like the perfect confluence of performers and sounds for me.

Unfortunately things got going a little bit late (a pain at CMJ when every act is scheduled at precisely timed intervals so that attendees can pop from show to show), owing to a missing musician. As soon as the show began, though, I was entranced.

Pamelia Kurstin at The Delancey

First on the bill was Pete Drungle, featuring Pamelia Kurstin with some loungy, jazzy sounds on theremin. Pete played Wurlitzer piano and another fellow handled percussion using some intriguing box-like contraption that he was sitting on. Overall, it was magical, shimmery instrumental music.

Call me Kat at The Delancey

After that, Call me Kat from Denmark provided some lovely vocalizations over vintage synth. She tantalized with a sophisticated cover of the Britney Spears tune "Toxic."

Spottiswoode was a passionate, singer-songwriter guy with a guitar. His text-focused song about all the ladies he liked included phrases like "girls with glasses and ten dollar asses, that's what I like." I was instantly reminded of the retro Nails classic "88 Lines about 44 Women," although his take on things was way less saucy. Later he moved to piano and I became a lot more interested in the dirgier style that he transitioned into. I bantered a bit with the guy next to me (who turned out to be David J!) and he mentioned that parts of the set reminded him of Randy Newman. I could see that too, with a bit of Billy Bragg thrown in for good measure. For sure he was a storyteller and that was the commonality between all of the influences that I heard in his music.

Thomas Truax at The Delancey
(Spinster Sister to his left)

One of the most intriguing musicians of the night was Thomas Truax. Like a mad professor he came on stage with a collection of fascinating, Rube Goldberg-style contraptions that he used to make music. Crafted with bits and pieces of vintage materials, the Hornicator featured part of an old phonograph horn. The automatic drum kit dubbed Sister Spinster sat perched on a table in front, churning out demonic, heartbeat sounds as well.

Thomas looked a bit like a cross between David Byrne and Harry Dean Stanton and was just plain creepy cool. At one point he jumped up on the bar and crouched down playing his guitar while singing to each and every member of the crowd, weaving in and out of booths while he sang. He's done an album of songs from the films of David Lynch and included a few in the set at Delancey as well.

Paul Wallfisch and Little Annie

Our host for the evening, Botanica's Paul Wallfisch then hit the stage. I was fascinated by him in part because he bears an uncanny resemblance to a DJ at my station (appropriately named Mitch LeMay). Perhaps he's his doppelganger. Paul played piano and was quite the lounge lizard, making the old time, variety show vibe of the evening even more apparent.

I kept wondering what the 20-year-old CMJ hipsters must be thinking as they crossed through the room to get to the Antlers show downstairs. Did they run screaming thinking "oh my god, this is cheesy old people music" (like I used to think about Barry Manilow), or did they recognize the camp aspect of it all? Special guest Little Annie joined in and she was definitely the glamorous diva of the night. Dressed to the nines in head-to-toe black, she looked classic and classy, but her lyrics were biting and sassy.

David J with members of Botanica at The Delancey

Then, the star attraction for the night was Bauhaus and Love and Rockets luminary David J. Halloween songs were promised and he definitely delivered with some creepy-themed songs about murder and death. He performed a lot of covers, including songs by LCD Soundsystem and Tom Waits and premiered a new song of his called "Blood Sucker Blues" about a strung-out vampire.

I was a bit star-struck as it took me awhile to realize that I'd been sitting next to David J. for much of the evening. It was pretty cool to just chat about the music with a fellow music-lover who turned out to be one of the main reasons I was at the show in the first place.

I'm also 90% sure that I spotted another celebrity that evening. If you look closely at the pictures I took during the David J. set you might just spot a shadowy figure who I think is the hilarious actor/comedian Clark Duke (he plays the geeky cool Dale on the TV show Greek). If it wasn't him it was just some CMJ hipster who could have been his twin.

David J was spinning a DJ set at Small Beast later, but as it was nearing 2am, I had to split to get some sustenance (late night S'mores crepe, anyone?!) after a very long day of CMJing it.

If I'm back in New York, though, I'll definitely be checking out Small Beast again because if this show's lineup was any indication, the booking philosophy is simply inspired.

Thomas Truax with his Hornicator

Previous Posts about the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon:

CMJ 2009 Band Name Trends Revealed
Radio is Alive and Well at the CMJ Music Marathon (for Radio Survivor)
Radio's Presence at CMJ
CMJ 2009 Music Marathon Recap Part Two (10/20/09)
Social Networking, Metal Radio & Digital Music, and Miles Davis in 1959 (10/21/09)
CMJ 2009 College Day Part One- College Radio and Competition
CMJ 2009 College Day Part Two: Music Directors' Summit
CMJ 2009 College Day Part Three: Making Executive Decisions Panel
CMJ 2009 College Day Part Four: College Radio Awards

Friday, November 6, 2009

CMJ 2009 College Day Part Four: College Radio Awards

Not necessarily the most educational part of College Day at the CMJ Music Marathon this year, but certainly the most fun was the College Radio Awards Ceremony on Thursday, October 22, 2009.

A few months back CMJ subscribers were invited to suggest nominees for the awards and in September those finalists were announced. During the CMJ Music Marathon attendees were able to vote for their favorites in a variety of categories related to college radio and college radio promotion.

Here's a selection of this year's nominees and you can check here for last year's winners.

Lisa Hresko and Moose Double Check the Vote Count

The MC for this event was CMJ's Editor-in-Chief Rev. Moose. He set an irreverent tone for the festivities by throwing free Bjorn Bjorg underwear out into the crowd throughout the ceremony. Instead of having set presenters, he chose folks based on the names on business cards that he pulled from his pocket. Those accepting awards also joked around by running up the aisle shooting confetti guns, spouting off non-sequiter acceptance speeches, and by pretending to answer fake cell phone calls from family members.

This year, Sacramento State station KSSU dominated with 5 awards (ousting last year's big winner KEXP). Canadian stations also did extremely well, with CJLO earning three awards and CHUO and CFUV each scoring one a piece.

I was impressed to see a variety of stations nominated for awards this year, but a bit disappointed to again see one station win a sweep of major awards. It's tough, because many of the people voting probably aren't familiar with all of the stations in the running...so they may just vote based on who they've met at CMJ and who they've seen on panels.

No Wonder CJLO Won "Best Group Effort"

On to the station-related winners (to see all winners, see the story on CMJ):

Station Of The Year:

KSSU (Sacramento)

Apparently this is the first year that this was not won by KEXP.

Biggest Community Resource:

KSSU (Sacramento)

Best Use Of Limited Resources:

KSSU (Sacramento)

Best Online-Only Station:

WOXY.com (Austin)

Best Website:

KEXP (Seattle)

Most Doing Something No One Else Is Doing:

WNYU (New York)

Best Student-Run Station:

KSSU (Sacramento)

Most Supportive Of The Local Scene:

CFUV (Victoria)

Music Director of Year

KSSU's Susie Kuo

Specialty Music Director Of The Year

CJLO's Brian Joseph

Best Group Effort

CJLO (Montreal)


CJLO's Omar Husain

Best Taste In Music

CHUO's Joni Sadler (Ottawa)

Previous Posts about the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon:

CMJ 2009 Band Name Trends Revealed
Radio is Alive and Well at the CMJ Music Marathon (for Radio Survivor)
Radio's Presence at CMJ
CMJ 2009 Music Marathon Recap Part Two (10/20/09)
Social Networking, Metal Radio & Digital Music, and Miles Davis in 1959 (10/21/09)
CMJ 2009 College Day Part One- College Radio and Competition
CMJ 2009 College Day Part Two: Music Directors' Summit
CMJ 2009 College Day Part Three: Making Executive Decisions Panel

CMJ 2009 College Day Part Three: Making Executive Decisions Panel

"Making Executive Decisions" Panel During CMJ's College Day 2009

The final panel of College Day during the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon was called "Making Executive Decisions" and focused on a discussion about running a station and training DJs. Moderated by Justin Spindler of Mute (and formerly of WDBM), it included Maura Klosterman from KSCR (University of Southern California), Trent Wahfeldt of KCSU (Colorado State University), Ben Williams of The Llano Idea (he was formerly at the KTXT), and Manu Taylor from New Zealand station 95bFM (University of Auckland).

This panel turned out to be an interesting mixture, with two true college radio stations (KSCR and KCSU), a semi-commercial university-owned station from New Zeland (95bFM), and an Internet-only station that was spawned by the death of a college station.

We learned that KSCR began in the late 1970s at USC and that the school also owns an FM classical station. Although KSCR has a weak AM signal, it is mainly an online station these days.

Ben Williams talked about the plight of Lubbock station KTXT, which was shut down by the university without notice last year after being on the air for 50 years. Although there were protests and a movement to save the station, the university stuck to its decision. In February, Ben started the Llano Idea as a "forum for KTXT students to continue what they were doing." The new online station works to "curate events," do shows and basically continue the work of the former station.

Trent talked about how KCSU recently separated from their university and it now a part of the student media organization.

Manu told us a bit about 95b FM, which began in 1969 as a pirate radio station that was initially a student prank in the harbor of Auckland, New Zealand. Eventually it developed into a radio club and began broadcasting over AM. By the 1980s they moved to FM. As Manu spoke more and more about the station, I grew very confused about how they compared with my vision of college radio in the United States. He mentioned the station's news and editorial team and that they create their own commercials and "generate revenue." So, it's a bit of a different kind of station, in that it has some commercial leanings and seems to be run professionally.

Radio History at KALX


Not surprisingly, the first topic of discussion was funding. Ben pointed out that he's found that it's "significantly cheaper" to run an Internet-only station and that in its first year of operation, he's managed to self-fund The Llano Idea. He mentioned that they'd considered having DJs pay a small monthly fee to be on the air, but for now they've "scrapped" that idea.

Maura talked about how some of the original founders of KSCR "started a campaign for an endowment for the station." She said that at USC there's a precedent for this, as their marching band has a similar endowment. Although they won't see the money from the endowment for a long-time, it does help to guarantee their future. In the past, KSCR got money from student fees, but that amount has been dwindling from year to year and was down to $1500 last year. They get some income from a company called "University Communications," which pays them to read public service announcements over the air.

At KCSU, there isn't much funding from the school, although they do manage to have "12 paid managers."

A few KSCR Staff Members (aka the KSCR "Family Band") at the CMJ Artist Lounge

Recruiting Staff and DJs
KCSU recruits staff during various campus events and fairs, where they sent up promotional tents. They have around 50 DJs and are on a campus with 26,000 students to draw from.

Manu talked about the "aggressive environment" at his station (with a sense of pride) and said that an "element of nerve is required to walk in the door." The station is branded as "shelter from the shit," which says it all as far as the vibe he was trying to express. He pointed out that people aspire to be at 95b FM and that the station provides a "pathway" to careers in media. His station has 15 paid staff who are paid commercial rates and 70 volunteers.

Maura said that although USC has a "music industry major," people at KSCR are a mixture of folks with varying degrees of interst in working in the business of music.

Trent said that at KCSU maybe "5 to 10 percent" of the staff might go on to work in radio or music. Regardless, he said that the station provides great experience.

Keeping DJs Motivated and Dealing with Burnout
Trent said that what's really worked at KCSU is having a Director of Training and Retention. It's a paid position on the station's staff. He said that although as many as 100 people might sign up as expressing interest in the station at various events, fewer than 50% come in to train, so they work hard to keep those people.

Ben said that when KTXT shut down it had 70 volunteers, but maybe only 50% of them are still participating in the Llano Idea. He said, "not a lot of people are dedicated" and that there's only "a handful of people who I can count on."

Maura expressed that she's had to step back from some of her station activities. She's a graduate student and when her studies began to suffer she decided to step down from being Music Director.

Manu talked about his staff with a mixture of pride and derision, arguing not only that his "journalists...get jobs easily" but also that he'll drop a DJ "because he's an idiot." He has a mentoring program at the station, where he will pair new DJs with those who are more estalished (including some who've been there for 25 years).

CMJ Exhibitor's Loft

New Roles at Station?
The panelists also talked about non-traditional roles that they have at their stations. Manu has a "Content Manager" who handles digital music adds and he also has a sales team. The Llano Idea has a video production team, a web director, and a Systems Administrator. Maura pointed out that KSCR is completely student-run and only recently did the station even open its doors to alumni DJs.

Social Networking
Trent mentioned that his station started a Facebook page and that because of it they've "gained a lot of new listeners" and that he feels that it's "really important to have that connection with listeners" since they are not listening to the station all of the time. When Maura asked the audience if their stations had Facebook and Twitter accounts, pretty much every hand was raised. It's amazing for me to see stations finally getting serious about social networking; since back in March I had a hard time finding many stations on Twitter and Facebook.

Trent gave some social networking tips, suggesting that "consistency" in updating pages will draw more people. Ben said that they use their blog for interviews and sessions with local bands and argued that radio is moving into being more a "content provider." Trent concurred, pointing out that the web "extends radio" through things like music reviews and DJ profiles.

At Manu's station, staff actually get paid to produce documentaries and other content and everything is archived on the site.

Vinyl at KFJC

What Makes a Good Music Director?
When asked "What makes a good Music Director?," Manu simply replied, "ears." He talked about "picking hits" and said he's been doing it for 22 years. Ben said, "at the end of the day you want to have listeners...there's a line there that you have to tread" and said that he believed that the music director's job was to "know what's hot or what's going to be hot before your listeners do."

According to Manu "people skills" are also important and he wants staff members who are able to manage relationships and reply to emails.

Trent said that it's vital for MDs to know and listen to their stations.

Equipment at WNUR

Managing Volunteers
Manu is pretty blunt about his dealings with problematic volunteers, relaying an anecdote about how he put a restraining order on a volunteer once. On the flipside, he rewards volunteers with "access" in order to motivate them. He may give tickets to events or free phone credit from their Vodafone sponsor.

Maura said that they have no money to pay staff members. Justin pointed out that when he was an MD he was paid a small stipend and that it did help motivate him at times. Overall, though, he said that most weeks he did his job at the station "for the passion."

DJ Training
Trent said that at his station incoming DJs learn the FCC rules, shadow a show with the Training Director, shadow 2 prime time shows, shadow a specialty show, then take both written and on-air tests. Depending on the DJ, this whole process takes between 3 days and 2 weeks.

At KSCR aspring DJs begin with an internship where they are required to do 10 hours of volunteer work before they are allowed to take part in more formal studio training. Training there is self-paced.

Sign at KZSC

Motivating DJs Who Can't Be Fired
An audience member that at his school, participation in the station is offered as a class and that you "can't kick people out." DJs at his station take the class pass/fail and even if they do a horrible show they can't fail as long as they are "trying." He wondered how to motivate DJs to do better in that kind of environment.

Manu suggested coming up with guidelines which DJs could be measured against, whereas Maura simply recommended getting DJs to think "beyond...just their shows." Trent said that it's really helpful to just "hang out" and "develop relationships" with DJs. Manu agreed, saying that DJ meetings or parties can be useful bonding experiences. Justin added that being a DJ can be a "singular, lonely experience," so he encourages people to get "out of the booth" and interact.

Evaluating DJs, Getting Them to Follow Rules
Colin from WMSR asked about how to handle rule-breaking DJs and if folks have suggestions on the protocal for pulling shows off the air. Ben said that at KTXT airchecks were monitored and the Program Director would work with DJs on "Radio 101." He said that it really helped him to go over his airchecks with the Program Director and he saw improvement in his show. He argued that "airchecks should be mandatory" and said that at his station there was a waiting list of people who wanted to get on the air. He added, "Make sure that your PD sounds good on the air" and "Make sure your PD knows how to do an aircheck" since that person is setting the tone for the station's airsound.

Previous Posts about the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon:

CMJ 2009 Band Name Trends Revealed
Radio is Alive and Well at the CMJ Music Marathon (for Radio Survivor)
Radio's Presence at CMJ
CMJ 2009 Music Marathon Recap Part Two (10/20/09)
Social Networking, Metal Radio & Digital Music, and Miles Davis in 1959 (10/21/09)
CMJ 2009 College Day Part One- College Radio and Competition
CMJ 2009 College Day Part Two: Music Directors' Summit

CMJ 2009 College Day Part Two: Music Directors' Summit

Music Directors' Summit at CMJ's College Day 2009

So, if College Day was a big draw for me at the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon this year, then the annual Music Directors' Summit on that day could be considered the icing on the cake. Last year's MD Summit was a real eye-opener for me and this year's was even better.

Moderated by Chad Reich of KBUT (a community radio station in Crested Butte, Colorado), the panel also consisted of Joni Sadler from CHUO (University of Ottawa, Canada), Chris Payne from WTSR (The College of New Jersey), Kayla Morrison of KUPS (University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA), and Nick Inzucchi from WVKR (Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY). Everyone on the panel was a Music Director or Specialty Music Director at a college radio station.

Role of the Music Director
Chad began things by talking about the job of Music Director (MD) to "sort through the clutter" while receiving "very little pay or none" and having to "deal with a lot of issues." He said that he typically gets between 20 and 50 records a week.

Picking the Music
Jodi from Canadian station CHUO said that she strives to be diverse in her music adds, while avoiding "the mainstream top 40 songs." Kayla added that KUPS is the only independent station in Tacoma, Washington, so they try not to add major labels and try to focus on local music. Nick from WVKR said that at his station they are "trying to help emerging artists." He's a genre-director, so in his role he's only adding maybe 2 CDs every week.

Community DJ at KSJS

Playing Music by Established Artists and the Role of Community DJs ("Ancient Old Dudes") at College Stations
Chad asked the panel how they handle new music from older artists like Radiohead and Built to Spill. Nick (whose emphasis is on electronic music) replied that there are not "too many old electronic dudes who are still touring," so it wasn't much of an issue for his genre-area. Wow! I'm not sure that I believe that....and certainly there are reissues by established electronic acts.

From there the conversation turned to us oldsters who are still in college radio after all these years. Nick mentioned that community DJs, aka "the ancient old dudes...know music like the back of your hand" and added that they are the ones who "bring a lot of history to the station" as well as older music.

Chad concurred, saying that at his station they have DJs who've been at the station for 25 years and that those DJs are "not exactly breaking new [music]."

I find this perception of older DJs to be quite interesting, especially since I'm at a station with lots of long-time DJs who are still really devoted to exploring new sounds. I wonder if this is a real departure from the norm?

Reviews, Rotation, and Getting DJs to Play New Artists
Next the conversation turned to methods for reviewing new music and rotating it through the station. Chris said he tapes a review on every album that he adds to the station. Joni mentioned that she also puts reviews on every CD and also talks to individual DJs in order to recommend certain releases to them. Kayla creates a mixtape for DJs every week, where she pulls a track from each new CD and sends it along so that people are checking out the new music. She also has instituted a rotation system in order to get DJs to play a more diverse mix of music. Music is color-coded as yellow, green, or blue and DJs must play at least one track from each color category every hour. Nick said that at his station DJs have to play 5 rotation tracks every hour.

Playlist Requirements or Freeform?
Kayla said she interviews all prospective DJs and choses the ones who are interested in new music. Chris's station is not freeform and DJs must play a certain number of tracks from various rotation categories every hour during dayside programs (5 heavy, ? light, 3 back library, 1 local).
Jodi said that all Canadian stations must play 35% Canadian content, but other than that, her station is freeform.

Vintage Adds Lists from KZSU

Coming up with Top Five Adds
Chad asked the Music Directors to describe how they come up with their "Top 5 Adds" list to share with promoters. Kayla said, "I listen to every record...at least one song...That is my job." She picks her top 5 adds based on what she and her assistant like and she spreads them out among promoters "to be fair." She added that she only adds stuff that will get played or will chart with her DJs.

Chris concurred that he likes to spread his adds across promoters.

Jodi shocked the moderator when she said, "We don't do Top 5 adds." She explained, "We are notoriously slow for getting mail" and argued that they don't want to do a "popularity contest" between promoters. Additionally, since they are a freeform station, it's impossible for her to even guess what the top 5 adds might be.

Chad said that he adds the best 5 records every week and also does charts weekly.

MD Job as Balancing Act of Being DJs' Friend and Boss
The panel talked about the tough job of being MD, where on the one hand you need to be friends with your DJs, but you also need to sometimes be "the boss." Kayla said that she's lucky in that her DJs are all students, so it's not as "awkward" as it might be at a station with older community volunteers where you're telling someone "my dad's age...you can't play the Rolling Stones." She acknowledged that she is at a small school, so people still may hate her, but that's OK.

KSCU Music Department Wall

Digital Revolution
Chad pointed out that the digital revolution is "happening," but that it's a lot of work for Music Directors. On the plus side, the movement toward digital music "can solve a lot of problems" like overflowing shelves and drawers. Nick said his station has a lot of space issues and as a result they have cleared out jewel cases and are using plastic sleeves instead for CDs. They also have a "sweet robot" that can digitize 400 CDs at a time. Even with that, he said it will take 4 years to digitize the whole library. He argued that the conversion process is still a "huge pain" and that "getting a CD in the mail is so much easier at this point."

On the downside, Chad said that when you go digital, you're "missing out" by losing the physical copy of the music, with liner notes and "artwork...you'll never be able to replace with digital music." Nick also argued that although "it's true that you save money" with digital releases, he wondered if the promotional effort has the same effect.

Monitoring DJs' Playlists and Making Sure they Aren't Just Playing iPod
The panel offered up suggestions on how to monitor DJs. Chris recommended listening to peoples' shows and said that his station makes DJs keep a log of what they've played. Kayla said that at her station DJs are not allowed to plug in iPods. DJs must keep track of their playlists using an online program and they have playlists going back for a decade. She looks through those lists and will send warnings out to DJs playing mainstream material (she gave the example of Destiny's Child) and those DJs won't get shows the next semester if they continue.

Making Sure You Aren't Too Influenced by Promoters
During the Q&A a Music Director asked how other MDs make sure their new adds aren't too influenced by the promoters sending the music to the station. Chris mentioned that there are plenty of good CDs "not being worked by promoters" and also emphasized the importance of adding local music. Kayla gets around this by having an assistant who does not talk to promoters so that she can be "an inpartial judge" of the music. She also gets second opinions from DJs when deciding on what to add.

Playlist at KCPR from Fall 2008

Lazy DJs Not Tracking Their Playlists
There was talk during the Q&A about lazy DJs who don't input their playlists during their shows and how to get them to keep track of what they are playing, especially when it's a small staff and they can't afford to lose DJs. Chad agreed that this can be a challenge, saying that at his station there are DJs in their 60s and 70s who "refuse to deal with technology." He suggested talking to the DJs to get a sense of what they like and are playing, adding, "they're volunteers...you can't fire them." Nick added, "I sympathize with the lazyness...it's really tedious to chart your show" and it sounded like he wanted a more automatic tool to help him do so. In terms of learning what DJs play, he said that what works for him is direct communication with DJs.

What was most surprising to me about this discussion was the acceptance of DJs not keeping track of plays and the sympathy for how difficult it is. I'm kind of floored to hear that DJs and MDs think it's hard to keep a playlist, especially when most of these stations have a digital method for tracking plays. I'm guessing that the lazy DJs are the ones who are mainly playing digital music from their own collections and/or are creating their playlists in advance of their shows on iPods. For them, perhaps, it's a challenge to have to go back and figure out what they played when. I find this really really alarming and see it as part of a broader trend of radio becoming a less active task. Selecting and playing an mp3 takes less work than choosing and playing CDs and playing a CD takes less work than playing a piece of vinyl and with all of that the DJ's job becomes more and more sedentary.

Record Library at KALX

Valuing the Library
In a discussion about the how music libraries are valued at college radio stations, Chad argued that the music "library is your lifeblood" and that people should "feel really bad...[if they] mess with" it. Chris said that his station is working to digitize their back library of material dating back to the early '90s and late '80s (that's old?!). They keep music that was in high rotation or that charted on CMJ on their "back wall" and move other material to an accessible back room.

Nick said his station doesn't really have a problem with theft and that people tend to just burn things instead. He said "taking pride in your station" is important. Joni mentioned that they used to let people borrow music, but soon that became problematic. DJs are allowed to rip CDs and theft has been reduced dramatically. They additionally deface all of their music.

Getting Mainstream DJs Interested in Newer Music
Suggestions for getting DJs to check out new music included having one-on-one conversations with them and inviting them to review new music.

Box at WNYU

Role of Vinyl
The MD of KVCU (Boulder) asked about the role of vinyl at various stations. She said her station loves vinyl and has 4 turntables in the studio. Chad said that "everything sounds better on vinyl" and argued that stations "should keep that stuff." He mentioned that he's seen MDs try to purge vinyl and he's against that, adding, "we have DJs who play cassettes and DATs still." Chris said that at his station he led a seminar on how to use turntables and added that in their library they have a lot of great bands, like Talking Heads, where they only have vinyl.

Joni said that vinyl actually does better at her station than CDs "by a long shot." She added that she wants to make turntables part of the on-air training since "vinyl is huge with us." Joni also pointed out that many local bands are issuing material on vinyl. Nick said he really likes getting sent vinyl and that the station's vinyl library has "a lot of history" and is "more personal."

Doing a Digital Show vs. Playing CDs and Vinyl
I asked the panel if they saw a difference in the DJ experience and airsound of shows where the DJ is playing solely digital vs. physical music. The comments that I got back were strongly in favor of physical music, with terms like "soul-less" and "lazy DJ syndrome" used to describe DJs who come in and do a show that's pre-planned on their iPod. Chad said that the iPod "eliminates the need" for a DJ and argued that if you're "not working the board" then it's "not DJing to me."

Joni concurred, saying, "you have to avoid...pre-recording large segments of your show." Chris added that playing pre-recorded material isn't that much different from automation and it "sucks the life out" of one's show. Chad agreed, saying making playlists in advance, pre-recording shows, and "not using the shelves...undermines" the goals of the station.

It was really refreshing to hear that this group of Music Directors still believes in DJs doing more active radio shows.

Previous Posts about the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon:

CMJ 2009 Band Name Trends Revealed
Radio is Alive and Well at the CMJ Music Marathon (for Radio Survivor)
Radio's Presence at CMJ
CMJ 2009 Music Marathon Recap Part Two (10/20/09)
Social Networking, Metal Radio & Digital Music, and Miles Davis in 1959 (10/21/09)
CMJ 2009 College Day Part One- College Radio and Competition

Thursday, November 5, 2009

CMJ 2009 College Day Part One- College Radio and Competition

Panelists on the "Growing Pains" Panel during CMJ's College Day

For me the most anticipated day of the entire CMJ Music Marathon is "College Day." And this year's College Day definitely delivered, with excellent panelists, an entertaining College Radio Awards ceremony, free food, and a chance to bond with other college radio folks.

The full-day event took place in its own dedicated auditorium in the Kimmel Center at NYU on Thursday, October 22, 2009 and began with a free continental breakfast (yes!) at 9:30am. Here's a summary of the first panel of the day, "Growing Pains," which was all about who college radio stations feel like they are competing with and how that varies by physical location (Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, etc.), location on the dial (FM, AM, Internet-only), and how crowded a radio market they are in.

The college radio stations represented included KUOM (University of Minnesota), KXLU (Loyola-Marymount), and Bearcast Radio (University of Cincinnati).

The moderator, Shil Patel of Team Clermont, talked about his experience at the Internet-only University of Texas-Dallas station Radio UTD, relaying their struggles to gain local listeners when they did not have a terrestrial signal.

Ryann Walton from Bearcast Radio said that her station is also Internet-only, so they face similar challenges in attracting local listeners.

KXLU Breaking through the Noise in NYC

Molly Shelton of KXLU brought up the point that since they are in Los Angeles, they have different challenges, being in a huge radio market. She said that one big issue right now is that another station is trying to take over their spot on the dial.

KUOM's Jake Knight talked about his station's ongoing challenges with their signal. For a long time they have been broadcasting during the day on AM, but recently added an FM signal. He said that it's been "complicated" just letting people know "how to listen to the station." They also face huge competition from a newer well-funded public radio station in their market that came onto the scene after KUOM (aka Radio K) was already established.

He mentioned that the public radio station has a "similar format," but is a "more watered down version" of Radio K. He said that there is a sense of competition between the stations for both listeners and opportunities to do co-presents at local venues. He acknowledged that "it's easier to listen to [the other station] KCMP...based on the artists that they play" and said that overall "college radio's harder to listen to [with its] interesting, eclectic artists."

Similarly, KXLU faces competition from a public radio station in Los Angeles: KCRW. Molly said that KXLU's focus is more on "independent artists," but that they do have a lot of listeners who also tune in to KCRW. She also added that they have to compete with other stations for co-presents in the L.A. area too.

In terms of the challenges of being an Internet-only station, Ryann from Bearcast Radio said that they try to do a lot of locally-focused programming to gain local listeners. One talk show, "Explore Cincinnati" has been extremely popular. She also mentioned that the popular Internet-only station WOXY recently moved out of Cincinnati to Austin, Texas and pointed out that that move hasn't necessarily helped Bearcast. She said, "When WOXY moved, you'd think that would be good for us...." but said that artists now often skip visiting Cincinnati since WOXY is no longer there. However, a high school station that broadcasts over FM did find its audience grow when WOXY left the FM dial.

Example of a Co-Presents in NYC for WNYU

On the flipside of all the discussion about competition, Ryann said that she would rather be friends with other stations than compete with them. She's visited other stations in Ohio and even spent the night at the college station in Oxford, Ohio. She said that she's found it helpful to "learn and grow from them."

Panelists also talked about different ways to publicize one's station, including co-presenting shows, publishing playlists in the campus newspaper, and presenting shows on-campus.

During the Q&A some really interesting questions came up. Here are a couple:

Q: How do you differentiate your station music-wise?

Molly from KXLU recommended seeking out music from bands, etc. and said to not just rely on music sent from promotions companies.

Q: Colin from WMSR said "our biggest competition is ourselves" and talked about how music and sports compete for airtime at his station which is at a school nicknamed "J Crew U."

Ryann from Bearcast said, "Ignore those people" and made a pitch for why championing independent music is so important.

Previous Posts about the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon:

CMJ 2009 Band Name Trends Revealed
Radio is Alive and Well at the CMJ Music Marathon (for Radio Survivor)
Radio's Presence at CMJ
CMJ 2009 Music Marathon Recap Part Two (10/20/09)
Social Networking, Metal Radio & Digital Music, and Miles Davis in 1959 (10/21/09)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

CMJ Music Marathon Recap Part Three: Social Networking, Metal Radio and Digital Music, and Miles Davis in 1959

CMJ Exhibitor's Loft

The second full day of the CMJ Music Marathon took place on Wednesday, October 21, 2009. Panels began bright and early (for this crowd) at 11am at NYU's Kimmel Center and continued to focus on helping musicians to succeed in the music biz. Topics ranged from artist management, to the ins and outs of major label contracts, to the independent music market. A few genre-specific panels touched on dance, jazz, and metal and Andrew W.K. gave a keynote presentation.

Here's an overview of what I saw and heard on Day Two of CMJ:

Watching Sessions at CMJ

iLike It When YahoogleMyFaceTunes...You Tweet

Unfortunately this panel about music and social networking left me rather bored, as buzzwords flew around the room and I had a hard time focusing on what was actually being said. I think I was negatively predisposed when things started out with this comment by the moderator, "...the panel represents lots of pieces of the value chain." Uh oh. We also heard about how musicians need to "communicate offers to monetize," and should be aware of their "core competency."

I'm never a fan of business lingo, so the usage of these terms seemed to just zap the soul out of the conversation for me. And we're talking about music, one of the most soulful creations around.

We also heard that "somebody's back end is another person's front end," which, happily elicited much laughter from the panel and audience.

Most interesting to me was the discussion of music bloggers. Panelist Jason Herskowitz argued that with the declining influence of radio, music bloggers "are like the new music directors." I'm sure that's true for a lot of people, with those blogs serving as an entry point into new sounds. Similarly, Edith Bellinghausen from Razor & Tie suggested that music blogs are the new music press today.

Metal Radio Panel (not pictured-Jen Graham)

Keeping Metal Radio Relevant in the Digital Age

I was excited to see this discussion, as it was the first radio-specific panel of CMJ this year. Although ostensibly about "metal radio," the conversation was really more about the transition to digital music (from CDs and vinyl) and how that affects radio stations. As in similar panels last year, it was pointed out that the transition away from CDs to digital music is inevitable, mainly because of cost-cutting measures in the record biz.

The benefits of digital music were touted, with Jen Graham from Metalblade arguing that with digital music labels and promoters are able to provide as many copies as they'd like to radio stations and there's no fear of "lost mail" as there was in the past with CDs.

Jose Mangin of SiriusXM pointed out that he initially had problems with digital releases, but has come to realize that "it's about the music," regardless of what format it's on. He did make the point (echoed by many radio programmers) that for him downloading an album is still "a lot of work."

Music promoter Dan Rodriguez said that he's gotten a lot of "angry emails" from stations who are against digital-only releases. He added, "I have people threaten to not work with me" because he isn't able to send them physical copies of new releases. He admitted that he does "tailor a list" of stations to which he sends CDs.

An audience member then commented that much of the ire from stations may be because the "technological solutions" for handling digital releases just aren't easy. He said that it's "super frustrating" and asked, "Why is the process so complicated?"

In addition to this lack of standardization for digital releases, some stations simply don't have the proper equipment to process the music. Dan said that he's heard from some college radio stations that they did not have the technology to handle digital downloads, telling the crowd that some stations have "Macs from the mid-90s," don't have CD burners, and some even have staff that say they don't know how to burn a CD or play an mp3.

The handful of Promo CDs that I Collected at CMJ
(note the CDs promoting the music of New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, and Sweden)

The panel offered up various suggestions on how promoters and labels can streamline digital adds, including using the iTunes podcast feature or using one's own dedicated server.

Dan said that "there is no standard...for servicing radio digitally," pointing out that there are 6 or 7 different programs to faciliate it. Others use zip files and dedicated servers. He later said, "I wish there was an iTunes of radio servicing." (Hmmm....there's a business opportunity for Apple!)

From the discussion it also became clear that every station is different in terms of the information that they'd like to have along with a digital release. Some stations need to see all lyrics and album covers so that they can review the content for potentially objectionable material.

Many college radio folks in the audience also pointed out that they only add CDs to their libraries. So, for them, it takes time, work, and money to burn a CD. One Music Director said that she'd appreciate it if she was sent a "jewel-case friendly" info sheet along with the music, as she ends up having to cut things up in order to make them fit into the case.

Jose admitted that it still does benefit an artist to release CDs in addition to mp3s, saying that a digital-only release may hurt artists as far as radio goes, since often music can just get lost in a Music Director's email account.

The panel ended with much radio love, with promoter Alisha Turull (Heavy Hitter) arguing that "building a band" starts at radio. Jose added that radio play can end up leading to bands getting booked for national tours. Musician Carly Coma added that "because of the power of radio" his band had a "fan base" and people showed up when they toured Michigan.

It's great to hear that radio is still relevant to artists and fans; but I still find it sad to hear that physical music is increasingly seen as too much work for DJs. In the ultimate expression of the generational shift in how radio is done, Dan mentioned that when he had a college radio show he got "tired of carrying crates of music," so he ended up just doing his playlist in iTunes.

Timeless Miles: 1959- A Pivotal Year in Music

From metal to jazz! With my own station KFJC celebrating its 50th anniversary during CMJ, I was particularly interested in hearing more about the "pivotal" year of 1959 which saw the birth of not only KFJC, but also of some seminal jazz albums by Miles Davis. Panelists, including journalist Ashley Kahn, musicians DJ Logic and Q-Tip, and Miles Davis' son Erin Davis, talked about not only why 1959 was such an important year, but also why Miles Davis was such a revolutionary artist whose impact can still be felt 50 years later.

In discussing the albums "Kind of Blue" and "Sketches of Spain," the panel members pointed out that they capture a complete musical experience. Ashley said that in 1959 people weren't really crafting complete LPs that were meant to be listened to from beginning to end, as singles were the dominant musical form. Andre Torres added, "it's almost come full circle...we've sort of devolved back into...singles and snippets." He said, "There's something to be said [about a] 12 by 12 picture....[and] liner notes."

The panel also speculated about whether or not there were certain years or periods when creativity was at its peak. The years 1959, 1969, and 1989 were mentioned by Ashley as times when there were "explosions" of sounds or "cycles" of change in music.

At the end of the panel a representative from Monster came on stage to debut a new "high end headphone" inspired by Miles Davis and to raffle off CDs, DVDs, posters and T-shirts. It was a little odd to have a sales pitch (although they admitted that the headphones were out of the price range of most CMJ attendees) after such a thoughtful panel; but the awkwardness of that was assuaged for me when I learned that free CDs copies of "Kind of Blue" and "Sketches of Spain" were being given away to those who attended the session. For me that was the best freebie of CMJ.

More coverage of CMJ to come, including a recap of "College Day."

Previous Posts about the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon:

CMJ 2009 Music Marathon Recap Part Two (10/20/09 panels and shows)
Radio's Presence at CMJ
Radio is Alive and Well at the CMJ Music Marathon (for Radio Survivor)
CMJ 2009 Band Name Trends Revealed