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The Old School Radio Spirit Continues

Thoughts on a list of 20 killer college stations

Brett Moss is gear and technology editor.

College Radio Day is next Tuesday (Oct. 11). In celebration of such an august occasion, the folk at the company Online Colleges have put together a helpful list that they call “20 Killer Stations You Should Tune Into for College Radio Day.”

Obviously it consists of what the organization considers 20 of the more interesting college radio stations, operations like CJLO in Montreal, KZSU at Stanford, WSBU at St. Bonaventure and KEXP Seattle.

The list is mostly FM and a might coast-dominated (though half the college radio stations in Chicago seem to have made the list). And there are easily parodied characteristics such as an emphasis on “indie” music or hip-hop. Yes, nothing like a herd of nearly identical “independents” staking out their supposed rebellious eclecticity in a repetitive cookie cutter way. The list is sorely lacking in true diversity. There appears to be no country music, Latino music, classical music, etc. And don’t religious schools put a great deal of effort into radio stations too?

But getting past the self-conscious sophistry of youth and their academic enablers, these stations are serious efforts, by and large, with full service, 24/7 operations. Several of the stations are more than just another fuzzy low-end-of-the-FM dial signal but instead are significant players in their communities.

And for all their similarity, any efforts made to dig out local talent, musical, theatrical or on-air, is to be applauded. If among many hours of dreadful local indie music or bizarre theatrical productions an occasional diamond shines, then hooray! It’s a low bar of success, but precious few commercial stations even think about approaching that bar. There are legitimate reasons for that behavior but that is grist for another mill.

Lately, college radio stations, usually thought to be protected from “market” forces, have found that economic reality is encroaching upon their ivory towers. Over the last year or so, several college radio stations have found themselves sold or swapped. Not all of them were the typical moribund, ignored, underfunded vanity projects that are what too many college radio stations have become (maybe they always were).

I should emphasize as usual that this is just my opinion and not officially those of Radio World. In fact my editor Paul McLane, a proud product of college radio himself, disagrees with me profoundly on my general feelings about stations in academia, including those fuzzy low-end stations. He says I’m generalizing and overlooking the role college stations play (or should play, anyway) as training ground and a place for unheralded content to be heard. But then, he’s not writing this particular blog post!

To be clear, my beef is more with the list than college radio in general. But it’s a particular bugaboo of mine — college kids thinking things like concrete music are new, that they are really the first people who ever listened to music and the musical tastes of anyone five years older stink. I did some work at college radio stations too, at SMU and American University, and I felt that way then as well.

Anyway check out the list of “killer” college radio stations. Mark Oct. 11 down on your calendar and tune in your local college radio station.