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The importance of college radio

BY GUEST OPINION | FEBRUARY 09, 2011 7:10 AM

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My first tape was CrazySexyCool by TLC. My first CD was Weird Al’s Running with Scissors. I still have them somewhere in the old room at my parents’ house. Unfortunately, with the rise of MP3s and iPods, they’re only good for what they represent, not for playing music (no matter how good “Waterfalls” and “Polka Party” are).

Our cassettes are six feet under, our CDs are on life support. Modern technology has given us our own soundtrack to our lives. We play the songs we want to play when we want to hear them. So in an age where we play our own music on our iPods and computers, why the hell would we want to listen to radio? And if, for some reason, we’re forced into an automobile without MP3 or CD capabilities, why would we dial down the frequency to a college radio station?

Here’s why: College radio focuses on art, not dollar signs. We don’t have to worry about satisfying advertisers or playing music that’s going to attract the masses. DJs play the music they want people to hear. Sure, that might mean a song or two that really freaks you out early in the morning, but that’s the beauty of art: It invokes emotion.

In college radio, the art is all that matters. We don’t play Top 40 music because there’s already enough Katy Perry in the world. There are thousands of artists who deserve just as much airtime as chart-topping Bruno Mars or Ke$ha, but because they don’t bring in the dollar signs, they don’t get played.

Because of the non-Top 40 format, there’s a stigma that college radio relishes in obscurity. That everyone who works there thinks it’s cool not to be cool. In some instances, that’s true. We all love the bands we discover, and when they hit it big, they seem like they sold out, like they aren’t ours anymore. That’s the same for all genres and all formats. But more than anything, college radio is the launching pad for artists breaking into the mainstream. It’s a place for discovery.

Remember “Paper Planes,” by M.I.A.? That was a massive college radio hit before it hit the mainstream. The same with R.E.M., Lupe Fiasco, Modest Mouse, and Arcade Fire; the college format gives you a glimpse into the future of music.

While all college DJs would love to have a dedicated fan base who listens each week, it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter because when it comes down to it, the people who work in college radio don’t do it for other people, they do it because it’s something they are passionate about.

There are so many opportunities at a college radio station. It blows my mind when people, especially music lovers, aren’t interested in working in campus radio. We get more than 200 CDs to review a week. We get to listen to new releases weeks in advance. We bring almost every band, speaker, or major public figure who comes to town into the station for in-studios. Our students have interviewed the guys from Beerfest, Frank Warren from PostSecret, Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, Max Weinberg, Girl Talk, Valerie Plame, and countless others. The university funds us to go to New York for the CMJ Music and Film Festival and Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest. How is this something you wouldn’t want to do?

Most importantly, though, it’s about the people you meet. I’ve met my roommate, and several of my best friends, through college radio. Some have graduated and, because of their experience, gone onto things like interning at ESPN, doing play-by-play in California, and consulting for major music venues. No matter who we become or where we are, we all know where we got our start.

College radio deserves your support.

Patrick Quinn is the marketing director at KRUI.


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