Joe Cavanagh, a deejay with UConn’s WHUS with an interest in Celtic music, sent Jeff Boudreau the following email in support of independent college radio:
A funny thing happened on my way home this evening. I tuned to perhaps the most widely heard public radio presence in lower New England, WFCR. There I heard a promo for the locally-produced Classical Music offerings of the station. My immediate thought was: Isn’t the WFCR broadcasting formula (daytime classical, evenings jazz, overnight classical, and the standard ‘national’ newsy offerings somewhere in between) followed, by and large, in almost every ‘public’ radio station? Then I thought: Why do they even bother with local programming? They might as well match the universal newsy hours (Morning Edition and ATC) with an airing of centrally produced Classical Music and Jazz Music offerings.
In my view many stations transformed from the college kind to the public kind are beginning to look, in terms of programming behaviour, like commercial stations. I’m serious on this. Just two days ago I had a conversation decrying the obvious pressures public TV stations are under to expand the sponsor creep from mere logos to full-blown commercials! It doesn’t stop there. Sponsorship of public broadcasting seems to be in decline and the inevitable response of the stations has to be more, and more frequent, fund raising interruptions. Like many radio listeners I choose to listen to internet streams rather than over-the-air broadcasts. It is the content that is valued, not the delivery means! Unique content is the reason why many outside of the college environment choose their nearby student-run station over many if not most commercial stations.
I believe it is very short-sighted to drop college stations into the maw of ‘public’ radio. Most successful college stations offer something of unique value and interest to their listeners. That local or regional identity will disappear as the station becomes just another host for the uniformity of NPR/CPB-sourced programming. Witness WFCR, which used to have a very diverse schedule, and the many other former college stations which have similarly restricted their programme content. If the NPR/CPB footprprint descends everywhere won’t it be both more convenient and more economical, eventually, for HQ to simply stream one signal to the internet and shut down operations everywhere else?
Don’t give up the struggle for local radio..
A good read on the subject is this 2005 post on Slate.com, detailing the importance of this form of individual expression — the non-commercial station. In it, author Douglas Wolk notes:
But the great thing about college radio is that it doesn’t need to care about being “important” or popular — which is why its fans are still drawn to it. Kingmaking power or no, it’s pretty much the only kind of terrestrial radio that still operates according to its music directors and even its DJs’ personal aesthetics. College radio is local and individual, and the digital audio revolution has barely slowed it down. You can download songs from a dorm-mate or someone halfway across the world (or, all right, an actual online music store), but that only works if you already know what you want to hear. The point of college radio is that you get to hear things you didn’t already know about. And that means it’s one of the last few parts of American media that still has the power to surprise.