They Got Game

Jordan J, a deejay at WUSC, the student radio station at the University of South Carolina, writes a blog that held some interesting observations in a recent piece entitled “Why College Radio Is Still Important.” It’s a post that perhaps a few station managers should check out before they drink the kool-aid. WUSC, you see, had its station shut down in 1995—presided over by the same Chris Carroll who now seeks to shutter the Vanderbilt station. In the first paragraph of this blog entry, Jordan speaks volumes for the state of radio and why college radio is so important:

Things have changed for college radio. It’s no surprise, radio as a medium is so fundamentally different than it was twenty years ago. Approximately two thirds of all of the radio stations in the country are owned by about ten companies [emphasis added]. That means a small handful of people are making the decisions about almost everything that is going on the air and into your ears.

Many of our community (rather than campus-based) listeners have been tuning in since before the 1995 shutdown. At the time, director of student media Chris Carroll presided over the shutdown, which not only interrupted WUSC’s success and popularity, but also gave the student executive staff an unfortunate and unwanted education. Some of those students took the experiences that Carroll’s actions gave them and created another bright spot on the independent airwaves, others just left. Either way, Chris Carroll had tried the same thing at Tulane in 1991 and is currently trying to eliminate college radio at Vanderbilt. With current budget shortcomings, Carroll has found it easier. The tactics at Vanderbilt are especially questionable, but with budget deficits it’s not the only college radio station on the chopping block. Student Media at the University of South Carolina has been fortunate enough to have absolutely amazing and supportive leadership since the 1995 shutdown, but other college stations are not as lucky….

The internet has made radio in general less profitable. The conglomerates have addressed this issue by cutting staff (music directors and on-air talent), by airing syndicated rather than local programming, and by flip-flopping genres until they find what sells for each market. Needless to say, commercial radio content is not particularly thought out, and a lot of listeners have turned to the internet to meet their needs.

Jordan proceeds to enumerate some of the finer qualities of college radio at its best:

College radio is different. The quality and diversity of what college radio has to offer has not changed. Styles of music may be different than they were in the “golden years” of college radio, but what is offered is still fundamentally the same. College radio offers the best new music, and the widest variety of programming for listeners. While the internet offers great resources for accessing music, college radio is still the best medium for stepping out of a comfort zone and hearing something new. If commercial radio is the audio equivalent of an elevator ride, and internet radio is the same 2,000 songs in your current iTunes account, college radio is the junior high mix tape that peaks your interest and takes you to something you would not otherwise have experienced.

Local music interests are also served better by college stations than any other medium. South Carolina, specifically the Columbia music scene, has spawned both the critically acclaimed (Danielle Howle) and the commercially successful (Hootie), and everything in between. WUSC has always been there for local artists.

As well, he touches on what used to be the province of public radio:

WUSC, and other college radio stations, have two primary objectives—to educate and to entertain. Obviously a station that airs World, Blues, Pop, Rock, Americana, Local, Electronic, Hip Hop, and more has an educational purpose. Preserving and promoting distinct genres is such an important part of what college stations offer. At WUSC, there is a key difference between elitism and educational. Any full-time student at WUSC is allowed to train to be a DJ. WUSC is not limited to broadcast majors, or journalism majors. Any interested student can participate. Our specialty shows are well-planned and diverse, and our student and alumni DJs love what they do and know their stuff. The people that volunteer (all of our DJs are unpaid) love what they do and are passionate about finding a place to present the music that they don’t hear on any other stations….

When a college station is forced to broadcast only online, it closes a lot of doors to the community. The University of South Carolina has been very supportive of student media. While the student newspaper, WUSC and G&B magazine have stepped up their web presence, they have not been forced to go only online yet. This has made their services much more readily available to both the student body and the community. As a person who got so much out of student media, my heart goes out to the students who are facing college radio shutdowns. There are no easy budget cuts, but I can’t help but think that these universities have no idea what they are taking from both students and the community.

We couldn’t have said it any better.

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