You take out the scratched up Beatles’ Abbey Road LP from its musty slipcover, cue it onto the turntable, and broadcast it to the small, rural area surrounding your college campus. It’s 5:00 AM, you’re the only one in the booth, and you ask yourself: “is anyone listening?”, “Does what I’m doing matter?” Little do you know, as you speak into the microphone introducing “Here Comes the Sun” (as the sun is literally rising), you are part of a long history of college radio. But how is college radio relevant today?
Despite the rise of popular broadcasts ranging from sportscasts to music countdowns, radio has generally been on the decline. We have turned the dial to its off position and turned on our smartphones, abundant with news, traffic reports, YouTube, and pretty much everything the radio can give us without commercial breaks. Yet, mainstream radio largely remains a stable part of society, especially for when we cannot reach our phones, such as during rush-hour traffic on the Long Island Expressway or spontaneous weekends to the Poconos. But how does college radio fit into the equation?
College radio stations are as much for the disc jockeys as they are for the listeners, if not more. Since 1917, when the first college radio station was believed to be introduced at University of Wisconsin, Madison, college stations have become important community hubs for students and alumni. Music lovers, hopeful news anchors, and misfits unite to air their tunes and thoughts for all (well, those within a few miles) to hear. Many campuses are free-format, meaning they can broadcast anything they want within FCC rules, something that marketed, commercialized radio lacks. Just like the unofficial Quidditch team exists for Harry Potter enthusiasts to express themselves, college radio exists for students to do the same, whether it is through music, a sports broadcast, or even spoken word poetry.
Although free-formatted, college radio stations do not take their commitment to the radio spectrum lightly and, in fact, have used their standing as an educational center to maintain the integrity of early radio. For example, exactly 75 years after it was first broadcasted, Binghamton University – SUNY aired the original broadcast of “War of the Worlds,” the infamous H.G Wells’ adaptation that sent Americans running around in fear of an invasion, on October 30th, 2013. “War of the Worlds” marks a significant piece of history as it exemplifies the power the media has on its audience. WHRW 90.5 FM Binghamton, the campus’ radio station, blocked out three hours and threw a listening party for the event, which followed a talk led by professors and scholars to discuss the impact of the work. College radio stations have the opportunity, resources, and even audience to create an intriguing learning experience on various subjects.
Furthermore, while many participate in college radio for the community and for fun, it also prepares students with real-life experience. Many campus stations feature news shows, sports programs, and public affairs broadcasts, preparing students for careers in journalism, television, and more. This undoubtedly allows students to receive important media experience they may not be able to find anywhere else on campus. Whether it is through research, working with others, or preparing their own material, there is transferable experience in much of what a disc jockey or reporter does at his or her college radio station. Who knows, maybe your favorite morning show news anchor got their early start in college radio.
College radio may not even be a blip on your dial, but it is an important educational and social staple for campuses around the world. For some, the booth is a place to blast an old cassette tape and drown themselves in loud drum solos, and for others it is a place to get experience before graduation tosses them head-first into adulthood. For most, though, in a world that is dominated by the digital age, it is where we can remain true to the integrity of the radio and express ourselves in new, and even undiscovered, ways.
Headline Image Credit: Radio Recorder Boombox Old School. Image by Heissenstein. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.