I was sitting on the bus the other day, and couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the conversation of the obnoxious 20-somethings sitting a few feet away. The topic du jour? Radio. Which seems rather odd because isn’t radio dead? Unless one is willing to pay for premium satellite service, aren’t radio listeners now trapped in top 40, oldies, and talk radio hell? Where, in fact, is one supossed to find music on the radio anymore? Frankly, I’ve had a few listens with that new fangled satellite business and found it similar to satellite TV, hundreds of stations and nothing to listen to. Unless, of course, you’re one of those crazed Elvis types who listens to the Elvis station 24/7. But this isn’t about the king, so let’s get back to the girl on the bus.
She was telling her friends how she really loves listening to WXPN. I cringed and rolled me eyes, where I come from WXPN is the enemy. It’s the former college station of the University of Pennsylvania, which was recently bought out and made commercial. While they are one of the few remaining rock stations in the Philadelphia area, they are the enemy because a few blocks away the members of WKDU are waiting with baited breath for a similar fate. WKDU is still a non-commercial college run station. The only commercial free, unformatted station left in a city where it daily seems that arts and culture are dying faster than guns could kill them.
College radio is the last bastion of good, quality radio, the type of radio that you listen to not for background noise, but because you can’t wait to hear what new amazing thing a DJ will play next. It’s one of the few forms of listening that can still evolve, grow, and change. Given the freedom of choice, a college radio DJ can play multiple artists from a plethora of genres all in one sitting. They are not regulated by the small pool of commercial artsists, but instead the vast expanse of independent ones. To listen to music is to embark on a journey of feelings, emotions, and memories, it’s one of those things that I don’t think can be controlled by a major record label, or a computer program (a kind of super ipod shuffle that many stations use). Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think something truly magical happens when you drop a needle onto an LP and feel the notes form as the table spins around.
The problem is that radio liscenses are worth a lot of money, and most universities, even the really rich ones, look at them as cash cows and sell them out from under student members feet, and not as the cultural heartbeat of the institution. Maybe that’s going to far, but that’s what college radio is. It unites students from all disciplines for the common purpose of sharing something they’re passionate about with their community and the world. Frankly, isn’t that worth more than selling out, isn’t it almost priceless?