College radio has long been integral to the music industry, the launchpad to mainstream recognition for struggling artists and independent bands. We have college DJs to thank for the emergence of an excess of rock fixtures including the recently disbanded R.E.M., Talking Heads, The Smiths and The Replacements.
But that longstanding tradition of providing Americans with alternative rock is in jeopardy of disappearing as universities look for ways to tighten budgets and turn profits. In response, more than 360 college radio stations across the U.S., Canada and Jamaica celebrated College Radio Day Tuesday, in an effort to promote a greater awareness of local student-run radio and recognize its impact on music.
In recent years university administrators have shopped around their schools’ FM licenses to non-student organizations, including to National Public Radio affiliates, USA Today reports. As some may recall, it was college stations that supported the creation of NPR during those formative days of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.
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Despite a history rich in kingmaking and an ever-presence of nostalgia for most generations, college radio support is dwindling. Vanderbilt University is in the midst of a $3.35 million deal to sell their FM rights, while the University of San Francisco is pending on a $3.75 million sale. Last spring, Rice University in Houston sold off its KTRU-FM license, bandwidth and tower for $9.5 million, according to USA Today. While many student-run stations transition online or to HD channels, some believe it’s not the same.
“When you’ve got an FM license, it’s a huge blow to have it taken away from you.” said Rob Quicke, a communications professor and general manager of student station at William Patterson University in New Jersey. “They’re silencing their student voices forever.”
Quicke, who spearheaded College Radio Day, was joined by a nationwide movement that included daylong festivities illuminating the cultural significance of student-run radio. Rochester Institute of Technology’s WITR 89.7 raffled off a guitar signed by every band who performed at the school.
College radio has mostly survived through its infinite amount of student volunteers and a meager fanbase, but school officials are justifying the cut. “We just didn’t think that was the proper use of our resources,” Gary McDonald, a spokesperson for University of San Francisco said.
Though its relevancy exists in rock culture, stations continue to struggle with audience support. “The hardest part for college radio is letting people know that it’s still here,” Chicago-based St. Xavier University’s student general manager Peter Kreten told the Washington Post. “And if you give us a shot, you may hear your new favorite band.”