Protecting Your Ears: Overcoming Corporate Radio On Campus

I’ve always held this theory about mainstream radio being the musical equivalent to eating fast food. It may not be the greatest, and it’s definitely not the best for me nutritionally. Wouldn’t be my first choice. But it’s convenient, and I’m hungry now. So inevitably, I walk in, stand in line, and order a couple of Hot and Spicy McChickens and some fries. Cheap? Yep. Filling? Sure, for the time being. Could I have done better? Absolutely. I get that same hollow, unfulfilled feeling after a session of listening to Top 40 radio. Allow me to explain myself.

I don’t mean to sound like a music snob. This isn’t a “the music I listen to is better than the music you listen to” article. This isn’t a push to shun all that is mainstream and listen to nothing but indie rock all day long, hating bands you once loved just because they have a hit single now. This is solely intended to reach those unfortunate souls who, for some reason or another, were tricked into believing that corporate radio is a respectable resource for good music.

It isn’t.

It’s not that I think corporate radio is the source of all things bland. It’s just that I’m not so sure that Clear Channel has our best interest in mind when pumping Hoobastank through their 900 trillion watt radio antenna into our cars. What they care about is the ever-so-important bottom line, and they’ll spin watered down, unoriginal bands as many times as needed to achieve their ends. It makes them money, and lots of it. Unfortunately, the quality is lost. Surprising fact: In a battle between money and quality, money will win 10 times out of 10. I researched that. This is the way corporate radio is structured; this is how they flourish. Those of us who time after time settle for what we hear on Power 95, or 101X, or the New Mix 94, or whatever, know that we’re eating whatever “the man” is feeding us. We might not know how bland it is because we’ve never ventured out to see what other food is out there. Well, I say let’s take that spoon into our own hands and feed ourselves for once! Let’s shun McDonald’s and go out in search of something better!!

Seriously, if quality music is truly what we’re searching for, if we really do care what goes into our oh-so-precious ears, then let’s do something about it. Too many times I’ve gotten into a friend’s car and had to endure the latest gem from Mudvayne or Sugar Ray. While not lethal in small doses, it’s mighty uncomfortable, and completely unnecessary! Let’s look at an alternative that is usually right under our noses, right within our grasp, but yet is rather unfamiliar territory to most of us. Yes indeed, I’m talking about your local college radio station.

As someone who worked as a DJ at KANM, a college radio station at Texas A&M for three years, I know I’m biased. But in that time, I’ve learned firsthand that there is sooo much more out there than is heard on mainstream radio. I also learned that very few people on campus knew or cared that we existed, even though our sole purpose was to save them from their own bad musical choices. Well, listening to college radio has some inherent advantages. I’d like to share them with you now.

First of all, a couple of public service announcements every hour surely beats high stressed, busy, annoying commercials for SUVs. Also, you won’t hear the same bands singing the same songs, like a playlist on repeat. Variety is the spice of life, they say. (No, I don’t know who “they” is.) Most college radio stations operate under a freeform format, which means that there is no music director telling their DJs “You must play [untalented band’s new single] three times in the next two hours.” The DJs are free to play whatever they want within their chosen genre. Stations get hundreds of CDs every week, most of whom are virtual unknowns. For example, have you ever heard of Damone? The Constantines? Spoon? All amazing bands, yet if mainstream radio is you’re only source for music, you will probably never get a chance to hear them. College radio offers a safe haven for bands like these, where quality is rewarded with airtime regardless of whether the band is on a major label. It’s what makes college radio vibrant, diverse, and constantly fresh.

One of college radio’s strengths can also become a drawback: its diversity. You probably won’t want to have to sit through a death metal show followed by a house/techno show followed by a grassroots folk rock show to get to the Christian punk show you wanted to listen to. Although you can listen to a college radio station for many hours consecutively to eventually find a show that you like, it’d be easier to get a schedule and figure out when the shows you’d be interested in are airing. It’s a little more work, but well worth it.

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No matter what kind of music you enjoy listening to, chances are there is a college radio show, whether in your area or broadcasting online, that is waiting for you. They are waiting to give your ears some relief. They are waiting to show you that there is more out there than what MTV or corporate radio is offering. For every Matchbox 20 you have in your life, there is a legitimately amazing band dying to woo you over. You just have to take the initiative to go out there and find them, and college radio is the vehicle that can take you there.

[Jeff Worthen is unavailable to write this bio, as he is currently serving as cheap labor for the RELEVANT suits. He has an unhealthy codependency to his iPod and loves the Red Sox.]

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