College radio is facing new challenges to stay on air. Students are volunteering fewer hours, listeners are discovering music through other mediums, and the list goes on. For Vanderbilt University, Rice University and the University of San Francisco, 2011 was the year the music died. An article from the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that these universities sold their college radio licenses in multi-million dollar deals.
But most college stations are not signing off. Well not yet at least. The University of Georgia says they plan to stay on air by incorporating radio automation. WUOG 90.5 FM celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. The station plans to see another 40, but not without some help, says Operations Manager, Akeeme Martin.
Killing Dead Air
Student DJs are not always available. Between juggling heavy course loads and leaving town on school breaks, volunteers are not in the studio 24/7. Martin says that’s when automation comes in. The radio software plays pre-recorded content and old shows to replace dead air time.
Martin says, “It helps the station run 24 hours whether someone is physically here or not.” Operating 24 hours is crucial in the radio industry. Dead air time can lead to several consequences, including FCC fines. Martin assures the technology is only benefiting the station. “It’s not replacing anything, it’s just enhancing what we have. So it’s not going to take away ANYTHING from the DJ experience or what W-U-O-G stands for,” says Martin.
Despite its benefits, the automation news strikes a sour note with many listeners. Bertis Downs is the manager of the iconic Athens band, R.E.M. He says he was stupefied when he heard about the transition. “I was like REALLY? The kids don’t want to do that… But a lot of things are different. People’s attention, their devotion to music, their way of discovering music, their way of listening to music… all that’s changed,” says Downs.
Slideshow: Student Radio Slideshow
Implications for Grassroots Music
WUOG was the first radio station to air R.E.M.’s music. Down’s says, “It was very much the reason R.E.M. was able to get on the map.” College radio stations are famous for playing unheard music and exposing new bands. In a survey conducted by College Radio Day, most college DJs “agreed that college radio alone can break new bands.” For many local artists, it is the student DJ and musician connection that propels their success. But therein lies the issue. If student DJs are volunteering less hours, some worry this connection will be lost.
Martin assures WUOG listeners that the DJ experience, “is something that has always been a part of the station” and always will be. Even with the incorporation of automation, Martin says WUOG content will remain original. He says, “Whether it be automation or live, it still stands true to our mission statement of being an alternative media outlet, giving people things that you’re not gonna hear any place else.” The use of automation is still not music to everyone’s ears but Martin says it’s for the best. College radio is changing across the US. But as for WUOG, their commitment to listeners and local artists will never skip a beat.
Meagan Priselac is