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College Radio Watch: 2019 College Radio Year in Review

Fri, 12/20/2019 - 09:01

As we approach the end of 2019, it’s time for my semi-annual reflection on the year in college radio. As is often the case, the stories picked up most by the popular press focus on big news (like station launches, license sales, and budget crises), major milestones (like significant anniversaries), and quirky or feel-good stories about station personalities. But beyond those headlines, there are always a lot of fascinating tales of college radio stations embarking on innovative projects. I was happy to be able to visit a handful of San Diego-area college radio stations in 2019 to see for myself. Revisit those tours to Griffin Radio at Grossmont College, KCR at San Diego State University, SDS Radio at San Diego City College, and KSDT at University of California San Diego in my tour archives and on Radio Survivor podcast #202

It’s always a challenge to interpret a year’s worth of college radio news, as it often takes longer for trends to emerge. With that caveat, here are some of the themes that have jumped out at me throughout 2019. In the weeks to come, I’ll be taking an in-depth look back at the decade in college radio; where the changes are more pronounced.

College Radio Alums Rule the World…or at least the School

Does 2019 mark a key point in college radio history, in which we have college radio alumni serving as leaders in industry and academia? These thoughts crossed my mind while reading some of the coverage surrounding the arrival of Reed College’s new president, Audrey Bilger (full disclosure: I know Bilger, as she’s married to a long-time friend of my husband). Music and college radio are a big part of Bilger’s past and present and she mentioned her time at University of Virginia’s college radio station WTJU in press interviews this year. Portland Monthly even asked, “Is Reed College’s New President Too Cool to be a University Administrator?,” citing her college radio cred and humongous record collection, arguing that she is “probably, the first college president to own a bigger record collection than her school’s entire student body.”

In somewhat related news, we also learned this year that former White House counsel Don McGahn was on a 1980s college radio compilation.

New Stations and Station Revivals

One of the most encouraging signs of college radio’s continued health in 2019 is that students keep launching radio projects. In September, 2019, a student at Fordham was disappointed by the lack of radio opportunities at the Lincoln Center campus in New York City, so she started up Wavelengths to showcase student-produced radio. Billing itself as “Fordham Lincoln Center’s first student-run internet radio station,” Wavelengths can be found on Instagram and Spotify.

Other new stations in 2019 include the February debut of online radio station the Quake at Wilmington College and the launch of a student-run streaming radio station KTSU2- The Voice at Texas Southern University. A campus radio station was also established in Zimbabwe at Great Zimbabwe University this year as part of the “journalism training institution.”

Brown Student Radio (which has been off FM since 2011) was able to return to the terrestrial airwaves in 2019 thanks to its successful launch of a new LPFM radio station. Part of a three-way time-share with an arts organization (AS220) and a community radio group (Providence Community Radio), WBRU-LP is broadcasting in Providence, Rhode Island at 101.1 FM and online.

Streaming radio station WRCM at Manhattan College was revived in February. It marks the return of radio to the Bronx, New York campus after a four-year absence. Additionally, at Wiley College, KBWC-FM resumed operations after a 2-year break due to campus construction. Another revamp happened at Presbyterian College, where WPCX-LP returned to the airwaves in Clinton, South Carolina with renewed student interest.

In Montana, Montana State University’s KGLT-FM was also able to expand its broadcast range thanks to the addition of a translator.

It also warmed my heart that Rice University was able to purchase its original call letters, KTRU. Readers will recall that it continued to refer to itself as KTRU, even after its FM signal was sold off. Although it successfully snagged a low power FM signal (KBLT-LP), the KTRU call letters weren’t available until recently.

Rumored CMJ Relaunch in 2020

At the end of 2019, CMJ emerged from a long slumber on social media, announcing that it will return in 2020. Details are vague, but the new owners of the long-time college media brand plan to bring back CMJ’s radio charts, music events, and coverage of the college music scene. For decades, CMJ was a conduit between college radio stations and the music industry; with its weekly college radio airplay charts, annual conference/music festival/college radio confab in New York City, and reporting on new music releases.

Podcast and Audio Production Projects Expand

In 2019, we learned about quite a few interesting podcast projects at college radio stations. While some stations are adding stand-alone podcasts, like MargRock at WKNC, others are creating podcast versions of existing programs. Additionally, stations like WTJU are creating their own podcast networks as well as audio-drama podcasts. I’m also pleased to see collaborations, for example the news podcasts being undertaken by the Texas A&M-Commerce’s student newspaper and radio station KKOM.

A project that I found particularly fascinating is a student-run radio production club at Ithaca College. While the campus is home to two college radio stations, members of the new TNT Radio Productions club “believe there is a lack of diversity in audio content at the college,” according to a November, 2019 piece in The Ithacan. The group is “working to produce creative long–form audio stories” that run the gamut “from contemporary drama to experimental audio narratives that are not restricted to common formats like podcasting,” writes the Ithacan.

The fact that there’s increased desire for audio production opportunities on a college campus with two existing radio stations is a testament to the growing popularity of podcasting as well as audio drama. Speaking of audio drama, Arkansas Tech University’s communications and journalism department runs Arkansas Radio Theatre. Its production, Concealed Carrie, airs over KXRJ-FM.

And finally, with the boom in podcasting, some colleges are profiling the variety of podcasts both on campus and produced by students. Boston University is home to a few, some of which are affiliated with student radio station WTBU.

Big Anniversaries

Numerous college radio stations celebrated MAJOR anniversaries this year and it’s perhaps important to point out how special it is that so many college radio stations have persevered for decades. Despite the transitory nature of college radio stations, these institutions carry on with new leaders and new students. In the commercial radio world, it’s an increasing rarity for a station to exist for 40, 50, or 60 years under the same ownership; so kudos to college radio!

Some of the milestone anniversaries in 2019 include:

Stations Leaving AM and FM

College radio license sales are one of the bummer stories that I report on year after year. Thankfully 2019 didn’t see the flurry of big sales that we witnessed earlier in the decade. Nonetheless, it doesn’t make this year’s license sales any easier for fans, participants, and alumni who care about terrestrial broadcasting. I have to point out that the loss of AM or FM is not always mourned at college radio stations. In the most recent example, student participants at Denison College station WDUB expressed relief upon transitioning their station to an online-only operation that will be free from FCC-compliance concerns.

In 2019, one of the most-discussed college radio stations leaving FM was WUEV at Evansville College. This one really hurts for me, as I’d reported on WUEV’s impressive efforts in saving their station from a sale back in 2006. While students and alumni did their best to stop a sale this time around; WUEV’s FM license was ultimately sold to a religious radio group, with the sale approved last month.

Lehigh University’s student radio station WLVR-FM also left its 91.3 FM channel, but will stream online and broadcast on HD-2. This is part of a “partnership” with Lehigh Valley Public Media, in which public radio programming took over the station’s main channel as of November 1, 2019. Lehigh University will retain the license.

At Bucknell University, student radio station WVBU-FM transitioned to online-only status after the school made a deal with VIA Public Media. The FM license was sold to Northeastern Pennsylvania Educational Television Association in July, 2019 for $17,600. NPR programming now airs over the FM signal as of August, 2019.

At Trine University, WEAX-FM left the airwaves in July, 2019, with the station moving online. In a filing with the FCC, the university stated that it “no longer wishes to operate a radio station” and was “looking to sell the station.” In November, 2019, the FCC approved the assignment of the license to religious broadcaster Star Educational Media Network for a sale price of $40,000.

WIUV-FM at Castleton University in Castleton, Vermont, which had been on the air since 1976, also shut off its terrestrial broadcasts, turning its license back to the FCC in May, 2019. The license was subsequently cancelled.

University of Jamestown sold its station KJKR-FM to religious broadcaster Hi-Line Radio Fellowship in 2019, just seven years after the 4,000 watt radio station was launched on the North Dakota campus.

And in AM news, Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut shut down its professionally-run station WQUN in 2019. The station has been silent since May 31, 2019 and has FCC permission to remain off the air until June 2, 2020, citing “financial considerations and a reassessment of student needs” as reasons for not returning to the airwaves.

Student Fees Crisis in Canada

Throughout 2019 we’ve seen fallout from some policy changes in Canada threatening funding for campus media in Ontario. In March, 2019, we went in-depth on this topic for the Radio Survivor Podcast, speaking with Barry Rooke from the National Campus and Community Radio Association.

Because of an initiative allowing college students to opt out of various student fees, some stations have faced financial crises, including CJAM at University of Windsor (which cut staff), Laurentian University’s CKLU, where “funding from student fees dropped from $45,670 in 2018 to $3,000 in 2019.”

Late in the year, a piece in McMaster University’s student newspaper the Silhouette asks, “Did we choose student life?,’ pointing out:

September 2019 marked the first of possibly many registration periods in which students could opt-out of student union fees deemed non-essential. This change, instituted by the Government of Ontario in January 2019, is part of the widely criticised Student Choice Initiative. In the past, McMaster’s student union fees for all clubs and services have been mandatory. Non-essential fees range from a few dollars, like the $1 fee for Mac Farmstands or $2 for Horizons, to $13.72 for CFMU 93.3FM or $17.50 for Campus Events. As early as  January, student groups have feared the worst and prepared for the inevitable cuts.

More College Radio News License Sales Infrastructure Programming Music Industry and College Radio Events Alumni

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Podcast #224: How the FCC Could Support Diversity, Localism & Competition in Radio & TV

Wed, 12/18/2019 - 22:47

All nine judges on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently denied the FCC’s request for a rehearing on its many-times rejected media ownership rules. Prof. Christopher Terry calls this the Commission’s “Legacy of Failure.” But it begs the question, what does success look like?

Prof. Terry, who teaches media law at the University of Minnesota, joins us to discuss what another broadcast world might look like. Going back to fundamentals, he explains that media ownership rules are expected to serve the objectives of furthering diversity, localism and competition, and that is the standard against which they are judged. The Third Circuit has ruled again and again that the Commission has failed to provide evidence that rules changes – in the face of 23 years of increased consolidation, reduced localism and a dwindling number of women and minority station owners – would stem this tide.

While these seem like difficult trends to reverse, Prof. Terry thinks that a recent FCC policy initiative might actually work, with just a few modifications. He tells us how this could happen. He also fills us in on the status of Network Neutrality as public interest petitioners file their appeals in the appeals court case that upheld the Commission’s reversal of the 2015 Open Internet rules.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #224: How the FCC Could Support Diversity, Localism & Competition in Radio & TV appeared first on Radio Survivor.

The Near-Death of Independent Internet Radio Is One of the Most Important Radio Trends of the Decade

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 01:03

Internet radio experienced a sea change in the middle of the last decade that washed away many independent broadcasters, and changed the atmosphere for others. While the medium continues to sail on, it is also more fractured – and more diverse – than ten years ago. That’s why this evolution is one of the decade’s most important radio trends.

Internet Radio’s Indie Roots

Independent broadcasters have been a cornerstone of internet radio since the very beginning. Looking back 26 years to the very first internet broadcasts, we see that – much like terrestrial radio – they were initiated by hobbyists and experimenters, not big media companies.

In fact, one can argue that the U.S. commercial radio industry largely neglected internet radio for a good portion of its first two decades. I think we can mark the founding of iHeartRadio as an app and platform in 2008 as the turn, when American commercial broadcasting finally embraced the internet as a useful and profitable medium, rather than a pesky nuisance. I don’t mean that commercial stations weren’t streaming before then. Rather, that streams were treated as low priority obligations.

During that time thousands upon thousands of independent internet radio operations were founded, taking advantage of a very low cost of entry and an absence of any sort of governmental licensing. Esepecially in the late 90s and early 2000s, it was mostly a matter of getting a Live365 account, loading up some music, and going for it.

The DMCA Takes a Bite, but not a Mouthful

Beginning with the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998, internet broadcasting transitioned from its anything goes days to being a little more regulated. This was due to being required to pay royalties to songwriters and musicians for playing their music.

However, thanks to lobbying efforts on their behalf, small, independent and hobbyist webcasters got a break from Congress, twice. The Small Webcaster Settlement Acts of 2002 and 2009 established reasonable performance royalty rates for internet broadcasters not intent on going commercial, making much income, or serving large audiences. In effect, they were for webcasters that are akin to a small community LPFM or college station.

While this meant running a legit internet radio operation in the U.S. wasn’t free, the costs could be low enough to be comparable to, or less than, any number of other hobbies. Live365, then one of the biggest platforms offering streaming radio services, make it particularly easy by bundling those royalty payment in with the hosting costs. Some of the smallest webcasters could be on the hook for less than $100 a year – less than the cost of cup of Starbucks a day.

2016: The Year of the Great Seachange

The independent internet radio train ran off the rails in the middle of this last decade, January 2016 to be exact. That’s when the medium was dealt two massive blows: the expiration of the Small Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 and the closure of Live365. Though the expiration of the Settlement Act was perhaps the final nail in the coffin, Live365 had been struggling for some time before hand, largely due to the loss of key investors. Its demise on January 31 of that year left some 5000 internet broadcasters of all sizes scrambling for new hosts.

Despite the hopes and prayers of many a small webcaster, Congress never took up their cause again, and their royalty rates skyrocketed. Instead of paying a percentage of revenue as under the Settlement Act, they would started having to pay royalties based upon tracks streamed per listener. That meant a station that averaged 100 listeners tuned it at any time – not a huge audience – playing an average of 15 songs an hour, was on the hook for as much as $22,000 a year.

An untold number of independent internet broadcasters called it quits. That number is untold because there’s no central authority or accounting. But anecdotal evidence from looking at the Shoutcast directory of internet radio stations and monitoring internet forums indicated that the reduction was pretty substantial, especially amongst stations that served narrow niches and very small audiences.

Many mid-sized independent broadcasters seem to have been able to hold on by virtue of fundraising or ad revenue. SomaFM is one such group, which survives on listener contributions. Back in 2016 founder and operator Rusty Hodge told me that he anticipated his costs to jump to as much as $20,000 a month, and he would be implementing automatic stream time-outs for people listening for more than a couple hours, to be sure SomeFM wouldn’t be streaming music to empty rooms.

Non-commercial terrestrial stations dodged the bullet because the royalties for their online streams are negotiated separately by groups like National Public Radio and the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Commensurate with their non-commercial and non-profit status, their rates remained reasonable, though only as a result of careful diligence.

Short-Lived Alternatives

Many small U.S. webcasters left homeless by the closure of Live365 migrated to the France-based Radionomy service, which acquired the Shoutcast internet radio server technology and Winamp media player app from AOL in 2014. That’s because Radionomy offered free streaming hosting, even covering royalties, to broadcasters who could maintain a minimum audience size. In exchange broadcasters agreed to have a few minutes of advertising inserted into their streams every hour.

However, the bloom started to fall from that rose pretty quickly. In February of 2016 four major record labels filed suit against Radionomy claiming non-payment of royalties since “late 2014.” The service soldiered on, but stopped serving U.S. based listeners and broadcasters earlier this year. At the end of November the service shut down altogether.

Radionomy broadcasters were offered the opportunity to migrate their stations to the Shoutcast for Business service. While it’s reasonably priced – starting at about $15 a month – that doesn’t include any royalty coverage. Accounting for and paying royalties is up to the individual broadcaster, and that’s where the significant costs set it.

After Live365 closed in 2016, other U.S. webcasters turned to a company called StreamLicensing.com. The company offered to cover a station’s royalties for a cost lower than paying them directly. It seems the way they did this was probably by aggregating all the member stations into one license and single payment, using the economy of scale to reduce the liability of individual broadcasters. Stations had to find their own stream hosting – which is easier, with costs very proportionate to audience size – and StreamLicensing.com took care of royalties beginning at about $60 a month. Though more expensive than the lowest cost pre–2016 Live365 plans, that $720 annual rate was still on par with cable TV or a gym membership.

But beginning last year I started hearing scuttlebutt that not all was well with the company and that the numbers weren’t adding up. Whatever the case really was, StreamLicensing.com shut down in May of this year, again setting dozens or even hundreds of small webcasters adrift.

The Re-Birth of Live365 Is a Bright Spot

The story for small webcasters hasn’t been all doom and gloom since 2016. In 2017 Live365 was resurrected by a young internet entrepreneur named Jon Stephenson. The new service also offers internet radio hosting and royalty coverage for one monthly fee. The costs begin at $59 a month if your station runs Live365-placed ads – not much more than the old StreamLicensing.com alone without hosting – or $79 a month if you want to remain ad-free.

These introductory plans limit a station to 1500 total listening hours a month – equivalent to an average of 2 listeners per hour. But since the reality is that listeners tune in and out, and few should be listening for more than a few hours at a time, this is more than enough to sustain a small niche webcaster.

Of course, that adds up to $708 to $948 a year, and still might be too much for some would-be broadcasters. The price is not the fault of Live365 or other similar providers because their costs are pretty well fixed, especially the royalties. But small webcasters do still benefit from the economy of scale and and the convenience of one-stop-shopping these platforms offer.

If we’re being honest, spending $1000 a year or so to be a broadcaster is still a bargain compared to the costs of starting and running a terrestrial broadcast station, even a low-power FM. Many folks will spend more on a set of golf clubs, a digital camera or a couple cases of wine.

Early Promise Tarnished

It’s the contrast with the early promise of internet broadcasting that makes the situation feel unfair. In 1997 it seemed that all you needed to be a broadcaster was an internet connection and a few bucks a month to host the stream. The realities of intellectual property and commerce quickly caught up, but for a while – about 14 years, actually – the scrappy indie webacaster caught a break. But by 2016 it seems like folks stopped caring, especially Congress.

It’s not really clear why no congressperson saw fit to try renewing the Small Webcaster Settlement Act. Maybe the rise of streaming music services like Pandora and Spotify, music hosting sites like SoundCloud, or on-demand music show and podcast services like MixCloud made it seem like there were plenty of other opportunities for folks to get their audio out across the interwebs, whether by playlist, DJ set or podcast.

The opportunity hasn’t gone away. Live365 and similar services still offer the most cost-effective way to start broadcasting on the internet legitimately. But it’s probably not the sort of thing you do on a whim. At the same time there are many more outlets for casting out audio on the internet, and that is a net good.

Internet Radio Is Fundamentally Changed

That doesn’t change the fact that internet radio in the U.S. fundamentally changed in 2016. I’m certain many of the broadcasters who found themselves high and dry that year just gave up. This doesn’t mark the end of indie internet radio, just a major shift.

It should be mentioned that it’s conceivable to run an internet radio station without any costly royalty obligations. If you only run talk programming, with no music, then you bare no liability. But no music means you’re not using any commercially released music at all, not as bumpers or stingers or music beds. Now, podcasters manage to do this by relying on royalty-free music libraries, contracting directly with musicians or making their own music. So it should be possible for a talk-only internet station to pull this off.

Another option is to work directly with artists and labels to obtain permission to play their music royalty-free, or pay them directly. Note that this may not be as simple as it seems. If an artist is signed to a label it’s not good enough for them to say you can use their recordings, since the label will own some portion of them. You’ll need the label to give the OK, too. If an independent artist also self-releases, then you’ll have an easier time.

The Free Music Archive was actually founded to provide community and other non-commercial terrestrial radio stations high-quality royalty-free music alternatives back in the early days of the DMCA, before separate negotiations brought their rates down to a reasonable level. While the FMA’s ownership has shifted twice in the past 12 months, experiencing some downtime in the process, the music uploaded there from 2009 to 2017.

Also keep in mind that beyond the performance royalties, there are royalties owed songwriters via rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI. If an artist owns their songs and recordings, then again you’re free and clear. But if they’re playing cover versions or their label shares in the composition ownership (not unusual), then you’ll need more stakeholders coming to agreement. It’s not impossible, but it’s also not straightforward.

Some internet broadcasters have skirted the royalty issue by pivoting to video. Last year I wrote about the new breed of “YouTube pirates” who run live streams of music accompanied by static or looping images. They’re kind of the internet equivalent of FrankenFM channel 6 TV stations that maintain the bare minimum amount of video service to qualify as television stations, while primarily functioning as radio stations.

In harmony with my advice above, it seems that many YouTube stations survive by relying on independent music that falls outside the mainstream music industry’s royalty structure. For instance, the Netherlands-based Chillhop Music channel streams “jazzy beats / loft hip hop” that’s mostly devoid of recognizable hits.

Other channels that skirt closer to major label tunes end up playing a cat-and-mouse game with YouTube. The only real penalty seems to be having your channel shut down, which results in the loss of a potentially large listener and subscriber base. But there’s no indication that a bill from SoundExchange or other royalty collections authority will show up in your mail, in part because you don’t need to provide any legal identity to set up a YouTube channel.

The irony is that YouTube isn’t a radio platform, and that hosting streaming video is more expensive that streaming audio by a significant margin. But YouTube is free, and there are few free radio streaming options out there. In particular, there are none even remotely as prominent as YouTube.

The Future Is Fractured

So maybe the future of internet radio is video? I know that many podcast listeners actually consume their favorite shows – like Joe Rogan’s – on YouTube and think of the platform as the place to find podcasts.

In reality that’s probably overstating things. Like all online media, internet radio has become more fractured in the last decade. While some platforms and opportunities have disappeared, others have come to the fore.

If you’re looking to create a traditional 24/7 live streaming station using copyrighted music, services like Live365 are there to help you do this legally at a variety of price points. YouTube is there to let you stream for free if you don’t mind dealing with that platform’s restrictions, and the likelihood that you’ll need to rely on underground, independent and unsigned artists if you want your channel to stay up for the long haul.

If you don’t mind confining yourself to an on-demand show, DJ set or virtual mixtape, then Mixcloud is a pretty good alternative, since the service is free and covers all royalties.

Both YouTube and Mixcloud are largely confined to the web and their own apps on mobile devices, and platforms like Chromecast, Roku and Apple TV. That does give audiences a fair number of ways to listen, though not appearing alongside pure-play streaming radio stations, like on iHeartRadio or TuneIn.

I will note that the Sonos wireless speaker system supports Mixcloud. It also supports YouTube Music, which sort of lets you access the music available on YouTube, but I haven’t yet figured out how to hear any of the live streaming stations – just their archive streams.

The last decade was marked by a significant shake-up in internet radio, and I don’t think we’ll ever turn back the clock to the heady days of the mid–2000s, when it seemed like medium would be the new “pirate radio,” as the mainstream press often proclaimed. That doesn’t mean there isn’t ample opportunity to broadcast online.

Rather, our definition of radio has expanded. If the platform is about getting audio programs out to an audience, then we can argue it’s radio. If it’s on the ’net, then it’s internet radio. It may change, and morph from platform to platform. But it’s still here as we enter the third decade of the 21st century.

The post The Near-Death of Independent Internet Radio Is One of the Most Important Radio Trends of the Decade appeared first on Radio Survivor.

College Radio Watch: WDUB to Sell FM License and More News

Fri, 12/13/2019 - 06:28

On Wednesday, December 11, 2019, Denison University in Granville, Ohio, filed paperwork with the FCC for a proposed assignment of the FM license for its student-run radio station WDUB-FM (aka The Doobie). The sale price is a paltry $5,000 being paid by Ohio State University (WOSU Public Media). Additionally, Denison will be granted underwriting announcements over WOSU TV and radio for 4 years, at an estimated value of $47,040. Paid student internships will also be offered to Denison students ($48,000 value).

This news did not come out of the blue, as WDUB ceased broadcasting over FM back on September 1, 2019 (ironically, just after it was included in Princeton Review’s list of “most popular” college radio stations). In its request with the FCC for special temporary authority to remain silent, Denison University stated that it suspended operation “for financial reasons” and sought permission to “remain silent until such time as it can resolve the situation.”

But, the rationale goes much deeper, as WDUB participants pointed to fears of budget-breaking FCC fines for public file violations being a big motivation for relinquishing the FM signal.

According to an October 15, 2019 piece in the Denisonian:

A big transition happened last year, when the FCC decided to move their documentation system to an online platform rather than physical paperwork. When The Doobie began the process of switching their public file over to abide by FCC, they discovered a problem: about five to six years of missing documents and unsigned papers.

‘With everything that we were looking at, the fine could have been around $60,000,’ [senior station manager and president of the station Rachel] Weaver explains…

‘We had a lot of people telling us to just ‘fudge’ the paperwork, and that is a felony.’ Hiding past mistakes was a risk that was not up for discussion to Weaver. This was the leading decision behind The Doobie switching to an online streaming service.

‘No one wants to kill the radio, and a lot of alumni are upset, because we are losing a bit of nostalgia with this,’ Weaver said.

It’s unfortunate that fear of a big FCC fine led to the station relinquishing its license for a mere $5,000. While public file violations can yield serious fines; student-run radio stations with first-time violations have been able to negotiate deals with the FCC, following a decision in 2013. As a result, we’ve reported on quite a few consent decrees with voluntary forfeitures in the $1,000, $1,200, to $2,200 range. This is a far cry from some of the higher fines wielded against student radio stations in the past and is based on acknowledgment by the FCC of the low-budget and transitory nature of student-run radio stations.

More College Radio News License Sales Music Culture Events Programming College Radio in Popular Culture Public Radio Connections College Radio History Alumni Awards and Accolades

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Podcast #223: Will CMJ Return, Will AM Go Digital and Will FrankenFMs Disappear? Plus Other Big Questions

Wed, 12/11/2019 - 01:05

The Federal Communications Commission is all about radio at the end of 2019, and we catch you up on what you need to know. We all have questions about the possibility of AM stations going all-digital, including the FCC. The regulatory body released the things it wants to know about how digital stations would work, and how it would impact listeners, especially those in rural communities.

Also, the Commission is reconsidering restrictions on duplication programming between AM and FM stations, and the fate of Channel 6 TV on the radio, a/k/a FrankenFMs, hangs in the balance.

Then we dive into the reports that CMJ – the publication and event series that documented and supported the cultural influence of college radio – will come back from the dead. Will it return to print? Will there be an annual Music Marathon in NYC? We ponder.

There was more to discuss about the CMJ return than we had time for, including provocative questions, like: Do we even need a CMJ anymore? Our Patreon supporters get to hear this unvarnished exchange in a Patron-exclusive bonus episode. You can hear it, too, when you sign up to support our work at Radio Survivor, starting at just $1 a month.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #223: Will CMJ Return, Will AM Go Digital and Will FrankenFMs Disappear? Plus Other Big Questions appeared first on Radio Survivor.

The Rise and Possible Fall of FrankenFMs Is One of the Most Important Radio Trends of the Decade

Sun, 12/08/2019 - 19:46

In a few dozen markets around the country there is a rare species of FM station that is only heard on the far left end of the dial. Because of the unusual spot on the dial, and sometimes unusual programming, some listeners may think they’ve tuned in a pirate. But these stations are legal, if not quite something the FCC intends to exist.

When I first found these stations more than ten years ago, I called them “Back Door FMs.” Later some commentators would call them “FrankenFMs.” The first instance of this moniker I can find is from Radio World in November 2014. The term became more popular when writer Ernie Smith covered the phenomenon for Tedium in 2016.

I think FrankenFMs are one of the most important radio trends of the last decade because only a handful of them were around when the decade started, and their number has nearly tripled in the intervening years. Yet, the 2010s might be remembered as their heyday, since they’re scheduled to go away in June of 2020, unless the Federal Communications Commission decides to intervene.

How Digital TV Inadvertently Turned a Curiosity into a Service

When I was a kid growing up at the Jersey Shore, I was fascinated by the fact that I could hear channel 6 WPVI-TV, Philadelphia’s ABC affiliate, on the left end of my radio. And disappointed that I couldn’t listen to other TV stations.

The existence of that phenomenon is owed to the fact that the first six channels of analog TV are just below the FM dial, with channel 6’s audio portion – which is also frequency modulated – situated at 87.76 MHz, receivable on most radios. For the roughly 44 years that analog television and FM radio were neighbors this was mostly a curiosity, since only some television shows make sense without the picture.

This changed on June 12, 2009, when all full-power television stations turned off their analog signals, becoming fully digital. The ones on channel 6 disappeared from the FM dial. But not every channel 6 station went away.

Because they were designed to serve local communities at a lower cost – similar to low-power FM – low power television stations were given a longer lease to hold onto their analog signals. That also meant that channel 6 LPTVs could still be heard on the radio.

As television viewers made their adjustment to digital receivers, the value of these low-powered analog signals began to fall. Those on channel 6 found a new lease on life: embrace their existence on the radio dial.

A Decade of FrankenFMs

I discovered my first such station on the Chicago radio dial just days after the analog TV shutoff, in June 2009. Back then WLFM briefly returned smooth jazz to the area’s airwaves – the station is now MeTV FM, which will I’ll return to in a bit. I soon learned there were a number of these stations around the country, from Anchorage, Alaska to New York City.

When the digital TV transition happened there were 77 analog channel 6s remaining on the air in the U.S. Two years later the FCC decided they would all be required to transition to digital by September 1, 2015. Then they received a reprieve in 2014, getting to stay analog while the Commission conducted what is known as the “incentive auction and repack.” This process allowed digital TV stations to trade in spectrum to be auctioned off for advanced digital services. Stations in affected markets then “repacked” in bunched up spectrum. It concluded in June of this year, and analog LPTVs were given an addition twelve months past this point to make the digital transition.

Today there are just 41 analog channel 6 stations left, just a bit more than half as there were a decade earlier. But now most – 31 – appear to operate as radio stations, with a majority broadcasting either a Spanish-language or religious format, usually syndicated and non-local. The last time I counted them was in 2014, when I came up with about 18. This increase certainly indicates that there’s little value left in analog television broadcasting as a visual service. The audio signal is clearly what’s most valuable.

A Stay of Execution?

Once more an analog sunset is upon us in just over six months when the post-repack grace period is finished. This time around the FCC isn’t asking the question if analog LPTVs should stick around – their digital transition appears imminent. Instead the Commission is directly addressing the existence of channel 6 FrankenFMs.

The Media Bureau is asking for the public to weigh in (MB Docket No. 03–185) on whether or not these stations should get an exception to continue broadcasting an analog audio signal as a “supplementary service” even while their video signals go digital. Moreover, should the FCC only consider stations that are actually operating as radio, or should all be considered?

If this supplemental audio service were to be allowed, should only existing channel 6s be eligible, or would someone be able to apply for a new station and also get permission to broadcast an analog radio signal? The FCC also asks if a channel 6 license is sold or transferred, should that right to the analog audio transmission also be transferred.

It’s significant that the FCC is in effect proposing to officially recognize channel 6 LPTV stations as radio stations, rather than just sort of tolerate the loophole. Of course that’s because the loophole is about to go away.

Should FrankenFMs Be Saved?

As I noted above, the majority of the FrankenFMs seem to broadcast syndicated programming. Only a handful broadcast anything I’d call interesting or unique, which is unfortunate to me.

On the one hand I have to tip my hat to clever broadcasters exploiting a loophole to get onto the radio legally, especially in tight markets with few or no opportunities to squeeze another station onto the dial. But I really want these stations to be run by passionate folks, eager to do something innovative or different, not just rebroadcast some satellite or internet signal, or another iteration of a tired format already heard everywhere.

Even though it’s formally an oldies station, I think the aforementioned MeTV FM is the clearest example of a unique Franken-FM. Deviating from the usual canon of 60s, 70s and 80s music, the station mixes in a healthy dose of what I’d call “forgotten oldies.” These are one-hit-wonders or even hit songs by established artists that were popular in their day, but somehow never endured heavy rotation in the years after.

MeTV FM’s eclectic oldies format stands out so much that it now has an audience big enough audience to show up in the Nielsen ratings beginning four years ago, even beating out the nine-decade-old news/talk station WLS-AM.

Previously only available to terrestrial listeners in the Chicago area, MeTV FM now streams online, so you can check out its distinctive oldies format for yourself no matter where you are. It even has picked up four FM affiliates: KXXP 104.5 FM serving the Portland, Oregon metro out of White Salmon, Washington; WXZO 96.7 FM serving the Burlington, Vermont and Plattsburgh, New York area; KQEG 102.7 FMserving the LaCrosse, Wisconsin metro from La Crescent, Minnesota; and WJMK 1250 AM in Saginaw, Michigan, which has a translator at 99.3 FM. HD Radio listeners in Milwaukee, Wisconsin can tune it in on WMYK-HD2.

As far as I can tell, MeTV FM may be the only FrankenFM that serves as the flagship station for burgeoning network of true FM stations.

A couple of other interesting and notable FrankenFMs include indie/alternative Hella 87.7 FM in Redding, California, and Kickin’ Country 87.7 FM in Ridgecrest, California.

Though channel 6 TV stations have been tucked into the bottom of the FM dial for more than four decades, it’s only in the last one that this has been systematically exploited, turning into a small shadow service. Yet every broadcaster taking this advantage has known the lease would eventually expire, and now they’re definitely making a last-minute Hail Mary. I’d be more inclined to rise up in their defense if the majority were idiosyncratic, eclectic or at least locally programmed.

Instead, I’d rather see that little bit of spectrum freed up for actual FM broadcasters, and non-commercial ones at that, since the space from 87.7 to 88.1 is in the non-commercial band. Because there are many more markets without a TV channel 6 than there are with FrankenFMs, such a change could open up the possibility for dozens, if not hundreds, of new local radio stations. I’d even go so far as to reserve the space just for LPFMs, which would allow for even more stations, and more diversity. This is the sort of innovation that engineering firm REC Networks has been advocating since at least 2008.

At the same time, I empathize with the broadcasters who have built compelling and creative services on channel 6s, but who now see their stations on the chopping block. I think it would be a true loss to their local radio dials if MeTV FM or Hella 87.7 were to go away. But it’s also true that radio stations and formats go away all the time, often for more mysterious or wrongheaded reasons. In this case the broadcasters can’t say they weren’t warned – in fact, they’ve had an effective five year extension.

It will be fascinating to see how the FCC decides to resolve this issue, and how the rest of the broadcast industry reacts.

The post The Rise and Possible Fall of FrankenFMs Is One of the Most Important Radio Trends of the Decade appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Introducing the Most Important Radio Trends of the Decade 2010 – 2019

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 22:32

This year we celebrated 10 years of Radio Surviving. We ended out our first year of publication in 2009 with a look back at the “Decade’s Most Important Radio Trends.” As the 2nd decade of the 21st century draws to a close, we will now similarly review the last ten years of radio.

Some changes are obvious – for instance, Clear Channel is now known as iHeartRadio – while others are more subtle. The majority of the technologies that most influence audio and radio media today were extant in December 2009: smartphones, mobile broadband, internet radio and podcasting, to name just four. So what is different?

That’s the question we’ll take up between now and January 1, 2020. As we publish each trend we’ll list it here for easy reference.

What do you think are the most important trends in radio for the years 2010 – 2019? Drop us an email, tweet at us or comment on our Facebook page.

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College Radio Watch: CMJ to Return in 2020 and More News

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 06:54

As we approach the end of 2019, I’m starting to reflect back on not only the year in college radio, but also the decade in college radio. While 2009 doesn’t seem like all that long ago, some major changes have occurred in the radio and technology landscapes, which have had implications for student radio.

Beginning in the late 1970s, CMJ was a major part of the college radio scene for nearly 40 years, with publications, conferences, music festivals, and long-time college radio charts. When CMJ petered out circa 2015-2016, it was a sad and notable loss for college radio. Lawsuits were filed for unpaid wages and in fall, 2018 the CMJ trademarks went up for auction. According to the auction website, “The CMJ Music Marathon was an institution of the New York music scene for 35 years.  The buyer of these four CMJ Trademarks will be buying an iconic brand name in the music world.”

Yesterday, I was surprised to learn that a new CMJ is returning in 2020. As of this week, it would appear that there is a new owner of the CMJ trademarks, as they have been posting on the CMJ Twitter account (which had been stagnant since late June, 2016) and have set up a preliminary website. Yesterday’s initial CMJ tweet reads, “After a long break, CMJ is under new management and re-launching in 2020. More news soon. http://cmj.com info@cmj.com.” Folks on social media replied with their frustrations about CMJ employees not getting paid, tales of subscribers who lost out, and other grievances. The response: “We understand that totally justified unhappiness. This is a brand new company, with no connection to the former regime(s). We are working on ideas to try to right those wrongs however.”

While there are few details about the new CMJ owners and what their specific plans are, they’ve indicated that the CMJ music events may be returning in 2020. Pitchfork reports, “…the organizers told Pitchfork that former CMJ CEO Adam Klein is no longer involved with the company. (Last year, Klein was ordered by a judge to pay over half a million dollars to former employees that filed a collective lawsuit against him in 2016 for unpaid wages and other damages.)”

While CMJ’s publications, charts, and events were college radio staples for decades; various groups have launched new endeavors to fill those niches. North American College and Community Radio Chart (NACC Chart), Muzooka, RadioFX, and Spinitron are among those who have created radio charting alternatives.

As a college radio historian, I’m particularly interested in learning if the new CMJ owners have access to the decades-worth of print and online publications from CMJ’s past. @lowmediumhi asks on Twitter, “Does this mean there’s a chance we could get an online archive of all the past issues of New Music Report? Virtually every other broadcasting trade is online somewhere and this would be a valuable resource to media historians.” CMJ replied, “Great question and we have been talking about whether there is a way to do that. We are different people from before, but we would like to be able to make it happen.”

We’ve reached out to the new CMJ and will keep readers posted as we learn more about their plans for the future of the CMJ brand.

More College Radio News College Radio Regulations Station and Staff Profiles Programming, Radio Drama, Podcasts Events Infrastructure, Funding, Endowed Scholarship Music Industry and College Radio Technology Radio Culture Awards and Accolades Alumni

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Podcast #222 – Marking the 20th Anniversary of Indymedia

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 23:49

November 30 was the 20th anniversary of the “Battle of Seattle” protests against the World Trade Organization ministerial meetings in that Pacific Northwest city. The broad array of groups and 80,000 people who assembled understood they would not receive a fair hearing in the mainstream press, so they built their own internet-based platform to instantly publish accounts from the street in words, sound, pictures and video. They called it Indymedia, sparking a citizen-journalism movement that quickly went worldwide before the invention of YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.

To mark this anniversary we return to our conversation with Slate journalist April Glaser, who was active in the Indymedia movement and low-power FM. Earlier this year April wrote a piece for Logic Magazine called, “Another Network is Possible,” observing how the path of what we now call “social media” is just one possible outcome, and that Indymedia was another possibility. That said, we discuss how the innovation and spirit of the movement lives on today.

Show Notes:

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From Brooklyn to Afghanistan, The Verge Does Right by Pirate Radio

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 03:05

Last week The Verge wrapped up a three-part series on pirate radio, examining a US-government-sanctioned form in Afghanistan, radio-like conference call services used by the Hmong diaspora and unlicensed Haitian stations in Brooklyn, NY. Recovering from the holiday weekend I finally had a chance to catch up, read the three articles and listen to their accompanying podcasts. They’re well-researched pieces that put the production and use of radio in social and political economic context, rather than relying on well-worn tropes of over-romanticized rebellion (not a single skull-and-crossbones image to be found!).

The value of radio communication to communities that are not well served by mainstream broadcasters is something we’ve emphasized here at Radio Survivor when discussing unlicensed or pirate radio. For the article on Brooklyn stations, reporters Bijan Stephen and Andrew Marino use the looming specter of the PIRATE Act as a frame for understanding why government prohibition, even escalated by the threat of multiplied fines, poses little disincentive for the unlicensed broadcaster serving their friends, families and neighbors.

Stephen and Marino profile a former news program host on an unlicensed station, Joan Martinez, who studied broadcasting in college. Now in graduate school, Martinez reflects a first-person insider’s view that is informed by her broader understanding of the tightly controlled radio industry, especially in New York City, where opportunities for new stations are few and far between.

In fact, only three low-power FM stations are licensed in the entire city: one in Brooklyn, one in Queens and one in Flushing. All were approved only in the last LPFM licensing window, and have been on the air only a few years. Just one LPFM seems hardly enough to serve the diverse needs of Brooklyn alone, home to 2.5 million people.

For the podcast the hosts talk with scholar John Anderson, who has been studying pirate radio for some two decades, and journalist David Goren, who created the Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map. Both John and David discussed the Brooklyn scene on our podcast last year.

David’s comments on why he thinks the PIRATE Act will not do much to stem the tide of pirate radio were particularly incisive. He predicted, “it will be gentrification that takes the pirate stations off the air,” as new, high-rent residential high-rise buildings go up in the Flatbush neighborhood that is home to countless broadcasters.

That’s probably true, and it’s also likely that stations will spread out to new areas as people are pushed out or Brooklyn by a skyrocketing cost of living. At the same time, pirate radio is a pervasive phenomenon throughout the New York City area. I’m not sure other hotbeds, like Paterson, NJ, will gentrify at the same rate. Nevertheless, the point is well taken. Go to other cities with prominent ethnic and immigrant communities, but where they’re not so densely clustered as around NYC, and you’ll encounter far less pirate radio, too.

Calling the Radio

While comparisons of other media to pirate radio – like internet radio, in particular – often grates on me, I’m fine with reporter Mia Sato’s likening Hmong conference call services to it. These conferences are as similar to terrestrial radio as podcasts and internet radio. While not legally prohibited, like pirate radio, they serve a very similar communitarian function as the Haitian stations in Brooklyn, though obviously with the opportunity for more immediate dialog.

Moreover, telephone and radio have been intricately tied pretty much since the beginning, noting that radio was a two-way medium before one-to-many broadcasting came to predominate. And, of course, listener calls have long been a feature, making the one-way medium more two-way.

Outside of broadcast, amateur radio and citizens’ band radio are also two-way, where monopolizing a frequency to broadcast is actually prohibited. So I see these conference call “stations” as a sort of hybrid.

Back to the radio-telephone connection. There have long been stations that also simulcast on the telephone to reach listeners without access to their air signals. In the days before cell phone and unlimited minutes, this could be an expensive service for listeners outside of a station’s immediate area. But today that’s much less of a concern.

In fact, a couple of dozen stations around the world currently simulcast over the phone using a service called Audio Now, including BBC World Service and Voice of America service programs in Somali, as well as news radio WTOP in Washington, DC. If you’re low on smartphone data and don’t have access to a radio, then it’s not a bad alternative.

The Irony of the Radio in a Box in Afghanistan

The first article in the series tells the story of Afghan broadcasters who were given a “radio in the box” to broadcast on behalf of U.S. military PsyOps during the heat of the American invasion. These broadcasters created programming in opposition to the Taliban, including popular music, alongside news and propaganda. Unfortunately, they were also left high-and-dry when the U.S. military pulled out.

Radio has long been a tool of war, and of those opposing totalitarian rule, both from within and outside the borders of conflict zones. Of course, it’s hard to escape the irony that the American government is happy to promote pirate radio elsewhere, while simultaneously working to stamp it out at home. But any student of history should know such ironies are not that rare.

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The Demise of Radionomy Marks the End of Free Streaming for Internet Radio Broadcasters

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 20:06

After the demise of the first incarnation of Live365 in 2016, European streaming platform Radionomy remained the last platform to offer free streaming to internet radio stations. However, the writing was already on the wall earlier this year when Radionomy left the U.S. market. Though not confirmed, one might conjecture this was a result of a lawsuit filed in 2016 by major record labels – including Arista and Sony Music – alleging the platform had failed to pay U.S. statutory performance royalties since “late 2014.”

Now Radionomy announces it is fully shutting down worldwide. In its place, the company is offering to migrate stations over to Shoutcast for Business. Recall that Radionomy acquired the stalwart online radio platform along with the longstanding Winamp MP3 and internet radio player app in 2014 from AOL, which otherwise was ready to shut it all down.

As RAIN News notes, a big difference between Radionomy and Shoutcast is that the former purported to cover performance royalties (the same ones it was sued over charges it hadn’t paid). In the U.S. if your station uses Shoutcast and plays music then you need to take care of royalty payments to SoundExchange separately, on your own.

Prior to closing, Radionomy offered completely free radio stream hosting, music licenses covered, with no limits on audience size. The trade-off for broadcasters was that they had to accommodate a few minutes of ads per hour, and stations with tiny listenerships risked being cut off.

Now, there are still a number of companies offering free internet radio hosting, however it is up to broadcasters to secure the proper royalties in their home countries. Of course, if your station only airs talk programming with no copyrighted music – that includes even music used in bumpers or to fill time – then you’re in luck. But if you play any music at all, then you’re on the hook for royalties.

At least in the U.S., the thing to note about royalties is that it’s up to the broadcaster to proactively contact SoundExchange, ASCAP or BMI to begin payment. Conceivably you could start broadcasting tomorrow without doing so, but the risk is that once one of the rights organizations finds you, they’ll hound you – or maybe even sue you – until you pay up.

The Final End of an Era

This seems like a logical end to a sequence of events that began in 2016, when the Small Webcaster Settlement Act expired, ending a 14 year period where small and hobbyist internet broadcasters paid discounted royalty rates intended to reflect their mostly low-revenue and effectively non-profit nature. While services like the revived Live365 still offer turn-key hosting that covers music licensing, the costs begin at about $59 a month or $708 a year. Certainly this is less expensive than a lot of hobbies (golf?) – and less expensive than operating a licensed broadcast station – it’s still prohibitively expensive for many would-be internet broadcasters interested in creating the kind of niche, underground or community-focused stations that the internet should be a natural home to.

I do want to point out that the costs are not Live365’s fault. Royalty payments are fixed and unavoidable, and hosting live radio streams costs them money. It’s great that a company like this is available for those who can take advantage, but it must be noted that not all can do so.

To me, the irony is always that it’s free to upload hundreds of hours of video to YouTube or broadcast endless hours of live streams. It’s ironic because it’s far more costly to stream high-bandwidth HD video than the comparatively tiny internet radio streams. But one of the world’s largest companies (Google) never chose to essentially underwrite a robust independent internet radio ecosystem, just video.

Though there are “pirate” radio broadcasters on YouTube who flout copyright restrictions, it’s a game of cat and mouse to stay in operation. YouTube does have agreements with music labels to allow some videos to contain copyrighted music, but not all songs and artists are covered, and using such music can impact a YouTuber’s ability to generate revenue on the platform.

The New Radio Pirates Don’t Pay Royalties

At various points in the last 20 years, internet radio has been trumpeted as the next, legal, incarnation of “pirate radio.” That’s more due to the lack of formal licensing requirements and lack of indecency restrictions than anything else. But the death of reasonable royalty rates means that dream of “legal” pirate radio is over.

That said, a broadcaster that streams music without paying royalties is ostensibly a pirate. So maybe the new radio pirates are ones that set up streams and don’t bother to pay royalties. Just like terrestrial pirates, they would take measures to obscure their identities and where they’re streaming from in order to make it hard for SoundExchange or BMI to track them down and send a bill. Assuming they’re successful in avoiding identification, their biggest risk is having their host shut down their stream. Of course, just like the terrestrial pirate who loses one transmitter to the FCC while remaining on the run, it’s just a matter of finding a new host or streaming server to get back on the tubes.

My question: do these new pirates exist? Or does the seemingly omniscient surveillance and tracking of the internet make a private enforcement authority seem more threatening than any FCC or Ofcom?

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Podcast #221 – The Intertwined History of the Radio and Recording Industries

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 23:02


On this week’s show, we take a trip back to the early 20th century to learn about the recording industry’s intertwined relationship with radio and music culture. Our guest is Kyle Barnett, Associate Professor of Media Studies in the Department of Communication at Bellarmine University.

Barnett’s forthcoming book, Record Cultures: The Transformation of the U.S. Recording Industry, looks at the early history of the recording industry in the United States. On the episode, Barnett shares tidbits from his research and reminds us of the complexity of the media landscape, calling for scholars to not neglect exploring how industries are interconnected. Along the way, we learn about phonograph parlors, the differences between public and private listening, and why some record labels asked their artists to stay off the radio.

Show Notes:

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The 2020 POTUS race as covered by someone who is actually from Iowa

Mon, 11/25/2019 - 14:11

The 2020 POTUS primaries start, oddly enough, with an event that is not really a primary. It is called the Iowa Caucasus, in which Iowans pick a Democratic or Republican Presidential nominee via neighborhood cluster meetings. In the end, all the local choices are tallied, and et voila, a winner or group of winners emerge. The IC is scheduled for Monday, February 3, but that has not stopped the media from covering it as if it were happening next week.

Despite this time lag, interesting things do transpire as these Iowans prepare for their Caucuses. Thus you might want to check out 2020TALKS, a daily three minute newscast covering the Democratic primary race in general, and this gateway to next year’s primaries in particular. Headquartered in Ames, Iowa at KHOI Community radio, 2020Talks is hosted by Lily Böhlke and distributed by the Public News Service and the Pacifica Network. The show serves up what is happening from the progressive perspective of an Iowa Community radio station about 25 miles north of Des Moines.

For example, the above episode covers efforts in Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which Iowa United States Senator Jodi Ernst wants to water down, relaxing its protections for Native American women, among other groups. The clip also surveys what the various Democratic POTUS hopefuls are saying about the law. 

You can pick up 2020Talks at Audioport.org and NewsService.org. It posts its latest shows from midnight EST Sunday through Thursday.

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Radio Station Visit #165: Maui Youth Radio Station KOPO-LP RadiOpio

Mon, 11/25/2019 - 08:24

On the edge of a funky beach town in Maui lies magical community radio station KOPO-LP, whose broadcasts are filled with youthful voices. Since 2006, thousands of kids and teens from the Pa’ia Youth and Cultural Center (PYCC) have taken to the FM airwaves from its seaside perch.

View of the beach from the back entrance to Pa’ia Youth and Cultural Center. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Known as RadiOpio (opio means “youth” in Hawaiian), KOPO-LP operates from the site of a formerly abandoned building that now houses a youth center, complete with skate park. As surfers trek to and from the adjacent beach, young people are hanging out, skateboarding, playing pool, and taking part in a range of programs, from cooking to media production.

While on vacation in Hawaii this August, I dropped in to the station with my family and was lucky to be able to meet up with RadiOpio Program Director Laura Civitello. Civitello greeted us enthusiastically and indulged me in a short interview and tour. She told a fascinating story about the station’s improbable history. It all begins with Pa’ia Youth and Cultural Center, which stemmed from a grassroots community effort to re-purpose an old, spooky home that was the sole survivor of a neighborhood-destroying 1946 tsunami.

View of Pa’ia Youth and Cultural Center from parking lot. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Civitello recounted that in 1999, a staff member at the youth center spotted an ad in Wired Magazine about the opportunity for a low power radio license and that prompted the organization to apply. By 2005, they were awarded a construction permit for a new FM station, but struggled to find someone to take on the project as a youth program.

RadiOpio Program Director Laura Civitello. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

When the center reached out to Civitello, her reaction was markedly different. She told me that she thought, “That’s perfect for me.” After taking on the project, she heard from plenty of naysayers who told her that it was “insane” to launch a radio station at the beach with kids on the air. She was undeterred.

Sound board and audio equipment in KOPO-LP studio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Having been a volunteer at another Maui community radio station, Mana’o Radio (see my tour report), prior to KOPO-LP; Civitello had both local radio connections and insights, which helped as she worked to get the new station on the air in 2006. “It went well immediately,” she recounted, explaining that RadiOpio’s focus on its participants is key. To emphasize that, she spoke about the station’s air sound, relaying, “I hope it’s the sound of kids having fun.”

Radio station stickers spotted in the PYCC parking lot. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

While we chatted, I noticed numerous radios in Civitello’s office. When I pointed them out, she smiled and revealed that folks keep giving her radios as gifts, no doubt as a sign of her passion for radio. The school year started a few days before our visit and the center was buzzing with activity. Young people trickled in and out to check in with Civitello and we were introduced to some of the DJs, including a pair of 12-year-old girls who were on the air.

Radio in Laura Civitello’s office at KOPO-LP. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

The KOPO-LP studio is in a tiny room next to Civitello’s office. A short hallway leads in to the studio and we loitered there while checking out the space. With two DJs sitting in the studio in front of microphones and audio equipment, the studio was pretty much at maximum capacity.

Shelf of CDs in KOPO-LP studio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Between songs, the show hosts bantered before exiting the studio to make room for the new crew of DJs. Civitello explained that the schedule is very loose, with kids as young as nine years old coming in after school and taking turns on the air. “I give them a lot of freedom,” Civitello shared, telling me that the young DJs make their own decisions about what to play and say on the air. Sometimes kids will even sing along with the music that they are playing with the microphones turned on.

DJs in the studio at KOPO-LP RadiOpio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Although KOPO 88.9 FM’s 100 watt range is hampered by the ocean (not too many listeners in that direction), we were amazed by how far we heard the station on our sunset drive up to the 10,000 foot summit of Haleakala. As we trekked out of town and up into the clouds, we caught a mix of pop (Billie Eilish was a big favorite of many DJs), hip-hop (Cardi B, Post Malone and Big Sean were represented) and reggae and could still hear KOPO-LP as we hit an elevation of 7,000 feet! On our post-sunset journey back down, KOPO-LP was playing some older music, including jazzy-bluesy material and some vintage pop from Patti Drew. Earlier in the day we’d heard some classic Beastie Boys as well.

Sign for Pa’ia Youth and Cultural Center. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Civitello said that over FM, KOPO-LP covers the north shore of Maui, but that it also has many “faithful” online listeners. The soul of the station is its young participants. “We’re like a family,” Civitello opined, telling me that the free after-school programs at the youth center draw in 9 to 19-year-olds from a range of backgrounds, including “some of the wealthiest kids in the world” as well as youth who are homeless. Most end up doing radio at one point or another, but there’s also the lure of the skate park, pool tables, and other programs.

Old KOPO-LP sticker with former frequency. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

As I took in the beautiful surroundings and incredible opportunity for kids to do radio at such young ages, I thought about all the tourists passing through on their way to see the sights of Hawaii. I hope they take the time to flip through the dial on their rental cars to catch the joyful sounds of kids and teens on RadiOpio.

Radio tower and palm tree in Hawaii at KOPO-LP. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Thanks to Laura Civitello for welcoming us at RadiOpio when we stopped by unannounced! Following the visit, she joined us on Radio Survivor show/podcast episode #210, “Youth Radio by the Beach,” filling in even more details about how the station came to be. This is my 165th radio station tour report and my 36th community radio station recap. View all my radio station visits in numerical order or by station type in our archives.

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FCC Opens Proceeding for All-Digital AM Radio

Sun, 11/24/2019 - 14:32


On Nov. 22 the Federal Communitications Commission voted unanimously to adopt a proposal for rulemaking to allow AM radio stations to convert to fully digital broadcasting, using the MA3 all-digital mode of HD Radio. There was no dissent, and all three Republican commissioners issued separate statements of support. As I noted earlier, if approved, all-digital AM broadcasting would be voluntary.

In addition to deciding if AM stations can convert to digital, the proceeding will also pose questions about how these new all-digital signals will be required to protect adjacent stations from interference. The FCC hasn’t published the full proposal for these details in docket 13–249 yet. Once published in the Federal Register a 30-day comment period will open up where any interested party may let the Commission know their opinion on the idea.

If approved, stations that go all-digital will no longer be receivable on analog receivers, which includes most portable and home radios. About 50% of new car radios feature HD reception. Though because the average vehicle on the road is 11 years old, a smaller percentage of them are HD-capable. 

The question AM broadcasters will need to consider is if the gain in fidelity is worth the potential loss of half or more of their audiences. For listeners and radio enthusiasts, the question is what is the toll for communities when more than half of listeners lose access to a station’s signal. Even if the programming is of interest to just a fraction of listeners, many AM stations still serve an important community service function.

The thought experiment is to consider what it would be like if a major top-rated AM news broadcaster like KFI in Los Angeles, WCBS in New York or WLS in Chicago went all-digital. These are the stations that millions depend on during an event like Superstorm Sandy, major blizzards or wildfires, when electric or cell service may go down for hours or days.

Of course, just because they can go all-digital doesn’t mean these stations will. But I also don’t expect millions of people will rush out to buy HD capable radios if their favorite station converts. They’ll just switch over to listening online or stop listening altogether. It won’t be like the 2009 digital television transition, where it was a case of buy a new TV or coverter box, or lose free over-the-air television altogether. 

Also under consideration is removal of the programming duplication rule, which has been around in some form for decades. Since its last modification in 1992, commonly-owned or operated AM and FM station in the same market may only air the same programming for a total of 25% of airtime during a week. The rule already excepts FM translators, which are permitted to full rebroadcast AM station programming under certain conditions.

We’ll take a closer look at both of these full proposals when released. 

The post FCC Opens Proceeding for All-Digital AM Radio appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Alice’s Restaurant on the 2019 Thanksgiving Radio Menu

Sat, 11/23/2019 - 22:28

In fall, 1967, Arlo Guthrie released “Alice’s Restaurant,” unintentionally launching a Thanksgiving radio tradition that persists more than 50 years later. The Thanksgiving-themed 18+ minute story-song is beloved by folkies and classic rock fans who continue to search the radio dial for it on Thanksgiving Day in order to take part in ritual listening sessions. In 2019 you can listen any time you like thanks to streaming music, but there’s nothing like tuning in to hear the same song at the same time as legions of fellow fans on one of the most American of holidays.

Guthrie has been on the tour circuit in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the film version of “Alice’s Restaurant,” with plenty more concerts scheduled through spring, 2020. For followers of his annual Thanksgiving weekend Carnegie Hall gig, this year’s event on November 30th is expected to be the last.

For a decade, I’ve been compiling a list of radio stations that air “Alice’s Restaurant” as part of their Thanksgiving schedule. I will continue to update this list as I learn of additional stations leading up to Thanksgiving

Alice’s Restaurant on the Radio on Thanksgiving Day 2019 – November 28, 2019

Last updated on November 23, 2019

Terrestrial Radio:

Wyoming Public Radio will air “Alice’s Restaurant” at 11am during the Wyoming Sounds Thanksgiving Special (9am to noon).

KBCO 97.3 FM (Denver, Colorado) airs “Alice’s Restaurant” at noon.

WAMC 1400 AM and 90.3 FM (Albany, NY) Northeast Public Radio, per tradition, will air “Alice’s Restaurant” at noon.

WTTS 92.3 FM (Indianapolis/Bloomington, Indiana) is airing “Alice’s Restaurant” at 8am, noon and 8pm.

WCLY 95.7 FM (Raleigh, NC) will air “Alice’s Restaurant” at 10am and 5pm.

KPIG 107.5 FM (Freedom, CA) and KPYG 94.9 FM (Cayucos/San Luis Obispo, CA) will air “Alice’s Restaurant” at 9am, noon, 4pm, and 8pm.

WERS 88.9 FM (Boston, MA) plans to play “Alice’s Restaurant” at 9am.

WXYG The Goat 540 AM/107.3FM (Sauk Rapids, MN) will play “Alice’s Restaurant” at noon.

WCMF 96.5 FM (Rochester, NY) will play “Alice’s Restaurant” at 11am prior to the Buffalo Bill’s game!

WMMM 105.5 FM (Madison, WI) will play “Alice’s Restaurant” at noon and 6pm.

92 KQRS (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN) will play “Alice’s Restaurant” on Thanksgiving at 10am and 2pm

WDRV 97.1 FM The Drive (Chicago, IL) will play “Alice’s Restaurant” at 6am, noon, and 4pm.

KOZT 95.3 FM/95.9 FM The Coast (Ft. Bragg, CA) will play “Alice’s Restaurant” at 12 noon on Thanksgiving.

KRCC 91. 5 FM (Colorado Springs, CO) will play “Alice’s Restaurant” at 7pm on Thanksgiving.

WRUV 90.1 FM (Burlington, VT) will air “Alice’s Restaurant” at 11am EST.

98.5 WNUW-LP (Aston, PA) at Neumann University airs “Alice’s Restaurant” every Thanksgiving at 9am, 12noon, 5pm, 8pm and 10pm.

Online Radio Stations:

The Whip Radio will play “Alice’s Restaurant” four times on Thanksgiving: 8am, 12 noon, 5pm and 9pm Central time.

REC-FM will play “Alice’s Restaurant” at 11am Eastern time.

The post Alice’s Restaurant on the 2019 Thanksgiving Radio Menu appeared first on Radio Survivor.

College Radio Watch: Digging into College Radio History in Sacramento and More News

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 08:00

On this week’s radio show/podcast we had a fun discussion with one of the founders of Sacramento State University’s college radio station KSSU. We learned about the challenges and obstacles that students faced in the late 1980s when they embarked on a project to bring student radio back to campus. It’s not unusual; many students have had to exhibit similar levels of persistence in order to launch college radio stations over the decades. In addition to sharing that story, KSSU co-founder Jim Bolt also talked about his efforts to archive the station’s early history. I appreciate this project too and hope that it will inspire more stations, even brand new ones, to document their origin stories.

More College Radio News Funding and Infrastructure Anniversaries and History Technology Programming Events Alumni

The post College Radio Watch: Digging into College Radio History in Sacramento and More News appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Radio Station Visit #164: KMNO Mana’o Radio in Maui

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 08:20

On a dreamy Hawaiian vacation this August, I carved out some time to visit community radio station KMNO Mana’o Radio on the island of Maui. My colleagues Matthew Lasar and Paul Riismandel have both written about the station in the past and last year Paul did an impromptu visit, piquing my interest even more.

Boxes of CDs at Mana’o Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

As I plotted out a family trip to Maui, scheduling a visit to KMNO was a great excuse to visit the town of Wailuku. We spent the morning sampling artisan doughnuts and meeting the gregarious owner at Donut Dynamite, hiking in the lush Iao Valley, and roaming through funky thrift stores and antique shops.

Iao Valley in Maui. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Located in close proximity to the town’s commercial strip, Mana’o Radio is a short walk to a record store, Request Music, as well as shops, restaurants and cafes. Having spent much of our trip in touristy zones, it was refreshing to check out the more locals-oriented Wailuku.

Mural on wall in Wailuku. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Embracing the spirit of aloha that we felt on our trip, Mana’o Radio was a lovely respite on a hot afternoon. In the air conditioned station lobby, General Manager Michael Elam met up with me and my family to share the story of KMNO. Shelves of music comprised one side of the lobby, with desks and cabinets on the other side. A door leads into the on-air studio, where a DJ was hosting a program during our visit.

Michael Elam at Mana’o Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

An all-volunteer operation, KMNO is led by a six-person board and has around 45 volunteers. Eschewing pledge drives; Mana’o Radio instead relies on underwriting and special event fundraisers. Elam said that it has been “truly listener supported since day one.” Even better, he added that the station is financially stable and lauded by the community. Just a few weeks before my visit, KMNO was named “best radio station” in local publication, Maui Time Weekly.

Audio equipment at Mana’o Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Originally a low power station beginning in 2002 (KEAO-LP), Mana’o Radio’s initial FCC application stated,

Manao Radio was incorporated in the state of Hawaii on August 28, 2000. ‘Manao’ is a Hawaiian word which means ‘thought, idea, opinion, theory, meaning, mind; to think, suppose, meditate, deem, consider’. It is one of many non-English words used frequently in Hawaii, often in the phrase ‘sharing manao,’ or the exchange of thoughts, feelings, and expertise. Pre-contact Hawaiians had no written language; knowledge was passed through the oral tradition of sharing manao. We chose the name ‘Manao Radio’ because we see this station as a modern extension of this tradition; an opportunity to educate the community through multicultural sharing.

Mana’o Radio sign at the community station. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Mana’o Radio later cancelled its LPFM license and obtained a full power FM license, upgrading its signal in 2014 to 1200 watts at 91.7 FM. Elam told me that just last year, they added a translator and are now able to reach the entire island of Maui, which he said has around 160,000 year-round residents.

Sound board at community radio station Mana’o Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Elam explained that the station’s mission has expanded since its early days as a low power “hippie station.” While it still caters to that audience, programming has expanded recently and they’ve had an influx of new DJs in the past one to three years. There are hip-hop and electronica shows now and a beats workshop at nearby Request Music was in keeping with KMNO’s desire to support live music and local Maui musicians, according to Elam.

Flyer for Maui Beat Session. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Although Mana’o is primarily focused on its local listeners; it’s not lost on them that the station broadcasts in tourism-focused Hawaii. With its online stream, Elam opined that they would love to have visitors take the station home with them.

Front of Mana’o Radio building in Wailuku, Maui. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

With all local programming, KMNO airs a wide range of live shows and plays automated music playlists during the late night hours (midnight to 3am). Genres over the course of the broadcast day include metal, jazz, Celtic music, classical, blues, rock, soul, country, and more. While tuning in to the station throughout our Hawaiian vacation, we enjoyed the mix, including a fun old school hip hop show, some newer indie rock, and tidbits of Hawaiian history, which run twice a day.

CDs on the shelf in on-air studio at Mana’o Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

A number of shows have a traditional freeform aesthetic, blending a range of genres. DJ Forest, who was on the air when we stopped by, talked about his underground radio past in the San Francisco Bay Area (at KPFA and KTIM to name a few). As I learned about the places that many Mana’o Radio DJs had migrated from, it brought to mind the fascinating melange of folks who have been drawn to Hawaii.

DJ Forest in the studio at community radio station Mana’o Radio. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Mahalo to Michael Elam for the interview and tour. This is my 164th radio station tour report and my 35th community radio station recap. View all my radio station visits in numerical order or by station type in our archives.

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After the Death of iTunes Real Internet Radio Is Back on the macOS Music App

Wed, 11/20/2019 - 14:01

Back in June I openly worried about the future state of internet radio on the Mac with the arrival of macOS Catalina and the demise of iTunes. While iTunes has its faults, it still provided a simple way to tune in stations from around the world without using a web browser, whether you found the station in its own directory or plugged in the station’s stream URL yourself.

I’m happy to report that the situation is not as dire as I’d feared.

An early release of the Music app on both MacOS and iOS featured only a handful of carefully chosen stations outside of Beats 1 Radio and Apple’s own curated stations, the latter only available with a paid Apple Music subscription. However, now the Music app now gives you access to a very comprehensive selection of both terrestrial and pure-play internet stations across the U.S. and from around the world.

This is very good news, though Music isn’t yet a full-fledged iTunes replacement. The first big difference is that the Music app doesn’t really let you browse the world of internet radio. Sure, there’s a “Radio” button in the menu, but what you get is mostly populated by Beats 1 and Apple Music stations, along with a smattering of big public and commercial stations. Scroll down and you see a menu item, “Radio Stations,” that seems promising. But click on it and you just get more featured Apple Music stations, along with a list of genres that – you guessed it – deliver even more Apple Music stations.

The Vagaries of the Search

So where are all the real internet radio stations? Search, you must, young Jedi.

Indeed, I was able to find pretty much every station on my local Portland, Oregon radio dial. When I surveyed other Mac internet radio apps earlier this year, I discovered that stations owned by either iHeart or Entercom were often missing. That’s because these two radio giants have started pulling their stations off rival apps. iHeart only wants you to hear its stations on iHeartRadio and Entercom only wants you to hear its stations through Radio.com.

The Music app solves this problem by plugging into the iHeartRadio, Radio.com and TuneIn directories. At least in the U.S., when combined, these directories cover just about every broadcast station that has a live stream, as well as most internet stations that wish to be found. When you search for a specific station, the app displays what directory the result came from.

But search has serious limits. When I searched for “college radio” it returned only about 40 results. Included were ESPN College Football and some other results that indicate the search was only performed on station names. If you were hoping to find your local college station but don’t remember the call letters, you’re likely out of luck.

The same thing was true when searching for jazz or heavy metal. All is good if the genre is in the station’s name, but otherwise you’ll only see a small percentage of stations that might otherwise qualify.

This is curious, because all three directories Music relies on do classify stations by category or genre. The metadata is in there, but Music doesn’t search it. Combined with the inability to browse internet radio stations, this makes Music a poor way to discover internet radio stations.

Still, if you know a station’s call letter or name and its in the iHeart Radio.com or TuneIn directory – a pretty good chance – then the app is a fine way to listen to internet radio without a browser. In fact, if this is your use case, because it combines these three different directories, Music is your best choice for a desktop internet radio app.

Triode – a Promising iTunes Replacement?

I was reminded to check back in on this topic because I just learned about a new internet radio app for MacOS, iOS and tvOS. MacStories positively reviewed this app, Triode, calling it, “an excellent addition across nearly the full range of Apple’s platforms.”

I excitedly tried it out, only to run into the same limitations that hamper the other apps I surveyed: no stations from iHeart or Entercom. On the one hand, as a lover of great non-commercial stations and strange, eclectic internet radio, this isn’t necessarily a huge restriction.

I was immediately impressed with Triode on startup, as it displayed a wonderful selection of truly great independent terrestrial and internet stations, including San Francisco’s BFF.fm and SomaFM, Denver’s jazz KUVO, New Jersey’s WFMU, The Current from Minnesota Public Radio and Radio Survivor affiliate XRAY.fm here in Portland. It’s wonderful to see these recommendations rather than just a pile of big city, highly rated commercial and public stations.

When I searched for “college radio” I got back dozens upon dozens of results – more than I had the patience to count. Same for metal, jazz and blues. Clearly, Triode is searching station descriptions, categories and genres, not just names.

If you don’t find a station in the directory you can add it to Triode if you know the stream URL. Now that’s very iTunes-live behavior.

Nevertheless, I suspect that the lack of big U.S. commecial stations is a drawback that will make this more of a niche app rather than a true competitor for Apple’s own Music app. Radio nerds who love independent stations and don’t want to pick through Apple’s subscription-only offerings to find their favorites are the target audience.

While Triode is free, you can only save stations as favorites with a paid subscription for 99 cents a month, $9.99 a year or $19.99 for a forever plan. By comparison, this is a feature you get for free with TuneIn as long as you’re willing to set up a free account. Plus you’ll get access to pretty much the same catalog of stations. A Triode paid subscription also delivers high resolution album art displayed for each track, a feature whose utility holds little appeal for me.

Consolidation Is To Blame

Now, the limits of Triode’s directory aren’t the fault of the app developer. The guilty parties are iHeartRadio and Entercom, two of the largest radio companies in the U.S. which also don’t want their stations found outside their own app platforms.

Of course you can still listen to these stations on your computer… for now. Ultimately it’s consolidation that keeps independent radio apps from having access to these companies’ streams. Luckily, there are still thousands upon thousands of smaller and independent stations more than happy to be found and streamed through whatever app you might be using.

The situation parallels what we’re seeing in video streaming. Where just a few years ago you might only need to use one or two apps or subscription services – like Netflix and Hulu – to get a pretty wide variety of movies and programs, now you need like six or seven.

I’d hate to see other radio companies follow iHeart’s and Entercom’s lead and set up their own closed app platforms, requiring a listener to have five or six different apps installed just to hear all the stations on their local dial. It could be enough to drive folks away from internet radio.

Or maybe just drive them to their trusty terrestrial radio receiver, which already gets all these stations.

If only their smartphones had a plain old radio tucked inside….

The post After the Death of iTunes Real Internet Radio Is Back on the macOS Music App appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #220 – The College Radio Station ‘That Shouldn’t Exist’

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 23:21

When Jim Bolt was in college at Sacramento State University in 1989 college radio was exerting unprecedented cultural influence in the U.S. But this campus no longer had a radio station. Though he had heard stories of an earlier student-run AM station – KERS – he couldn’t get to the bottom of why it no longer existed. In the same period the university transferred its FM license over to Capitol Public Radio.

Convinced that the school and the Sacramento community deserved real college radio, he and a group of fellow students pushed hard for two years to finally get KEDG off the ground and onto the AM airwaves in 1991. Today that station continues to thrive online as KSSU. But the struggle to bring college radio back to Sacramento State is why he says it’s “a startup that shouldn’t exist.”

Jim tells this founding story and explains why he and his fellow co-founders endeavored to keep the founding story alive with words and archival materials. He shares hard won advice for college students looking to build their own stations, and for alums who want to preserve their broadcast legacies.

Show Notes:

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