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The Left Side of the Dial

Yves Lorson / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

On this week's Musical Space, Mark Foley recognizes a movement that helped radio stations become a lot more creative.

October 2nd is College Radio Day, when we celebrate the radio stations occupying the real estate to the left of 92 MHz.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but college radio has become a significant part of American music history. Not only do they inform and entertain, college stations helped create a whole new genre. College radio really came into its own in the 1980s, when commercial pop radio was having a hard time staying relevant, a victim of its own corporate integration and ever-tightening pop playlists. Newer styles like hip hop and underground rock didn’t fit the business plan.

College radio filled that vacuum. By nature, it was free from commercial pressure, and DJs still had the power to play what they wanted. Bands that were a little too smart and self-aware for pop radio, like R.E.M., The Dead Milkmen and The Replacements, found an audience on campus. College Rock was born.

College Rock even has its own magazine, College Media Journal, with its own top 200 chart and a live festival, CMJ music marathon, which still happens in October.

There are lots of reasons to celebrate Oct. 2. Our own KMUW continues to be a college music leader. You might also want to check out WFMU from Hudson Valley and KCRW in Santa Monica. Their online content is enough reassurance that college radio is still making waves.

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.