Whether you’re an aspiring turntablist, a future broadcaster aiming for a career on the air, or just a record geek who gets off on spinning your favorite tunes, this city is full of great college-radio opportunities. And besides, the rewards go beyond personal gain. We all know how much mainstream radio sucks, and how important independent stations are to our dwindling access to freedom of expression. The only way to be a scenester is to keep your scene alive.
• THE BIGGIES
The city’s best college radio station, oddly enough, isn’t based in the city and doesn’t belong to a college. Jersey City’s WFMU (91.1 FM) was once affiliated with long-gone Upsala College, but is now a listener-supported entity heard throughout the five boroughs. One of the few remaining bastions of truly free-form radio, WFMU plays the weirdest, most wonderful things you’ve never heard (from prehistoric 78s to the latest in experimental noise) and gives DJs free reign to let their imaginations—and their tastes—run wild.
With its popular New Afternoon Show (which plays the latest in Bands You Haven’t Heard Of, You Pathetic Loser), its excellent electronic, hip-hop, and reggae programs, and its regular schedule of on-air musician guests, WNYU (89.1 FM, 800 AM) is a student-run dream come true. At 8300 watts, the station can be heard far and wide—but not as far and as wide as Columbia’s WKCR (89.9 FM). On a good day, this highly respected station can be heard in Philadelphia, playing jazz, blues, reggae, world, Latin, classical—basically anything but good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll.
It’s easy to forget that the National Public Radio-affiliated WFUV (90.7 FM) is associated with Fordham University, since the folk and adult-alternative-oriented station is run by professionals and broadcasts nationally syndicated shows. But behind the scenes, WFUV serves as the “practical arm of Fordham’s communications program,” according to program director Chuck Singleton, training and hiring students in many different areas, including news and public affairs, engineering and production, and sportscasting. Kingsborough College also offers its students hands-on experience at the Contemporary Hits Radio-oriented WKRB (90.9 FM). Students spin Top 40 pop, hip-hop, and r&b, call Brooklyn Cyclones minor-league baseball games, and host morning-zoo prankfests.
• SERVING THE COMMUNITY, SERVING UP THE TUNES
The stated mission of City College’s WHCR (90.3 FM) is “providing informational, educational and cultural programming for the diverse populations of Harlem,” through talk, news, and religious shows, as well as Latin, blues, jazz, reggae, hip-hop, world, and r&b. (“Funny Talk” is an interactive show that encourages listeners to call in and heckle on-air comedians.) Staten Island’s only FM station, the College of Staten Island’s WSIA (88.9 FM), is also integral to its community, as college radio is the neglected borough’s only means of communication with the outside world. (Kidding.) Volunteers help keep WSIA alive and committed to independent rock, jazz, blues, and world. On the other hand, Brooklyn College’s WBCR, which broadcasts only over the Internet, plays almost nonstop underground alternative, metal, and hip-hop, with the occasional sports or news program.
• ARRGH, I’M (ALMOST) A PIRATE
Given the city’s crowded airwaves (especially in Manhattan), it is extremely expensive and time- consuming for a small station to acquire a license from that nasty ogre the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to broadcast over a significant area. Many NYC college stations keep it real as legal, unlicensed, low-power “Part 15” stations (referring to a sub- section of the FCC’s Code of Federal Regulations) that can only be heard in the vicinity of campus, if at all; some broadcast exclusively over the Internet.
The lack of an FCC license also allows a station more freedom in the way it operates and in what it can play. Barnard College’s WBAR (87.9 FM) is as DIY as it gets: Any student at Barnard or Columbia can have their own show, the RealAudio stream is run off of a machine in a member’s dorm room, and aside from a legal disclaimer and a short list of censored words, the DJs enjoy free reign. Any student can also join WFIT (540 AM) at the Fashion Institute of Technology, which offers training in broadcasting, e-commerce, and Internet communication. (Unlike most other college stations, however, WFIT gives shows to nonstudents.)
Keeping a tiny, quasi-legal radio station up and running is more difficult than, say, throwing a kegger, and those stations that don’t get strong support from the student body and administration sometimes end up going under—Yeshiva University’s WYUR was one such casualty. Kids, don’t let this happen to you! Put down that beer, leave the library, and take back the airwaves from the Man, or else we’re going to be listening to Howard Stern and Creed for the rest of our lives.