College Radio Stations Join Forces to Send Out a Strong Signal on October 11

William Paterson U.

William Paterson U.'s WPSC-FM is leading the first-ever nationwide College Radio Day on October 11. Some 240 stations in 42 states, Canada, and Jamaica will join the event, whose aim is to get local people to tune in to college radio.
September 14, 2011

Vinyl record albums cover one wall, shiny CD's the other, and stickers bearing the names and logos of indie-rock bands past and present plaster every filing cabinet and desk in sight. The offices of William Paterson University of New Jersey's WPSC-FM (88.7) are not pretty, but they're as good a place as any for the scruffy institution known as college radio to mount a campaign aimed at ensuring its own future.

Three students DJ's listen as Rob Quicke, an assistant professor of communications and general manager of WPSC, rapidly describes his ambitions for College Radio Day, a mass celebration of campus radio coming this October 11. Using social media, e-mail, a Web page, and telephones, the students and their professor have persuaded some 240 stations in 42 states, Canada, and Jamaica to join the free party. The figures please the Oxford-educated Mr. Quicke, but only briefly.

"There's over a thousand stations that could be doing this," he says. "The more stations we have on board, the more power we have in our message."

The primary aim of the event, says Mr. Quicke, is to get average people to tune in to their local college radio stations and to appreciate their unique contributions to the larger culture.

"What really cheeses me off is when you have college radio breaking bands, they become massive, cross over to the mainstream, and then commercial radio steps in and says, 'We'll take it from here, thanks,'" he says.

Last year at a conference, a music-industry executive confided in Mr. Quicke that college radio "is a great product, but it's irrelevant because it's too fragmented."

That fragmentation has ill-served fans of the medium, who have seen some colleges sell off their valuable FM licenses in these tight economic times. Mr. Quicke went to bed one night with that problem on his mind, and awoke the next morning with the idea for College Radio Day "fully crystallized."

College radio stations are served by four existing associations: the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, College Broadcasters Inc., the Broadcast Education Association, and College Media Advisers. Mr. Quicke says that each of those organizations serves an important and specific role, so he invited all four groups to throw their weight behind College Radio Day, which would serve as a sort of umbrella for them. All agreed.

He enlisted the help of a former student, Peter Kreten, who manages WXAV-FM at Saint Xavier University, in Chicago, along with five student DJ's at William Paterson, and set to work, going from two stations to 240 in less than three months.

"We just had a lot of self-confidence and a lot of hope," says Mr. Quicke. That and a teasing camaraderie with his students.

"He may speak fast, but he's inspirational," says one of them, Stephan Bisaha. "You may not know what you're inspired to do, but you're inspired."

In addition to recruiting radio stations to participate, the students set out to enlist their favorite musicians to record "sweepers," or taped endorsements of the cause. Among the bigger catches: members of the bands Fall Out Boy, OK Go, and Flogging Molly; Mick Jones from the Clash; and—just this week—Coldplay: "Hi, I'm Guy [Berryman]. And I'm Will [Champion]. We're from the band Coldplay and we support College Radio Day."

Some of the bands are contributing autographed prizes to be given away at participating stations during the 30-hour College Radio Day, which will culminate in a 6 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time link-up between WPSC and a station in Hawaii. A free application called RadioFlag, which Mr. Quicke describes as "Twitter for radio," will allow the participating stations to track what the others are doing. Several have their own plans, including concerts and blood drives.

Dana Schaeffer, another of WPSC's student DJ's, says she has enjoyed getting acquainted with her peers at other colleges.

"It's like long-lost relatives that you've never seen before, and now we're just getting together," she says. "It's like, wow, we all have something in common."

Mr. Quicke says the secret of the whole endeavor is freedom: "Let stations showcase their best stuff, let them do whatever the heck they want to do, and let it be a celebration."

The only requirement of participating stations, he says, is that they play a 15-minute recording Mr. Quicke produced on the state of the industry called "College Radio in 2011: Its Past, Present, and Future."

On the one hand, he says, "this is a boom time for college radio stations because students are setting up Internet stations." On the other, Mr. Quicke and other radio managers are aware that the trickle of colleges selling their stations' FM licenses could quickly widen into a stream if left unchecked.

"So College Radio Day is also being used as a vehicle to say, We're definitely against colleges and universities selling off their stations," he says.

Soon Mr. Quicke hopes to start a nonprofit College Radio Fund supported by corporate and individual donors to which stations could apply for money to stage promotional concerts, for example, or buy materials like placards and posters to oppose sales.

His own introduction to college radio came in 1993 during a year as a visiting student at William Jewell College, where he worked as a disc jockey on the campus station. "I fell in love with college radio," Mr. Quicke says, then went back to Oxford and helped two friends launch England's first fully licensed FM college radio station, Oxygen FM (107.9), in 1997.

So when he thought up the idea for College Radio Day, he called up his old station at the Missouri college, KWJC, to see if staff members there wanted to participate.

"Do you know what they said?" he asks. "'I'm sorry, we sold the station in 2006.' They sold it off to religious broadcasters."