College Radio’s FM Footprint Fading: Is Online the Answer?

Does college radio still deserve a “terrestrial footprint“?

Student stations on or near campuses nationwide continue to provide undergrads with invaluable on-air experience and act as the last bastions of non-mainstream music promotion.  But their relevancy to student listeners and survival prospects on the FM dial are under renewed scrutiny.

According to a Sunday New York Times report, “[A]s colleges across the country look for ways to tighten budgets amid recession-induced shortfalls, some administrators- most recently in the South- have focused on college radio, leading even well-endowed universities to sell off their FM stations.”

Of course, college radio has never been a cash cow or even a break-even financial enterprise.  Repositioning as online-only outlets will certainly save the stations- and by extension their supporting schools- money, but at what cost?

An in-progress map of U.S. student-run, non-commercial radio stations. Click on the screenshot to access the related site.

KTRU, Rice University’s student-run station, recently had its FM signal sold by the school.  In the words of its station manager, “DJing for an Internet radio station is not quite the same thing as DJing over the air.  We don’t have that inherent sense of locality that you would on the air. . . . For the immediate and near future, FM is still the most important form of radio.”

Yet, even some of college radio’s staunchest supporters admit a shift in form and function might be needed to ensure its analog presence does not fall entirely into the Internet abyss.

As an op-ed earlier this week in Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times argued, “[I]f students at other universities want to keep this traditional media, they need to find creative ways to drive traffic to the FM stations. . . . For instance, what if college dining halls were to play college radio stations? . . . Perhaps campus radio stations should broadcast from important on-campus events, when possible. They might seek revenue by allowing student organizations to pay for discounted advertising on the airways. . . . [I]t can amplify the college perspective, providing an important avenue where students can voice concerns or advise others on social issues. Programming does not have to be limited to unconventional music styles.”

2 Responses to “College Radio’s FM Footprint Fading: Is Online the Answer?”
  1. TJ says:

    Oh my god, what a fucking horror. It wasn’t bad enough when low-power FM became politically inconvenient in the early 70s, now (in a recession where a nutjob like Palin gets more airtime than most intelligent leaders) straight-ass college admins are finding an excuse to eliminate the inconvenience of “unconventional music styles”. In favor of hymns, no doubt.

    Damn shame. Thanks for the clue-up

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