Four Reasons Radio Lives

RADIO FREE HARVARD

This semester, we’ve enjoyed predicting gloomy forecasts for the radio industry, but like Boston weather, the time has come for something a little sunnier. So, in honor of the coming of spring, we’d like to give you our semester-end round up of everything going on in radio that makes us believe, at least for the moment, that there are some clear skies ahead.

RADIO UNIVERSIDAD AND POLITICAL CHANGE

On November 29, 2006, Radio Universidad, the radio station of the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca was officially forced off the air by police. The police, incensed by the leftist politics and popularity of the station among Oaxaca residents, shut its operations down after conflict in the Oaxaca region.

Run by university students with no previous radio experience, Radio Universidad sought to keep the people informed and involved throughout the six-month long struggle for control of the airwaves. One of the most famous announcers, “La Doctora,” would broadcast for over 20 hours on tense days. In an area where television was often non-functional and newspapers were corrupt and only available to those who could read, the station exemplified the democratic possibilities of public radio.

Even though the station is now defunct, we can’t help but gape in awe at the ability of radio to unite people in the face of violence and political instability. If anything, this makes us more committed to arguing for locally-centered radio.

KZPS AND THE END OF 15 MINUTE LONG COMMERCIAL BREAKS

Despite our constant Clear Channel bashing, we do have something nice to say, and we promise it’s not just more weather-induced euphoria. The New York Times reported on Monday that KZPS, a former classic rock station in Dallas that is owned by Clear Channel, would no longer run traditional 30- or 60-second commercials. Instead, the station will pursue a strategy of “integration”—which basically means that DJs will conversationally advertise products during their breaks, thus putting more music on the air.

While it’s hard to take this as a sign that commercial radio is getting significantly less corporate, the emphasis on ensuring a smooth listener experience, as opposed to a strong profit margin, is a step in a right the direction.

RADIOX: PIRATES OF A DIFFERENT SORT

Ham radio operators have been around since the beginning of radio; in fact, amateur radio enthusiasts were the first people to pick up the Titanic’s distress signals in 1912. Since the 1960s, some real fanatics have gotten even more serious about broadcasting and formed pirate stations that operate outside the Federal Communication Commission’s jurisdiction.

RadioX, operating out of Long Island at 94.7FM, 94.9FM, and 104.5FM, is run by former commercial radio DJs so dedicated to good programming that they have chosen to operate outside of the industry. Playing a mix of standard Top 40 hits and lesser known college radio fare, the pirate station is just as popular as any Clear Channel station on Long Island, consistently coming in the top five in Arbitron ratings.

PANDORA AND INTERNET RADIO

Some technologically savvy entrepreneurs have started to expand traditional notions of radio in radical ways. Tapping into the desire for unique programming without a constant cycle of top 40 hits, Pandora has brought the internet’s flexibility to radio for more than a year now. Pandora creates personal radio stations for each listener based on their taste. It’s the closest thing to a personal DJ, mixing up old favorites with new jams that make it nearly impossible to tune out.

It’s been more than a century since radio’s rise to public prominence, and more than twenty years after the supposed death of the radio star. Despite the greatly exaggerated reports of radio’s demise (what happened to that video star, after all?), it continues to make headlines and generate a great deal of excitement for its faithful listeners and detractors alike.

The positive forces that have kept radio going for all this time show no sign of stopping. That is why it’s hot.

—Staff writer Kimberly E. Gittleson and contributing writer Evan L. Hanlon are the president and rock director of WHRB, Harvard’s student-run radio station. Gittleson can be reached at gittles@fas.harvard.edu.