This Friday’s a special day for music and radio lovers. Oct. 1 marks College Radio Day, a time “to raise a greater, international awareness of the many college and high school radio stations that operate around the world.” As a self-described rave girl and DJ almost done with training at the student radio WKNC (which I’m not officially a part of, so this is not an insider endorsement), I’m here to do some peer pressure and tell you all to start listening to college radio.
Radio wasn’t something I grew up on. Back when I was a little kid living in Nicaragua, my family tended to stick to used CDs and TV broadcasts, and by the time I moved to the United States and started listening to music religiously, streaming services were becoming a thing. It wasn’t until three things happened over the past year: I got into mixing electronic music through some Brooklyn DJs I’m mutuals with, I downloaded an Ableton free trial over the summer, and I went as a guest at WXYC, the UNC-Chapel Hill student radio — I know, I know, pretty slanderous of me to start my radio journey there.
Regardless of where I started my DJ career, if you’re tired of the Billboard 100, college radio is the place to go. While big commercial radio stations are restricted to play the same popular songs in order to hook listeners and make a profit, most student radios tend to be less concerned about money. Because of this, music played by student radio stations tends to be much more diverse. And while yes, you’re right in saying that college radios are probably not going to play your favorite top hits from Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift or Tame Impala (although you’d be surprised), you’re also very likely to find smaller, equally captivating artists.
I’d go as far to call college radio integral to the music industry. It’s where many unsigned and local artists get their start, as well as where many indie and upcoming artists get platformed as well. Student DJs, likewise, are some of the best curators you’ll ever meet, platforming various artists both popular and niche from almost every music genre imaginable.
Suffice to say, every student DJ has different music tastes and inclinations when creating a setlist, so it’s all about tuning in at the right time and finding a DJ that consistently gets your vibe. For listeners at NC State and the Triangle area, WKNC has its genres split into different blocks — you can tune in most afternoons to indie rock and most evenings to electronic — except for Friday evenings, of course, since that’s reserved for metalheads. There’s also various specialty shows, including K-pop, traditional Indian music and even sea shanties. Suffice to say, there’s something for everyone on college radio.
The radio scene isn’t perfect, obviously. Because broadcasters are still subject to very archaic content guidelines because of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), radio stations do have some limits on what they can play on the radio. Getting caught saying or airing a song with the word “f---,” for example, will get you a fine of at least $320,000, essentially gatekeeping a lot of artists from getting platformed regardless of how they’re using “obscene” words. That and, let’s be honest, nobody bumps to clean edits.
But if you’re truly looking to spice up your music, college radio is a great way to be introduced to new artists. As a person who mainly gravitates towards house and techno, I got into artists like Mall Grab, Terrence Dixon and FJAAK through student DJ sets, and outside of my general music tastes, I got into artists like Machine Girl and Oneohtrix Point Never.
If you’d like to support your local college radio stations on College Radio Day, WKNC is hosting a “24 Hour Lock In,” where a different student DJ will be playing every hour, starting right at midnight. You can tune in either on the radio station at 88.1 FM, online at wknc.org or through WKNC’s YouTube channel live stream. If you’re one of our secret readers in the Chapel Hill area (because I know you exist), tune in to WXYC at 89.3 FM or online at wxyc.org. Durham readers, likewise, can tune in to WXDU at 88.7 FM or online at wxdu.org.
But seriously, tune in to “WKNC 88.1 FM HD-1 Raleigh” this Friday. I memorized that during training so you’d tune in to good music.