Whenever a list is produced of the BEST of anything there will be nay-sayers; whether the list comes from “experts” or is the result of popular vote. For that reason, I’m suspicious of every list that I’ve seen of the most popular/best college radio stations. Now with the latest contest underway, mtvU’s (MTV’s college-oriented network) award for best college radio station in their annual Woodie Awards, I have even more reason to cast a critical eye.
Currently one can vote from among the “top” 100 college radio stations in the U.S. on the mtvU Woodies page on RateMyProfessors.com. This is the second round of voting, as those 100 stations were chosen from a list of 300+ stations that was posted a few weeks ago. On September 15th, based on votes, the list will get whittled down to 50 stations. After that, votes will determine the top 25. Finally, there will be another 4 rounds to determine four regional winners (Northeast, West, South and Midwest). From those regional winners an overall winner will be chosen by popular vote.
I have several problems with mtvU’s specific process:
1) Timing of Nominations over Summer Break a Bad Idea
Voting for the top 100 stations was from August 18th to September 8th (the day after Labor Day). Although one could nominate stations not already on the list, chances are high that many college radio stations were on summer break when the voting process started and missed the opportunity to nominate or vote.
2) Factual Errors in Nominee List Casts Doubt on Results
During the nomination round I saw a ridiculously high number of factual errors on the list of nominated stations. When taking a look at the California stations alone, many of the listings had an incorrect school name attached to a radio station’s frequency and call letters. This makes me very dubious about a lot of things. The lack of attention to detail casts doubt on the entire voting process for me. It also means that we can’t know for sure if people were voting for the station that they meant to vote for if the call letters and school name were incorrectly matched.
3) The Math
I’m a little confused about how the 100 most popular stations get narrowed down to 4 regional finalists. Out of the 100 still in contention, 19 are from the Midwest, 25 are from the West, 27 are from the South and 29 are from the Northeast. So, at this point; each of the stations in the Midwest seems to have a higher chance of making it into the final round compared with stations from the Northeast. Just curious about why they didn’t choose 25 finalists from each region.
Additionally, it’s not clear how often one can vote for a specific station or if one can vote for multiple stations.
4) Unclear Criteria for What Constitutes a “College Radio” Station
I saw some comments on the mtvU website contesting some of the listed stations, with folks arguing that some on the list weren’t really student stations. I’m the first to admit that college radio stations are diverse, with not all stations on college campuses fitting the mainstream definition of college radio. There are public radio-affiliated stations with no student involvement, commercial stations run by students, stations that only reach the dorms, college stations with a high number of non-student DJs, and everything in between.
5) Some great stations were Never Nominated
This is probably the point that I most want to make. Many amazing student radio stations were not included in the initial list of 300 stations, so they never had a chance for this award. (Granted, one could tweet a nomination for your station, but from my experience that had to be done some time before September 4th).
That is one of the most important things to realize when the final winner is announced and when stations start promoting that they are among the “top 100 college radio stations in the country.” These contests never seem to include the entire universe of stations and it often takes a very committed radio station staff to make sure that their station is nominated. I’m convinced that it also is key that a station work hard to promote “getting out the vote” and the most successful stations in doing that probably win year after year.
None of this is meant to knock down winners of these competitions, as often there are great college radio stations on these “best of” lists. I just want to cast a bit of a critical eye on how stations get on these lists and remind people that many awesome stations are overlooked.
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