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record library at college radio station WMUC

College Radio Watch: Why I Tour College Radio Stations

I’ve written up 68 radio station tours since 2008 and have probably visited close to 100 stations total. Nearly 50 of those visits were to college radio stations all over the country (plus a few in Ireland). My goal has always been to spread the gospel of college radio to not only the masses, but also to other college radio DJs. As a longtime college radio participant, I know how insular college radio can be. We often fixate on our own experiences at our own stations and many of us don’t get the opportunity to see how things are done elsewhere.

Every time I visit a radio station I marvel not only at the similarities (yep, there’s that couch again), but I also embrace the differences (no way, you have two bathrooms!). I’m constantly picking up inspiration from these visits.

I’ve also become a bit fanatical and every time I’m out of town I try to squeeze in more radio station visits than is humanly possibly. I have to remind myself to schedule buffer time in case I get lost on public transit or while driving from station to station, plus I have to force myself to eat so that I don’t pass out by the end of a long day of touring.  Often I’ll do a whirlwind day of 4 station visits and while in Philadelphia earlier this year, I actually managed to see five stations in one day.


Sign in record library at WLOY. Photo: J. Waits

The Scavenger Hunt Continues

Although it’s fun to check off my internal list of radio station scavenger hunt items during each visit (skulls, couches, cabinet of stickers, hand-made signs telling DJs what to do and not do, Leo Blais signs, vintage vinyl, old audio equipment, fun pop culture artifacts, potty-mouth graffiti and drawings, Steve Keene paintings, and so much more), these days I’m also looking for historical collections.

reel to reel tapes at college radio station WMFO

Reel-to-reel tapes at WMFO. Photo: J. Waits

Searching for College Radio History

Since I joined the Library of Congress’ Radio Preservation Task Force, I’m now on the hunt for college radio stations that could potentially join up as affiliate archives and collections. So much radio history is housed in college radio stations and I would love for researchers and radio scholars to have a greater appreciation for the culture of college radio.

If you are at a college radio station that has old reel-to-reel recordings, vintage photos, old flyers, meeting minutes from days gone by, and other ephemeral from 1975 and earlier, please let me know, as I’d love to sign you up as an affiliate collection.

Bringing my Radio Tours to Radio Survivor

I started my radio station tour series on Spinning Indie back in 2008 and have continued to post it there even though the majority of my radio writing has migrated over to Radio Survivor. In an attempt to bring the tours to a larger audience, I will now be posting them in their entirety on Radio Survivor (see all posts here). Thus far, I’ve posted two Philadelphia-area field trips on Radio Survivor, including visits to WQHS at University of Pennsylvania and to WHRC at Haverford College. Additionally, I’ve shared all of my D.C.-area tours to Radio Survivor, including visits to WRGW at George Washington University, University of Maryland station WMUC, and Loyola University Maryland station WLOY.

In addition to these five college radio station tours, I also just posted my visit to NPR headquarters as well. Although college radio is my true passion, in the weeks to come I will also share some of my visits to high school and community radio stations too. If you want to take a look at all of my tours since the beginning, you can peruse my running list of tours on Spinning Indie. You might be surprised by some of the places that I’ve been!

college radio station WHRB

Record Hospital Department Lounge at WHRB. Photo: J. Waits

I Don’t Play Favorites

Often people will ask me what my favorite radio station is or what the best station is. While I do have moments where I feel a connection with a given station and its staff (sometimes I don’t want to leave because it feels like home) and other moments where I feel quite the opposite, none of that translates into one station being “better” than another.

Instead, I like to revel in each station’s unique characteristics. On recent tours I was giddy over all of the amazing old artifacts at WQHS, excited to see a new era and space for WHRC, intrigued by the role of politics and influence of D.C. on the programming at WRGW, floored by cavernous space and the 2-story record library at WMUC, and was impressed by all of the programs for kids and teens at WLOY.

Leo Blais sign at MIT college radio station WMBR

Leo sign at WMBR. Photo: J. Waits

You Can Tour Too

During my tours I will sometimes ask station leaders if they have been to other nearby stations or if they feel a sense of community with their college radio peers. Sometimes they tell me about connections they’ve made, but more often than not there is no interaction between stations. I try to encourage people to get out and see other radio stations and connect with others who are doing college radio. People are usually more than happy to show you around and you will always learn something from the visit. It also helps build a sense of community and camaraderie, which is helpful for so many reasons. Stations can work together to throw an event (co-presenting a show, for example), can coordinate with each other if musicians are looking to do interviews or play on the air, and can even come together to create a low-key local college radio conference. As far back as the 1940s, college radio stations even formed regional networks that shared programming across stations. If you’ve worked with other college radio stations on projects, let me know about it in the comments.

We cover the culture of college radio every Friday in our College Radio Survivor feature. If you have college radio news to share, please drop us a note at EDITORS at RADIOSURVIVOR dot COM.

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One Response to College Radio Watch: Why I Tour College Radio Stations

  1. Chuck Ryals November 21, 2014 at 8:16 pm #

    Come on out to Oberlin, Ohio! @

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