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vinyl closet at college radio station Radio K. Photo: J. Waits

College Radio Watch: Celebrating Prince on the Radio

I was as shocked as everyone else yesterday when I glanced up at a TV screen at my local diner and saw the breaking news that Prince has died. I voiced my disbelief and soon there was a chorus of commentary from my fellow restaurant patrons. Wasn’t Prince just in town performing? Was he really only 57 years old?

Later when I checked email and scanned social media, there was plenty of evidence that people were turning to radio in order to process the news. Public, college, commercial, and satellite radio stations switched to all-Prince programming and fans were delighted. KEXP (a former college radio station that still has a collection of Prince LPs from its days as University of Washington station KCMU) in Seattle began playing Prince in the afternoon and continued until 6pm (except for a break for a live band).

Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current (in Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis) went all-out with Prince tracks in chronological order all day and into the night. They even plan to top that tonight, when the station begins a 24+ hour Prince special, airing Prince’s music in A to Z order. College radio also joined in with numerous impromptu Prince marathons, including one by WCBN (University of Michigan) from around 1:30pm to 6pm yesterday.

As I will discuss on next week’s Radio Survivor Podcast, it became clear that radio became an outlet for collective mourning and that there was something magical about people from all over the world tuning in to the exact same music at the exact same time. My friend Howard Ryan (aka DJ Schmeejay) brilliantly explained this in a post on his Facebook page, saying,

I realized something today when I was walking through the Financial District in San Francisco this afternoon. I was listening to The Current out of Minneapolis loudly on my headphones doing their all-day, in chronological order Prince marathon and we’re at 1984. DJ just played DMSR. ♡. Purple Rain next, right? So, I am waiting for the light to change on Kearney and suddenly I AM PLAYING AIR GUITAR TO THAT FUCKING SOLO IN LET’S GO CRAZY. This is not like me. But, today I am like that. And when, a few blocks later the title track comes on, some tears start rolling out of nowhere, I realize there are probably 1000s of folks back in the Twin Cities doing the same thing AT THAT VERY MOMENT LISTENING TO THAT SAME SONG. DAMN.”

To me, that is one of the amazing things about radio; that it can bring us together for shared experiences, as it did yesterday. In addition to radio’s role in the mourning process, it’s also interesting to note that college radio is inextricably linked to Prince for many people. On social media a number of fans recounted stories of discovering Prince through college radio and others shared tales of playing Prince on college radio.

On Twitter, Garrett Lanzy (@GarrettL62) wrote, “…I started playing Prince as a college DJ when playing him on the radio was a subversive act (Controversy era).” Ben Smith (@BenMSmith) expressed similar sentiments, saying, “I need to dig into his catalog, but one thing I remember about Prince is thinking I had broken broadcast guidelines during college radio.” Others mentioned that Prince crossed genre lines, which meant that many different DJs played his material. Ken Hart (@KenofGhastria) said, “I was a college radio DJ when #Prince released 1999. We had rock, punk, R&B and jazz shows, & I think ALL of us played that album. Genius.”

Do you have any college radio anecdotes related to Prince? Let me know in the comments.

More College Radio News

That’s all I’ve got today…but be sure, as always, to listen to this week’s Radio Survivor Podcast for more college radio discussion. In this week’s episode I recap the UCRN (UC Radio Network) conference that I attended at University of California, Santa Cruz.

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