Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Hit and Miss

Here is the text of a guest column I have written concerning WEIU-FM.


The link has long since expired. But here’s what I wrote:

Reasons to oppose the "Hit-Mix" format are at least as numerous as the varieties of musical expression now missing from WEIU-FM's broadcasting day.

I'll limit myself to four:

1. A college radio station should not attempt to duplicate and compete with the offerings of commercial stations. WEIU-FM's "Hit-Mix," its claim to be "Charleston's radio station," and its countless spots for local "sponsors" threaten to blur the line between commercial and public broadcasting. (Anyone who's listened to WILL-AM or -FM can tell the difference between genuine underwriting and these revved-up mini-commercials.)

2. A college radio station should offer its listeners an alternative to what is available on the commercial airwaves. And it should do so in the name of culture -- whether the alternative is classical music, jazz, folk music, world music, indie rock or hip-hop. It seems necessary to point out, again and again, that WEIU-FM's new format sets it utterly apart from other college radio stations across the state (and, I dare say, across the nation).

3. A college radio station should present an appropriate public face. That face need not be somber and scholarly. But the musical dreck that is the "Hit-Mix" gives us a public presence that is laughable and embarrassing. Can you imagine hearing "My Heart Will Go On" on WILL-FM? Or on the University of Chicago station? Or, for that matter, on any college radio station? Yet I recently heard it on WEIU-FM. Consider what people passing through on I-57 might think when they happen to tune to 88.9. Would they ever guess that it's a university station? And when they find out, will they be able to believe it?

4. A college radio station should serve to challenge students and broaden their horizons. In the olden days, working at WEIU-FM was a genuine learning experience. Students worked out their own playlists and maintained solid relationships with record companies by phone and mail. The wide range of programming required students to get beyond their comfort zones and learn about musical traditions that were new to them. Students announcing classical music had to (and in fact did) develop passable pronunciation of names and words in French, German and Italian. Students playing African pop gained an awareness that "Africa" means a myriad of languages and musical styles. The new WEIU-FM, with music pumped in by satellite (as has been the case for several years), makes the student into little more than the pusher of a very occasional button. It's not even necessary for someone to be at "the board" -- the operation of the station is automated.

For me, the changes at WEIU-FM represent a profound loss. I did a weekly two-hour jazz show for five years (1986-1991), during which time I came to know many of the students who worked at the station. Their energy and range of artistic and musical interests represented everything that is great about college radio. My wife, Elaine Fine, was classical musical director until the first effort to reorganize WEIU-FM (with morning "chapel service" and obituary reading). In recent years, a continued reliance on satellite programming began an ongoing decline.

Which reminds me -- if the "Hit-Mix" is to continue, WEIU-FM can at least do the university community a final kindness by donating the contents of its music library to Booth Library (as Elaine Fine first suggested several years ago), so that people who want to hear other possibilities in music can benefit.
Another WEIU-FM post
WEIU-FM, r.i.p.

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