The Countercultural Power of College Radio
Schuyler Mitchell | Oct. 19, 2017, 11:12 p.m.
Have you listened to KSPC? If you’re a Claremont Colleges student who isn’t already involved with the station in some way, the answer is probably “no.” Although the 5C radio station has a solid listener base throughout the Inland Empire, it often struggles with its presence on the college campus it calls home.
On October 6, KSPC joined hundreds of other college radio stations in a celebration of College Radio Day. KSPC set up a booth with live DJs at the Smith Campus Center and hosted a Thai food social in the KSPC station. The goal was to draw attention to KSPC’s existence on campus and encourage people who may be unfamiliar with the station to get involved.
But, as many 5C students might be asking, does college radio even matter? After 61 years of operation, is KSPC still relevant to the 5C community, or does it only hold relevance for a niche group of people who are already involved with the station?
Independent college radio has been on the decline since its peak in the 90s, but the importance of the medium has not faded in the slightest. In fact, in an increasingly commercialized world, college radio is arguably more important now than ever.
The freeform, non-commercial format of college radio offers a much-needed respite from the heavily commercialized sphere of mainstream radio. The music played on commercial radio is influenced by its advertisers, hence the tendency to hear the same set of popular songs played over and over again. College radio, on the other hand, doesn’t have to meet the needs of any advertisers. It is one of the few apparatuses of media that has managed to remain independent.
College radio is an outright rejection of the corporatism that dominates American society. Thus, college radio’s independent platform allows for a greater variety of music on the airwaves and a greater honesty in broadcasted content.
The internet has opened up doors for new music discovery, but independent radio is still the primary way for underground bands to gain a following. In an interview with Pitchfork magazine, the radio promoter for the music label Sub Pop said, “College radio is really the only current radio format where new and undiscovered music can rise to the top organically. In terms of radio, it’s the first place we look to develop our younger, newer bands.”
A number of bands have risen to fame with the help of college radio. This was especially common in the late 80s, with bands like The Smiths, R.E.M, and U2 all gaining attention due to their airtime on college radio stations. This phenomenon didn’t end in the 80s. Vampire Weekend’s also gained popularity due to the attention they received from college radio stations.
Even in the realm of college radio, KSPC is unique. KSPC has an explicit commitment to social justice and the centering of marginalized voices. On Oct. 9, KSPC honored Indigenous Peoples Day with special programming, and throughout the year there are programming weeks dedicated to centering black, LGBT, and female voices. When comparing KSPC to the college radio stations at my friends’ schools, I am consistently impressed by the work that KSPC is doing.
So, if you’re reading this, give college radio a try. Tune in sometime at 88.7FM or online at kspc.org and show your support for the independent, anti-corporate spirit that lingers on in college radio.