Baby Jocks

New students of a dying medium



"You're listening to 610 AM, Radio Free Humboldt. I'm your host, Kate, and this is Mixtape Masterpiece. The time is currently 8:15 a.m. ..."

From 1982 to 1990 college radio had the prestige of setting the standard for American pop culture, bringing rise to a whole genre of pre-alternative "college rock" with bands like R.E.M., the Pixies, Sonic Youth, Elvis Costello and Camper Van Beethoven. Gaining popularity around the same time as MTV's debut, college radio emerged as an antidote to over-played, industry-created bands, supporting instead a new generation of post-punk/New Wavers who were garnering their audience via the underground; it was the roots of the now ubiquitous indie rock movement, and it was being instigated, promoted and encouraged through low frequency, university air waves. But years have gone by, and all that has changed.

Humboldt State's student-run station KRFH has a streaming listener capacity of 30, which has maxed-out once (or twice) when a popular local band played a live set on the regularly scheduled show "Local Lixx." Other than that, the audience remains small. Operating as a closed-circuit transmission rather than an actual frequency, 610 AM must be accessed by a radio connected to the campus' circulating power source, and as such is typically only heard in common areas such as The Depot or the student REC. Often, streaming listenership for a show won't top five during any given hour, yet KRFH remains one of the most successful student clubs on campus in terms of participation. And though college stations (like radio across the board) have lost their audience to iPods, podcasts and other media, students' outlooks are hardly fatalistic.

"People are really excited about what radio does and can do and I've never sensed a feeling of hopelessness in the station," says Zoe Walrond, the KRFH student advisor. "In fact right now the class is full and even a few students over capacity, and it keeps growing. It's a leadership opportunity as well, and natural leaders thrive here, but they do it primarily because they love music. Love it!"

While a majority of student DJs at KRFH are journalism majors, a good number are not, adding their eclectic interests and knowledge to the genre-spanning variety that endears college radio to its listeners. The DJs are science students, visual artists or musicians themselves, and they are overwhelmingly producing content for the sake of sharing what it is they love with others, whether anybody's listening or not. "The thing that continually surprises me is what students end up playing, genres I totally wouldn't expect." Walrond laughs. "It's like, ’60s pop? Seriously?"

A studio arts major at HSU, Joe Dunn (code name- DJ St. Bernard Puppy) joined up with KRFH this semester after hearing it on campus. Attracted to the freeform nature and pure variety that students exhibited through their shows, he decided to try it himself, stating that it wasn't so much the business of radio that drew him in but the energy and creative control students could wield within the station. His show, Lisa Frank Radio, is just one of more than 70 weekly programs this semester, ranging everywhere from Billboard Top 100s and ’80s classics, to proto-punk folk rock and Disney soundtracks.

What is it many students look to gain from a course with no practical application in today's declining media market? The most important skill they can -- adaptability. While keeping the station afloat requires the coordination of sound engineering, station promotion, event planning and underwriting responsibilities, Walrond has observed that "Can I make it in radio?" is never a question students ask themselves. "It's the entertainment industry; they find a way to use it."

Log on and tune in. streams seven days a week during the semester, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday-Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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