Well folks, by now I’m sure you’ve heard that Browns’ frequency modulation 95.5 has been on the market for some time. You might know it as WBRU - The Cutting Edge of Rock (at least that’s what I remember them calling themselves last). To be honest, I haven’t listened to them for at least ten years, and that’s saying a lot considering I had been a listener since I was twelve and my Dad’s new foreign import had an AM and FM radio.
It would be easy to say that I left their demographic years ago and that in my mature years I am no longer infused with the desire to discover new and interesting music and to that claim I loudly proclaim BULLSHIT.
I get more musical discoveries from NPR who barely touches new music in their multi formatted programming (God bless you Tiny Desk Concerts). No, I stopped listening to WBRU because they became formulaic and predictable as far back as the mid eighties when a struggling independent FM station paying their bills through advertising had to succumb to the torture of the programming consultant. I challenge you to listen to them for an hour and not hear a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. It’s like clockwork.
The WBRU I grew up with was a different animal. The slogan I remember was “No Soap Radio”. They had quite a history starting as far back as 1962 when they became an independent broadcaster incorporated as detached from the university. As the 70’s progressed and FM equipment became standard, a growing record industry supplied a steady stream of promotional content and advertisement. The station began to increase its broadcast hours which in turn increased the number of announcers or shall we say DJ’s because these guys and gals were either slinging disks or making their own tape carts from splicing off a reel to reel.
The programming was firmly in the hands of the broadcasters, some of whom were not even students. Who could forget Dr. Oldie deep in the caverns of the Brown record library or Mark Roberts introducing Providence to the new English punk and NYC new wave. There was a sense of freedom in all FM radio at that time.
To their credit the students became more savvy in the way they developed their public service responsibilities (ACI request hour, ride shares and a crack news department) and still fostered a fertile environment as an independently programmed music station. To date, they also gave local bands their due by offering steady local programming (even if it wasn’t blended into regular rotation).
Soon they will leave the terrestrial airwaves behind and like so many other college stations (WUMD also recently sold their signal to public radio) will continue operations as a streaming broadcast much like 990WBOB.com did ten years ago. The question is will the advertising follow them into those waters where most end users (listeners) expect to get their music commercial free? And maybe the students themselves who voted to let the signal be sold want something more like Brown’s student radio with more independent programming and going into deeper cuts by popular or proven artists rather than the overplayed hits that commercial radio demands.
For many this is the end of an era in RI radio history, but for me the formatted radio that FM has become sang it’s death song as soon as digital music became the norm. Now I look to YouTube when I want to track down an exciting new artist; I learned it from my kids.
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