WRVU and College Radio

by on June 12, 2011

Posted in: Uncategorized

WRVU out of Vanderbilt University in Nashville (which also broadcasted on 91.1) played its final tune last Tuesday–the station’s license was sold by the Vanderbilt Student Communications organization to the local public radio station. Freddie O’Connel offers some good commentary on the station’s end and the value of college radio in today’s NYT.

There’s a false but widespread image of college radio as a pointless, narcissistic exercise — that it’s nothing more than a crew of campus oddballs who like playing D.J., even though no one is listening.

WRVU demonstrated how wrong that image is. Not only did it command respect and interest on campus, but, thanks to a longstanding and farsighted policy, it allowed and encouraged members of the off-campus community to volunteer as D.J.’s — and so drew on the rich cultural heritage of Music City U.S.A. as well.

My co-host and I shared the airwaves with Ken Berryhill, who calls himself the world’s oldest D.J. and played country classics; the encyclopedic Pete Wilson, who spun a mind-bending mix of old R&B, rock ’n’ roll and blues on his show “Nashville Jumps” (and had the sad honor of playing the last song on WRVU, Johnny Thunders’s “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory”); and countless college students, balancing their awkward moments of dead air with delightfully original musical sensibilities.

The result was a cornerstone of the local community. Students learned from veterans, townies got to know Vanderbilt and Nashvillians got access to a chunk of the public commons otherwise dominated by big business: the airwaves.

It’s sad to see the plug pulled at another college (and community) radio station, but discussions on the issue like this piece help reiterate their special value. For what it brings to a campus, town, its broadcasters, and its listeners, I see the unique college radio format as explicitly irreplaceable.