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Radio Station Visit #158: Community Radio Station KBFG-LP in Seattle

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 19:44

Tucked away in a shed in a northwest Seattle neighborhood was perhaps the tiniest radio station that I’d ever seen: community radio station KBFG-LP. Part of the most recent wave of low power FM stations, it launched in December, 2017 and broadcasts for a 2.5 mile radio to a potential FM audience of around 250,000 people in the Ballard, Fremont and Greenwood neighborhoods (thus the B-F-G call letters).

KBFG’s Jerry Russell and my pal Colin hanging out at The Shack in October, 2018. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Radio Survivor readers will recall that my colleagues Eric and Paul attended KBFG’s launch party, interviewing several of its founders for Radio Survivor Podcast #124. That event was also featured in a big story about low power FM in the New York Times, lending some incredible early attention to the station.

KBFG sign in front of the Shack. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Thanks to the wonders of technology, KBFG-LP was able to take to the airwaves before it had a public-facing studio, with programmers submitting their shows remotely. Within a year, it opened “The Shack,” in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. The mini studio was housed in a pre-fabricated building that I was told was really designed as a lawnmower shed. Nestled behind a coffee stand and steps away from a dumpster on a Ballard corner, it was a funky location that truly spoke to KBFG’s hyper-local, neighborhood ethos.

Tripod Coffee, adjacent to the KBFG Shack. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

On a rainy afternoon in late October, 2018, I ventured to “The Shack” to check out the station. With room for approximately two people in the studio, part of the visit was spend lingering outside under umbrellas. As I spoke with Fulcrum Community Communications (KBFG’s non-profit license-holder) board member Jerry Russell, his fellow board member Pamela Burton arrived for a separate interview. I was curious how we’d all manage the space constraints and watched in awe as she invited the guest into her car for the conversation, while I chatted with Russell in the small studio. Clearly this is a crew that is used to managing with limited resources.

KBFG Board Member Jerry Russell at the Shack in October, 2018. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

At the time of my visit, the Shack had been up and running for about six months, with a couple of shows broadcasting live from the cozy studio, including a Sunday evening show called “Night Sweats.” Other volunteers used the Shack to pre-record their shows or conduct interviews that would air at a later time. Russell explained that the Shack was outfitted with “bare bones” equipment while KBFG awaited an eventual move to a bigger space.

A glimpse inside the KBFG Shack. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

A light outside the door of the Shack alerted passersby that the station was on the air and speakers could also be set up to play KBFG to folks hanging out in the adjacent triangular gravel-filled space. While it was quiet (except for the “45rpm” show of 1940s and 1950s music playing from automation in the background) and rainy on my visit, I was told that during summer months there were picnic tables and a food truck parked outside, creating an even more convivial atmosphere

On-air light outside KBFG’s Shack. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Earlier in the day, I got my first taste of KBFG during the Halloween event/food drive, Hunger Goblin’ Treat or Treat, in a nearby neighborhood. The station set up a remote outpost in the corner of a bank, with windows facing a busy daytime trick-or-treating route. The costumed father-son DJ duo played spooky tunes and chimed in with running commentary about the ghouls, goblins, TV characters, and other revelers spotted during the event.

KBFG’s Tim and Tristan broadcast live from Hunger Goblin’ Trick or Treat event. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

While both the parade broadcast and the Shack speak to KBFG’s community outreach, back in October much of the production of radio shows was taking place inside the homes of DJs and show hosts. With a mix of music and public affairs programming, KBFG’s local-focused mission extends to the artists played over the airwaves. When there isn’t a live DJ, the station plays a curated mix of music, with 80% of it from Seattle artists and 20% from musicians from other states in the Northwest. Russell told me that by October, 2018, the station had already acquired music from 5,000 artists in Seattle alone. During my visit, the music collection was largely digital, with not much room for a physical music library of records or CDs in the Shack (although I did spot a few vinyl LPs).

Small collection of LPs in the Shack at KBFG. Photo: J. Waits

Russell and Burton were among the group of folks who worked to bring KBFG to the airwaves. While Russell’s radio experience was limited to a stint at his high school station many years ago; Burton worked at Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles for close to 20 years in numerous roles, including Director of the Pacifica Radio Archives.

KBFG Board Member Pamela Burton at the KBFG Shack in October, 2018. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Burton’s work at Pacifica as both a radio producer and archivist informs her current programming on KBFG, as she regularly combs the archives to use on her “You Heard it Here” program, drawing links between current events and historical material. She’s pulled clips from a wide range of past programs, with topics covering everything from feminism to vampires.

Headphones at KBFG Shack. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Excited about both the current group of KBFG-LP volunteers and the possibilities of collaborations with Seattle institutions and venues, Burton told me that she was looking forward to having more people involved with the station, adding, “everybody’s invited to come and play.”

Board in the Shack. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

In March, 2019, KBFG moved to its new home, complete with studio and office, leaving the Shack behind. Its new headquarters, The Jack Straw Cultural Center, holds a special place in community radio history, having been established with funds from pioneering Seattle radio station KRAB (hear about the KRAB Archives on Radio Survivor Podcast #134). Over email, Burton relayed the exciting news:

Our new digs are in the Jack Straw Cultural Center which was built from funds earned when KRAB radio’s frequency was sold in 1984. There are production studios down stairs as well as performance spaces which we plan to use for live broadcasts. For now we are training new programmers in our studio/office including a Monday night session at 7pm called Office Hours when program director Tim Flanagan goes on the air inviting people to come in and learn how to do radio.

Audio equipment in old KBFG Shack in October, 2018. Photo: J. Waits/Radio Survivor

Thanks so much to everyone at KBFG for sharing your station with me. This is my 158th radio station tour report, my 33rd community radio station tour, and around my 21st LPFM tour. Read of my radio station tours in numerical order or by station type in our archives.

The post Radio Station Visit #158: Community Radio Station KBFG-LP in Seattle appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #204 – Resistance Radio ‘The People’s Airwaves’

Tue, 07/30/2019 - 19:25

This week we explore the role of radio as a tool for resistance with two of the eight organizers of the “Resistance Radio ‘The People’s Airwaves'” exhibit in Brooklyn, New York.

Interference Archive volunteers Celia Easton Koehler and Elena Levi join us on the podcast to discuss the scope of the exhibit, which investigates a cross-section of themes, including black liberation, radio and prisons, squatting radio, war and revolution radio, and more.

The physical exhibit (on view until September 29, 2019) includes artifacts and audio from a wide range of radio stations from all over the world. Additionally, the team is producing a series of events, a ‘zine, and an online companion exhibit.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #204 – Resistance Radio ‘The People’s Airwaves’ appeared first on Radio Survivor.

College Radio Watch: KTRU Flashback and More News

Fri, 07/26/2019 - 08:14

I love it when folks share vintage college radio documentaries with me and the latest to make its way to my inbox is a circa 1992 look at Rice University’s KTRU. It’s wonderfully post-modern, with nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey and some clever usage of expert interviews. The discussion of the station’s former hair dryer-scale wattage was particularly entertaining.

Please Join the Radio Survivor Patreon by August 1 (and get a ‘zine!)

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to Radio Survivor’s Patreon campaign. We’re just about half way to our goal of 100 monthly supporters by August 1st. Everyone donating at least $5/month will get a copy of our new ‘zine, which I’m especially excited about. I just finished mocking up my article about a hike to see radio towers and I can’t wait to share that with our readers.

More College Radio News College Radio History Profiles of Stations and Staff Funding and Infrastructure Events Awards and Accolades Alumni

The post College Radio Watch: KTRU Flashback and More News appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #203 – FCC One Step Closer to Defunding Community Media

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 00:12

The FCC is one step closer to a rule change that threatens to de-fund community media and technology, by undermining a long-established principle that cable and internet companies owe rent to municipalities for use of the public right-of-way.

Sabrina Roach, board member of the Alliance for Community Media Foundation, joins to help us understand what’s at stake. The future of public access, educational and government TV channels and community technology centers hangs in the balance.

Support Radio Survivor, Get Our ‘Zine

We’re publishing a ‘zine and you can get one when you support our work at Radio Survivor via our Patreon campaign. Everyone who supports us at a level of $5 a month or more will get a print copy of Radio Survivor ‘Zine #1. 

Your contribution will help us continue to spread the word of great radio and audio, and allow us to embark on celebrating the 20th anniversaries of Indymedia and LPFM by documenting these important histories. We need 100 Patreon supporters by August 1, 2019 to start this work.

Not coincidentally, that’s the deadline to sign up to get your ‘zine. Everything in the ‘zine will be print-exclusive – learn more here.

Support Radio Survivor today.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #203 – FCC One Step Closer to Defunding Community Media appeared first on Radio Survivor.

College Radio Watch: Join us as a Patron by Aug 1, Tours and More News

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 09:00

At Radio Survivor, we’re in the midst of a Patreon campaign, with a goal of having at least 100 monthly donors to Radio Survivor by August 1st. If you chip in at least $5/month, we’ll send you our inaugural ‘zine. You may not realize that Radio Survivor is a lean, volunteer effort and our work on the website and podcast is on borrowed time between all of our other paying gigs and obligations. With more contributions, however, we will be able to do some more in-depth projects, including documenting the history of LPFM and the indymedia movement. As of this writing, we need another 59 donors, so now’s a great time to join up to support our work covering college radio, community media, and audio culture. Here’s a link to donate on our Patreon page. Thanks!

Are all “College Radio” Station Sales Part of a Broader Trend

I’m a stickler for definitions and tend to think about college radio as a specific category of radio station that includes substantial student involvement. For that reason, I’m careful to distinguish between college-based stations and college radio stations. Unfortunately stations at colleges often get lumped into the same category, which can create confusion when talking about broader trends in the industry, including radio station license sales.

Although I’ve written and spoken about various college radio station license sales over the past decade or so, I’m cautious to not report on these stories as part of a major trend or decline in college radio. As part of that effort, when there is news of a station sale, I work hard to not feed into a common industry refrain that “yet another” college is selling its license. Whereas other types of radio station licenses may get sold and bought with regularity, news reports rarely state that “yet another station is being sold.” In part, I want to encourage folks to look beyond the headlines.

Let’s interrogate the circumstances of these sales, particularly when the “college” stations in question aren’t always student operations. I worry that stories about college’s selling radio licenses are interpreted on the surface as student-oriented “college radio station” sales, leading the general public to also think that college radio is dwindling. It’s much more complicated than that, since there are many types of radio stations on campuses (public radio, religious radio, student-run stations, lab-oriented training stations and more) and not all of them even broadcast over FM or AM.

A few recent college-owned license sales are for stations largely airing syndicated national programming from a religious or public radio broadcaster. That’s the case with the latest instance at Corban University in Oregon.

All Access reports “CORBAN UNIVERSITY is the latest college to bail on FM radio, selling Contemporary Christian KWBX/SALEM, OR to EDUCATIONAL MEDIA FOUNDATION for $90,000. KWBX is already an affiliate of EMF’s AIR1 network.”

Digging further, it turns out that from the very beginning KWBX has been an AIR1 affiliate, playing Christian music and programming. In an interesting twist, however, the station briefly aired Corban University sports as part of its initial agreement with Air1. Back in 2011, a Hillop News profile of the station recounted its nearly 8-year-run at that point:

One of the purposes of having a radio station was to train students to broadcast Christian programming, but with students off campus for four months of the year during the summer, an essentially student-run radio station just wasn’t possible. With no infrastructure, the endeavor might have stopped there. But [Mike] Allegre was determined to see it through. He had heard that Air 1 was looking for a place to establish a station in Salem, so he decided to pursue that path.

San Diego College Radio Tours on the Podcast

On this week’s podcast, I share a travel report from my journey to San Diego for the National Federation of Community Broadcasters conference. I reveal highlights from my presentation on the “Past, Present and Future of Community Radio” panel and also give a preview of my soon-to-be published San Diego college radio station tours.

More College Radio News
Infrastructure Station Sales, Sale Attempts Events History/Anniversaries Awards and Accolades

The post College Radio Watch: Join us as a Patron by Aug 1, Tours and More News appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Walter Benjamin radio diary: mailbag #1

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 18:40

I have composed just two entries for my Walter Benjamin radio diary, and already I am getting lots of mail.

First came a friendly missive from Nick During, publicist at the New York Review of Books classics department. “We actually have a Walter Benjamin book coming up,” Nick wrote, “that is a collection of his writings that show how he got to the ideas found in his famous essay ‘The Storyteller’ and includes one radio piece, ‘The Lisbon Earthquake’. Would you like to see our book?”

Well, yes, I replied. So the publisher sent it to me.

The little tome in question is called The Storyteller Essays, edited and introduced by Samuel Titan and translated from German by Tess Lewis. It assembles various Benjamin texts that provide context for his famous thought piece “The Storyteller.” I do not want to say much about this essay right now, but “The Storyteller” provocatively contends that a story is best told without an explanation for its events.

Benjamin wrote:

“Every morning, news reaches us from around the globe. And yet we lack remarkable stories. This is due to the fact that no incidents any longer reach us not already permeated with explanations. In other words: almost nothing occurs to the story’s benefit anymore; instead, it all serves information. In fact, at least half of the art of storytelling consists in keeping one’s tale free of explanations.”

Titan, The Storyteller, p. 54.

What purpose does this omission of explanations serve? It allows story tellers and listeners to own the tale, to see it as organic to their very specific and individual lives. “The storyteller,” Benjamin concluded, “is the figure in which the righteous man encounters himself.” When I discuss his Lisbon earthquake radio talk in an upcoming post, I will try to show how these arguments come to life.

Then I received some correspondence from radio producer Toby Kaufmann-Buhler.

“I just found your blog posts on the Radio Survivor site about Walter Benjamin and his radio work,” Kaufmann-Buhler wrote.

“Over the past 8 months or so I’ve produced one of Benjamin’s radio plays, ‘Lichtenberg: A Cross-Section’. This is from the translation in the Radio Benjamin book; this play was never originally broadcast as he finished writing the commission just as broadcasting was taken over by the Nazi regime.

We produced this originally for an exhibition this past May at a sound art gallery in Indianapolis, Listen Hear, which also houses the LPFM station WQRT 99.1. The play aired on WQRT several times; as far as I know this was the first radio broadcast of the play in English, and possibly in any language (could be wrong, but this is based on my research). The play has also been broadcast more recently in New York’s Hudson Valley on Wave Farm’s experimental station.”

Here is my favorite moment from the play, which focuses on a committee of Moon beings’ efforts to engage in “Earth research”:

“The samples taken over the last millennia have not yielded a single case in which a human has amounted to anything. Taking this established scientific fact as a basis for our investigations, our meetings from now on will deal solely with proving that this is a result of the unhappy human condition.”

To help with this task, the committee gloms onto to the research of the German writer/humorist/scientist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, with whom Benjamin was apparently quite taken. But that is as far as I will go with this script. You will have to listen to the radio play to learn more.

Finally, Patricia Flanagan brought this BBC Wireless Nights sound essay to my attention. Pulp stalwart Jarvis Cocker takes us on a sultry tour of contemporary Berlin, laced with tales of the Cold War era. Not exactly a Walter Benjamin piece, but quite beautiful. I recommend a listen.

That’s my Walter Benjamin mail so far. Drop me a line at hybridhighbrow<AT> and your Benjamin related work may wind up in my next mailbag dispatch. Thanks in advance!

The post Walter Benjamin radio diary: mailbag #1 appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #202 – Small Boosts Proposed for LPFM & Why Aren’t There College Stations on the Dial in San Diego?

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 01:21

The FCC just proposed a series of changes to help make it easier for low-power FM stations to move their transmitters and to fill in weak signal areas. We review this proposal along with a suggestion from the Commission to whittle away at protections for the few dozen remaining analog low-power TV channel 6 stations, often called “Franken FMs” or “Back Door FMs” who’s audio can be heard at the far left end of the FM dial.

Jennifer reports back from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters conference in San Diego where she presented on future trends in community and college radio. She highlights some current stations that exemplify these trends.

Then she shares a few tours of college stations in the San Diego area, none of which have broadcast licenses, despite being around for decades. We explore this interesting niche of radio history.

Support Radio Survivor, Get Our ‘Zine

We’re publishing a ‘zine and you can get one when you support our work at Radio Survivor via our Patreon campaign. Everyone who supports us at a level of $5 a month or more will get a print copy of Radio Survivor ‘Zine #1. 

Your contribution will help us continue to spread the word of great radio and audio, and allow us to embark on celebrating the 20th anniversaries of Indymedia and LPFM by documenting these important histories. We need 100 Patreon supporters by August 1, 2019 to start this work.

Not coincidentally, that’s the deadline to sign up to get your ‘zine. Everything in the ‘zine will be print-exclusive – learn more here.

Support Radio Survivor today.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #202 – Small Boosts Proposed for LPFM & Why Aren’t There College Stations on the Dial in San Diego? appeared first on Radio Survivor.

College Radio Watch: Radio Orientation and More News

Fri, 07/12/2019 - 08:17

What if college radio was an integral part of every student’s college orientation activities? Sounds amazing to me. This week I learned about Hamilton College’s mandatory “orientation trips,” which provide students with an immersion into various topics and activities as part of their transition to college life.

One of the 4-day trips, Stay “Tuned”, focuses on music and radio and includes a visit to Hamilton’s college radio station WHCL. The trip description states in part:

“We will explore the behind-the-scenes of recording studios, meet professionals in the recording industry, visit local indie record shops, and, of course, listen to live performances, including an outdoor music fest! Upon returning to campus, we will take a visit to the campus radio station, WHCL, where we will get a close-up look at station management and campus broadcasting. Those interested will have the chance to learn how to create and host their own radio show during their time at Hamilton.”

In a profile of WHCL, its General Manager Peter Kelly speaks of the powerful impact of that orientation. Kelly recounts, “I was a part of the orientation trip ‘Stay Tuned,’ which focused a lot on music and radio. We visited a few radio stations, but on one of the later days, we went to WHCL and were allowed to do a show, and I’ve been in love ever since. I’ve had at least one show every semester, and I don’t see myself stopping!”

This is a serious step up from simply having a college radio station on a campus tour route (which can also be quite an accomplishment on hectic tours). Do you know about other innovative ways that colleges are introducing students to their campus radio stations?

More College Radio News Profiles of Stations and Staff Funding and Infrastructure Popular Culture Events Alumni

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Don’t Waste Your Money on that Bluetooth Cassette Player Kickstarter

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 19:21

Last week – coincident with the original Walkman’s 40th birthday – I saw all these articles reporting on this supposedly “world’s first” Bluetooth enabled portable Walkman-style cassette player/recorder, named IT’S OK (yes, the brand is in all caps). Reactions to this Kickstarter ranged from snarky to excited, but all the coverage struck me as a little too credulous.

Always hoping that someone is going to start making decent quality cassette decks or players again, every so often I search around on Amazon or Ebay to see what’s on offer. In the back of my head I thought I’d seen a cheap Bluetooth tape player before, for far less than the $75 intro price promised to Kickstarter supporters.

Turns out, my memory was correct. This Digitnow branded “cassette to MP3 converter” has been available on Amazon since August of 2018 for a price that fluctuates between $29 and $39. Over on Ebay they’re $39.99.

In addition to playing to your Bluetooth headphones, it’ll digitize your cassettes directly to a microSD card, or to your computer via USB. Two additional features missing from the IT’S OK. Now, I’ve never used the Digitnow player, so I can’t vouch for the quality of playback. But my guess is that it’s about as good as the cheap knock-off Walkman you might have bought at K-Mart in 1989, so caveat emptor. I also have serious doubts that the IT’S OK will be any better, even at nearly twice the price.

Already suspicious of the “feasibility study and first handmade prototypes” on the Kickstarter timeline, today I saw a video from YouTuber VWestlife wherein he identifies an extremely similar cassette player available on Alibaba for as little as $7 in quantity direct from China. VWestlife also points out that the IT’S OK player isn’t even in stereo, specifying “Classic Monaural Sound.”

He does note that since all the parts for the IT’S OK are readily available, the Kickstarter likely isn’t a scam. You’ll just get a flimsy mono cassette recorder/player worth maybe $20 in parts – or available from other sources at about $40 – for your $75. And you’ll have to wait until December to get it. Or you can wait until after the Kickstarter ends and get it for $88 (no kidding).

I’ll admit to being enticed when I first saw headlines about the device, but it didn’t take long for me to see that this Kickstarter is mostly hype, seizing on the Walkman’s nostalgia moment and slow news week to get some free press release journalism coverage.

I have no snark for anyone wanting a new cassette Walkman today, and wish that reputable brands like Sony and Panasonic still made them. If you’re in the market I’d first try to find a decent used one, or take a shot on any of the dozens of $20 ones scattered across online retailers and Ebay. (While you’re at it, you might as well get one with a radio.) Aside from the cognitive dissonance around the apparent anachronism of the IT’S OK player, I don’t really get the appeal of adding Bluetooth… especially in freakin’ mono.

But if you decide to bite and get one, please do let us know how it goes.

The post Don’t Waste Your Money on that Bluetooth Cassette Player Kickstarter appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #201 – A Fantasy FCC Serves the Public Interest

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 21:34

A different media world is possible. What if the FCC truly regulated in the public interest, creating policies and services that promoted community voices and civic values? It does happen occasionally, but not often enough.

It’s easy to assume our media system turned out this way because it was inevitable, but in truth it was the result of hundreds, even thousands of decisions, at all levels of government, influenced by multitudes of actors, from major corporations to community media activists. That means there have been, and still are, many opportunities for change, and improvement.

But what would that revitalized FCC look like? Matthew Lasar has some ideas, based upon his years of researching the Commission, going back to its pre-cursor, the Federal Radio Commission, created by President Herbert Hoover, a Republican who opposed privatization of the airwaves and believed in a robust public service obligation. Matthew’s suggestions may not be what you think. We invite you fantasize along with us.

Support Radio Survivor, Get Our ‘Zine

We’re publishing a ‘zine and you can get one when you support our work at Radio Survivor via our Patreon campaign. Everyone who supports us at a level of $5 a month or more will get a print copy of Radio Survivor ‘Zine #1.

Your contribution will help us continue to spread the word of great radio and audio, and allow us to embark on celebrating the 20th anniversaries of Indymedia and LPFM by documenting these important histories. We need 100 Patreon supporters by August 1, 2019 to start this work.

Not coincidentally, that’s the deadline to sign up to get your ‘zine. Everything in the ‘zine will be print-exclusive – learn more here.

Support Radio Survivor today.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #201 – A Fantasy FCC Serves the Public Interest appeared first on Radio Survivor.

College Radio Watch: 200th Podcast, Our ‘Zine + College Radio News

Fri, 07/05/2019 - 08:25

It’s been a decade that I’ve been covering college radio on Radio Survivor, which was one of the topics that we discussed on our 200th episode of the podcast/radio show this week. It was a treat to have another rare episode with all four Radio Survivor principals: Matthew Lasar, Paul Riismandel, Eric Klein and myself. We all dug into our deep histories with this project of covering radio from a participant and fan’s perspective and I specifically reflected back on how I got started writing about college radio culture back in 2008 on my Spinning Indie blog.

Radio Survivor launched in 2009 and our podcast began four years ago in 2015. My original intent with Spinning Indie was to shine a light on every pocket of college radio culture so that participants could get some perspective about what’s happening at stations across the United States. I also worked to remind the general public about the important role that college radio plays in media and hoped that people who weren’t listening to college radio would be prompted to tune in to a station in their community or even one that’s far afield.

Eleven years after doing my first college radio-themed blog post for Spinning Indie, it’s gratifying to still be carrying on my original mission, largely at Radio Survivor. Not only do I attempt to do college radio news wrap-ups weekly (as I’ve been doing since 2013!), but I also regularly do field trip reports from my tours of over 100 college radio stations and share various college radio stories on the podcast. It’s also super exciting that the radio version of the Radio Survivor show now airs on five college radio station affiliates in the United States, Canada and Ireland. Long live college radio!

Donate and Get our Inaugural ‘Zine

We’re trying something new at Radio Survivor and will be launching a ‘zine this summer for our Patreon supporters. If you can pitch in as little as $5/month, you’ll get a copy of our hand-crafted publication, full of quirky and fun radio stories and illustrations by the Radio Survivor team and extended family. As always, thanks to everyone for reading, listening and supporting our efforts.

More College Radio News New Stations and Station Revivals Profiles of Stations and Staff Programming
  • WSOU to Cover NYC Fireworks Show Live (WSOU)
Alumni Awards and Accolades

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Walter Benjamin radio diary entry #2: “the downside of radio.”

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 22:02

It is not clear exactly when Walter Benjamin gave his second radio talk, titled “Street Trade and Markets in the Old and New Berlin.” The editor of a volume of his broadcasts that I consult, Lecia Rosenthal, thinks that it aired in late 1929 or early 1930 on Radio Berlin. But whenever it streamed, he served up a wonderful portrait of the Magdeburger Platz and Lindenstraße indoor market halls of the period.

” . . . above all, ” Benjamin noted, “there is the smell, a mix of fish, cheese, flowers, raw meat, and fruit all under one roof, which is completely different than the open air markets and creates a dim and woozy aroma that fits perfectly with the light seeping through the murky panes of lead framed glass.”

It is a wonderful passage. But in this diary entry, I just want to focus on one comment that Benjamin made. He was reflecting on how great it was to return to these halls, which he had not visited since his childhood. “And if I really want a special treat, I go for a walk in the Lindenstraße market in the afternoons between four and five,” he told his listeners. “Maybe someday I’ll meet one of you there. But we won’t recognize each other. That’s the downside of radio.”

Perhaps. Of course it was true that Benjamin’s listeners might not visually recognize him. But apparently it did not occur to the storyteller at that early point in his radio career that they might recognize him by his voice, such as when he spoke to a market stall merchant.

In my years writing about radio, many community radio station hosts have told me that they became truly hooked on broadcasting when, by accident, someone in their signal area recognized them as they spoke on the street or in a restaurant. Years ago I interviewed Don Foster, news/public affairs host at Pacifica stations WPFW-FM in Washington D.C. and KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California, for my second book on the Pacifica radio network. Foster described how he would sometimes hail D.C. taxis and the driver would identify him by his voice:

“One time I got in a cab in D.C. and I was going to do an interview with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the president of Haiti, who I had met in Haiti once, and I got in the cab telling the guy I was going to the Haitian embassy, and the cab driver was a Haitian, and he says, “Are you Don Foster?”  And I said, “Yeah.”  And he says, “Oh, man, I listened to the report and the thing you did on Aristide!”  And then when I got to the Haitian embassy he wouldn’t take my money.  Wouldn’t take it [laughing].  I tried to throw it at him; so for me it was like the Academy Award, right?”

Oral History interview with Don Foster, 2002

As for me, it has been a while since I regularly spoke on any radio station. But at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where I teach, I now run an online class in which students participate in streaming video discussion sections. The other day I was working out at a gym near the campus, when I noticed several students practicing somersaults. I told them how impressed I was with their acrobatics.

“Are you Professor Matthew Lasar?” one of them exclaimed. “I’m one of your online class students!” She identified herself by name and I remembered her from one of our email exchanges. What I found most interesting was that she obviously recognized me not because of my appearance, but via the sound of my voice. I would like to think that maybe my voice is distinctive. But it is just as likely that rather than watch the pre-recorded videos for our class, she just listened.

I do hope that at some point in Walter Benjamin’s radio career, someone heard him ordering some cheese or beer from a market vendor and cried out: “Omigod! You are Walter Benjamin! The guy who does those great talks on Radio Berlin. I loved your talk on the Berlin Schnauze. You are so awesome! We love your show!” It is one of the most satisfying moments for any radio host.

This is an ongoing diary that reacts to and reflects on Walter Benjamin’s radio talks.

The post Walter Benjamin radio diary entry #2: “the downside of radio.” appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #200 – How We Survived a Decade of Independent Publishing

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 07:01

Radio Survivor celebrates 10 years on the internet and four years podcasting with our 200th episode. Matthew Lasar joins Jennifer Waits, Eric Klein and Paul Riismandel for this review of the last decade in radio that matters.

Matthew tells the Radio Survivor origin story that sprang forth from his I.F. Stone inspired research deep into the digital catacombs of the FCC database, unearthing comments that broadcast execs never imagined would be public – such as one who accused prominent media reformists of being “communists.”

Jennifer recalls how a literature review for a journal article on college radio revealed how little scholarly work existed on the topic, compelling her to document this important media form that Matthew says he has learned is, “the first public radio.” “The present is future history,” Jennifer observes. This prompts Paul to comment how we’ve begun to fulfill that promise, given that Radio Survivor now has dozens of citations in scholarly works.

On the way through these stories, everyone notes the changes in the broadcast and online media landscape since 2009, how some publications have come and gone, and offering reasons why Radio Survivor has managed to survive. It’s a discussion of interest to anyone who has tried to, or wants to, sustain a passion project fueled primarily by volunteer labor.

We’re making a ‘zine!

As we announce on this episode, in August we’ll be publishing our first ever print project, hand made in the spirit of great independent radio.

We’ll send issue #1 to every Patreon supporter who gives at the $5/month level or more. But you have to be signed up by August 1, 2019.

Plus, every new sign-up gets us closer to our goal of 100 Patreon supporters so that we have a foundation to do the work of documenting the upcoming 20th anniversaries of Indymedia and low-power FM.

See our ‘zine page to learn more, or go ahead and sign up now.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #200 – How We Survived a Decade of Independent Publishing appeared first on Radio Survivor.

We’re Making a ‘Zine for Our Supporters

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 06:01

We wanted to find a special way to thank the readers and listeners who support us every month via our Patreon campaign. Something unique, hand-made and in the spirit of great college and community radio.

Why not make a ‘zine?

If you’ve never heard of a ‘zine, it’s an independently produced publication, often photocopied and hand-assembled. The history goes back to mimeographed science fiction fanzines published as far back as the 1930s. Adopted by punk and underground music fans in the 70s and 80s, the name was shortened to ‘zine to reflect a broadening in subject matter beyond just fandom. For more history, see this brief timeline.

For Radio Survivor ‘Zine #1 we’re writing and assembling pieces that we feel are fit for a more tactile format, breaking free of the strict layouts forced upon us by blog software. You won’t find these pieces on our website or anywhere else online. Here are more details:

  • Radio Survivor Zine #1 will go to everyone who contributes $5 a month or more to our Patreon campaign.
    • You need to have completed at least one payment in order to get the ‘zine, but if you’ve signed up by Aug. 1 we’ll send the zine as soon as that first payment is made.
  • The deadline to sign up is August 1, 2019
  • We’ll send out the ‘zines in August 2019

Here is a sampling of the features in Radio Survivor Zine #1:

  • “Wild Flowers and Radio Towers”
  • “Radios I Have Known and Loved”
  • Hand-drawn illustrations and cartoons
  • more more more!

If you sign on as a Patron of Radio Survivor you’ll also be helping us reach our goal of the 100 supporters we need to do the work of documenting the 20th anniversaries of Indymedia and low-power FM.

Sign up now to reserve your copy of Radio Survivor ‘Zine #1!

The post We’re Making a ‘Zine for Our Supporters appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Reflections on the Walkman and Radio on the Occasion of the Former’s 40th Birthday

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 02:37

The Sony Walkman celebrated its 40th birthday on Monday, July 1. While portable audiocassette recorder/players that you could connect to headphones had been around pretty much since the invention of the medium, the Walkman was the first one designed specifically for stereo playback on the go, for personal listening, without even a tiny speaker.

Although the Walkman is principally a cassette device, I’ve always associated it with radio. Sure, in some ways it’s almost anti-radio, giving the person on-the-go a completely individualized listening experience. The first model lacked a tuner, but it wouldn’t be long until a receiver became almost standard.

A child of the 80s, I remember lusting after a Walkman, though the first generations were priced well beyond the reach of a pre-teen. Around 1983 or 1984 nearly every electronics manufacturer made its own version, and by then I managed to save up about 25 bucks, enough to buy the bottom-of-the-line Sanyo knock-off.

As I recall, the Sanyo was on the bulky side, with just three buttons: play, stop and fast-forward. Rewind was too sophisticated for such an inexpensive device (worth about $60 in today’s dollars). If you needed to rewind you flipped the cassette over and fast-forwarded the opposite side. But it did come with those iconic cheap 80s headphones with the orange ear cushions (as seen in “Guardians of the Galaxy”).

I might have wanted one with a radio, but the extra five or ten bucks would have been too much of a stretch for this middle-schooler.

Thanks to the Pocket Calculator Show’s extensive archive directories of portable stereos I’ve concluded I had likely had the Sanyo M-G7, without radio. The lack of receiver would be supplemented by a Magnavox D1600 tiny portable AM/FM radio I received as a birthday gift. Back then I think we’d have called it a “Walkman radio,” since it didn’t have a speaker, intended only for headphone listening.

Radios like this were directly influenced by the Walkman. Tiny transistor radios had been around a couple of decades by the early 80s, and most included an earphone jack for discreet listening. But they almost always had a tinny speaker intended for most of the listening, offering overall a mono, low-fidelity experience.

New breed Walkman-style radios were headphone-only, and much tinier. That Magnavox was the size of a deck of cards, only about one-third as thick. Plus, it offered FM stereo. Though, in reality, because the headphone cable doubled as the antenna, you had to find a really strong signal to get that stereo light to go on. Even so, sometimes even the slightest movement could kill it.

It wasn’t long after getting that first Sanyo player that I desired an upgrade that was smaller, sounded better and might even rewind tapes. Thereafter every Walkman-style player I’d get would have a radio – never would I have considered one without it. That’s not just because I’m a life-long radio nerd.

Sometimes you’d get tired of the one or two tapes you have with you, and want to hear something different. Or I’d want to catch a specific show while on the school bus or out walking. Also, in the days before good rechargeable batteries, often the radio still worked decently even when worn-down batteries made Metallica sound like Leonard Cohen.

Though Walkman is a Sony trademark, the only actual Sony model I ever owned was one a heavy-duty, water-proof, bright yellow Sports Walkman from the early 90s. As it turned out, that would be my last one, for all intents and purposes. Though I’ve owned a couple more in the intervening years, they were all recording models that primarily saw duty as cheap field recorders.

By 1991 I got my first Sony Discman portable CD player, which competed for listening time with the cassette Walkman. I didn’t give up on cassettes, since these were the days before CD-Rs, and I was still a prolific mix-tape maker and trader. But since I bought most of my music on CD the Discman was more likely to be my travel companion.

One con of pretty much every portable CD player I’ve owned is that none had a radio. I seem to remember such existing, but they were far less common than cassette players with radios. I wonder if maybe the far more sophisticated CD electronics posed more interference than the comparatively primitive cassette mechanicals.

The lack of integrated radio persisted as I graduated to minidisc as my primary portable music device in 1997. Though sometimes derided as a failure, the format lasted more than 20 years, and at that time it gave me all the recording convenience of a cassette, with near-CD quality, in a much smaller package.

I remember one minidisc recorder I owned that had a radio integrated into its wired remote – a wired remote with a headphone jack was a common feature – rather than on the unit itself. Again, I think the minidisc electronics created too much interference to have it housed in the same case a radio. Though it was a clever workaround, performance was disappointing. So, it went mostly unused.

That’s why I always had a little Walkman-style radio in my arsenal. Often used for daily public transport commutes, they were always in my travel bag to scan the dial when visiting different cities.

For a while, in the awkward time between the slow decline of the minidisc format and the rise of the smartphone I had a tiny Sansa branded MP3 player that featured a surprisingly good FM tuner. That actually got a lot of use even after I got my first iPhone, since it was the size of a couple of chapsticks, taking up almost no space in any bag.

I’m a little chagrined to admit that I don’t currently have a Walkman-style radio now. It’s true that the smartphone dominates my portable listening, and for most trips, short or long, I’m more inclined to choose podcasts or my own music. I do still travel with a radio, but these days I use one with a speaker, shortwave reception and a built-in digital recorder. True, it’s bigger than the tiny Walkman radios I’ve owned, but it does a lot more, too.

Thinking about it is making me want to get one. Turns out, there are still plenty out there, though most are from obscure Chinese brands. Looks like too small a niche for Sony anymore. That said, you can get a cute little red Sony MP3 player that has a radio for about $60, or an FM-enabled Sansa Clip Jam for less than $30. It’s just that with the MP3 players you give up AM reception.

Given that new portable cassette players are even more rare, it may well be the case that the Walkman-style radio has, or will, outlive the cassette player that inspired it.

At least until Sony decides there’s enough nostalgia dollars out there to cash in.

Feature image credit: Grant Hutchinson / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The post Reflections on the Walkman and Radio on the Occasion of the Former’s 40th Birthday appeared first on Radio Survivor.

College Radio Watch: Ten Years of College Radio Coverage and More News

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 08:00

I’m back from some college radio travels in San Diego and can’t wait to share more tour reports in the coming weeks. It’s always such a treat to meet fellow college radio participants and fans and with each visit, I find myself wandering down research rabbit holes as I hunger to learn more about the history of each and every college radio station that I encounter.

These tours are a small part of what I love about Radio Survivor. It’s been a joy to think deeply about the intricacies of radio culture over the past decade; delving into high school radio, transmission art, the incredible growth of LPFM, and even funky stories about radio in pop culture.

My colleague Paul Riismandel reflected on our 10 year anniversary in an eloquent post this week, which also digs into the Radio Survivor origin story and takes a look back at our early work in 2009. As I look ahead to our 200th podcast, I’m also anticipating my 160th radio station field trip report (as soon as I get caught up!). I’m so proud of the website, podcast/show, and radio resources that we’ve built for our fellow radio fans. Thanks for reading and listening!

More College Radio News Station Sale New Stations Infrastructure Profiles of Stations and Staff College Radio in Popular Culture Programming History and Preservation Events
Alumni College Radio and Music Industry Awards and Accolades

The post College Radio Watch: Ten Years of College Radio Coverage and More News appeared first on Radio Survivor.

A Decade of Radio Surviving

Thu, 06/27/2019 - 12:45

Ten years and 16 days ago we opened the doors on this website. On June 11, 2009 Matthew Lasar inaugurated Radio Survivor with this post: “Congress grills FCC, NAB on Low Power FM.” This was still about 18 months before the Local Community Radio Act was signed into law, opening up the most recent wave of LPFM stations and triggering the largest expansion of community radio in history. But the push for the LCRA really gained traction then, in 2009.

The eventual explosion of low-power FM stations in the US is one of the things Radio Survivor was founded to cover. And cover, we did, in weekly reports beginning December 5, 2013, when all the license applications had been submitted and we and other LPFM advocates began examining the groups who applied. We wrapped up weekly coverage, nearly 28 months later, on July 28, 2016. By that time the vast majority of licenses had been assigned, and there was less weekly action. Looking back at these dispatches, I think you’ll have a hard time finding a more thorough documentation of the flowering of any radio, or communications service.

What’s (a) Radio Survivor Anyway?

Reviewing this first year of publishing, I’m struck by the fact that we didn’t publish a prototypical “hello world” post or other raison d’être. Rather, we just got down to business, writing the stories about radio we wanted to exist and wanted to read.

We did publish an “about” page in which we declared, “[f]or us … radio is a cause. We’re Matthew Lasar, Paul Riismandel, and Jennifer Waits, and this is our news blog about radio’s present, past, and uncertain future.” Then, articulated a mission stating, in part,

As both fans and producers, we write about the problems and prospects of radio.

We embrace college radio stations in crisis. We defend radio pirates. And we care about the on-going survival of our favorite radio stations.

We are obsessed with the future of radio and are charmed by radio historians, radio dramatists, radio bloggers, and anyone else who cares about radio as deeply as we do.

At the close of 2009 we – at the time still just three Radio Survivors – joined forces to write about the 14 most important radio trends of the oughties decade illustrating that vision in practice. Why an un-round number like 14? “Well, ten was too few, and, uh, we ran out of steam at fourteen,” I wrote. Fair enough.

We nominated trends like “Pacifica radio democratizes itself,” “cash strapped schools turn their backs on college radio” and even podcasting – then only five years old – which only came in at number four.

Only in 2010 when a reader asked us to explain exactly “what is a Radio Survivor?” did we attempt more specific definitions. Matthew started with a little foundational history. “I first approached Paul Riismandel last Spring (2009) about creating what eventually became because I was, and still am, concerned that discussion on the ‘Net about the state of radio has become marginal and fragmented… It has become fragmented because most of the big sites that report news about radio do so from the vantage point of a particular corner of the radio industry—streaming, terrestrial, podcasting—and almost always from the perspective of management.”

He went on to explain, “I wanted something more than that.’s mission, as I see it, is to stimulate dialogue about radio from a listener perspective. It is the listener, who does not have a monetary or employment investment in some corner of the status quo, who is in the best position to discuss the future of radio.”

Jennifer started off noting, “when I was invited to join Radio Survivor, the blog had already been named. So, my interpretation about the meaning has more to do with my personal feelings about radio and connections with radio than with the official origin of the name[.]”

“I am also a radio survivor,” she admitted. “Having been a college radio DJ off and on since 1986, it’s hard to believe that I’m still passionate about doing radio (through all of its ups and downs) 24 years after my first stint behind the mic…

“So, I’m devoted to the survival of radio, think radio is a survivor, and have made it my mission to evangelize radio as much as I can in order to remind people that it still has the power to be an incredible force.”

I opined, “ A Radio Survivor (the person) is someone who continues to believe in the medium. A Radio Survivor is not a luddite clinging to her transistor radio while eschewing iPhones and netbooks, nor is he a retro fetishist stuck in the past. Rather, a Radio Survivor recognizes the simple power inherent in broadcast audio, which can be done inexpensively and bring people together in a community.” (Remember netbooks?)

Moreover, “[r]adio, as a medium, has a great chance to survive because of the internet, iPods and mobile phones, not in spite of them.” I think the tremendous growth in podcasting and streaming audio services in the intervening years evidences this prediction well.

Radio Surviving in Praxis, on the Radio

Eric Klein joined our gang in 2015, helping to launch the podcast – and now syndicated radio show – on the occasion of our sixth anniversary, in June 2015. He’d actually contributed a piece a few years earlier, but it would be another eighteen months before he and I would meet and start cooking up plans.

Next we’re set to release episode 200 of the show, which I’m willing to claim as an accomplishment. That’s because, by at least one count, 75% of all podcasts ever launched are no longer in production, and only half of the podcasts started from 2016 to 2018 were still going by August of the latter year.

An Occasional Struggle To Survive

Speaking only for myself, I must admit to ups and downs with this effort. Scanning back through my output there are definitely periods of greater and lesser activity. Having been a mostly-consistent blogger for nineteen years, beginning with my original blog mediageek, sometimes you grow weary of the grind, run out of ideas or tire of writing for free. (Yes, we do accept financial contributions from generous readers and listeners, but this money primarily defrays costs associated with hosting, distribution and equipment for the site and podcast, rather than paying us as writers.)

When we first started out, I think we really hoped Radio Survivor would generate more income. We ran banner ads at the start, and on some banner days when we hit the zeitgeist just right – like with Jennifer’s annual “Alice’s Restaurant” posts – we would see bursts of hits and brief bumps in earnings. However, the unavoidable reality is that our’s is a niche topic, unlikely to go viral. On top of that, the rates for digital advertising dropped precipitously since 2009, with each page view and click becoming ever less valuable every year. Half a decade in ads still covered our barest of costs, but the ads themselves sometimes were pretty shitty.

That’s why we launched our Patreon campaign in 2015, with our first goal to replace the income from banner ads. I am happy to say that we hit that milestone quickly and have been able to stay above that mark ever since.

We’re not rock stars, nor YouTube stars, on Patreon, but it’s reassuring that there’s a community of supporters willing to help make sure we don’t have to go out-of-pocket, or into debt, to keep this operation online.

Why We’re Still Surviving

Out of necessity, my expectations and investment have changed and evolved over the years. But one of the constants for me has been my fellow Radio Survivors, Eric, Jennifer and Matthew. They’re reason number one why I may have taken a break, but never bailed.

The fact that we have worked together, functioning pretty much as a collective, all these years, with nary a dispute or dust-up, is wondrous. I am grateful for their tolerance, understanding and forbearance, which I have attempted to return in kind. More importantly, I’m thankful for their friendship and kinship in all things radio. It’s rare to find this kind of collaboration with any kind of endeavor.

The other constant is the community that’s grown up around Radio Survivor: listeners, readers and all manner of supporters. We have found comrades around the globe, and we’ve visited many of them. I feel enormously lucky for the opportunity to speak with people on two dozen FM stations across North America, and across the Atlantic in Ireland.

As I tweeted the other day, receiving thoughtful, heartfelt emails and missives from this community really makes it all worthwhile. Every one is “worth many thousands many hits or downloads,” I wrote.

This is a gospel we often preach on the radio show, but I’ll admit it’s sometimes difficult to walk that talk. Today’s online world seems driven by racking up hits, and looking at our stats is sometimes an unwelcome indicator of how small this endeavor is. That’s when I remind myself that the connections are more important than the clicks, that before web counters, Facebook likes and YouTube play stats, when I was a late night community radio DJ, I’d have been thrilled to get a few calls a night, having no clue if I had 25 or 25,000 listeners.

The focus on connection and community, not mass and scale, is the spirit of Radio Survivor, to me.

Still Radio Surviving

If you had asked me in June 2009 if I’d still be writing for Radio Survivor ten years on, I’m not sure what my answer would have been. The truth is that Matthew had asked me to collaborate on a site at least one time before. Yet, despite my deep admiration for his work, I demurred, citing a plate already overfilled with obligations. But when he asked a second time, it was clear to me that two of us would be more effective than one.

When I agreed to join forces, he also suggested that we should at least find a third. I had only recently made Jennifer’s acquaintance after she toured the college radio station I advised. I didn’t actually meet her on the visit, but the students told me about it. So I looked up her website, got in touch and later interviewed her on my radio show.

I just knew Jennifer was a kindred soul, and I’m still thrilled to this day that she was willing to join in the effort we call Radio Survivor. The consistency and constancy of her work and passion has formed its strongest foundation. Then, Eric joining in 2015 only made the whole structure even more sound.

Again, pondering what I would have predicted ten years ago, I have to conclude that it’s irrelevant. We’re still here today, writing and recording words about radio, in all its permutations.

I am still a terrible fortune teller, so I won’t predict if Radio Survivor will celebrate a 20th anniversary. I wish and intend to remain friends with Eric, Jennifer and Matthew, and I’d hate to lose the root of our collaboration and relationship. I also desire to remain in love with radio and the people who also love radio.

I hope you’ll stay tuned to see what happens next week, next year, and next decade.

The post A Decade of Radio Surviving appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #199 – The FCC Is ‘Flunking Statistics 101’

Tue, 06/25/2019 - 23:52

The FCC was back in front of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals again, defending its failure to address declines in minority- and women-owned broadcast stations, amongst other failures. In fact, as our guest, University of Minnesota Prof. Christopher Terry, explains, the Commission claims it’s too hard to assess the change in ownership between 1996 and today.

Prof. Terry notes that the Court expressed skepticism of that claim. It’s just another chapter in the agency’s “legacy of failure,” as he calls it, wherein futile attempt followed by futile attempt to further loosen ownership regulations is built upon a faulty foundation of flimsy data. Yet, that doesn’t mean that the current FCC leadership, backed by the broadcast industry, won’t keep trying. We’ve already seen this in the NAB’s proposal to eliminate local radio ownership caps in hundreds of cities, as we reported in episode #196. Prof. Terry sheds additional light on that proposal, and assesses what a recent Supreme Court decision means for public access television.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #199 – The FCC Is ‘Flunking Statistics 101’ appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Walter Benjamin radio diary entry #1: selective snouting

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 19:04

“Today I’d like to speak with you about the Berlin Schnauze,” declared Walter Benjamin on Radio Berlin in 1929. “This so-called big snout is the first thing that comes to mind when talking about Berliners.”

With this essay, I begin my Walter Benjamin radio diary, a commentary on the radio shows for children that he broadcast from 1929 to 1932 on Radio Berlin and Southwest German Radio, Frankfurt. I have written a brief backgrounder on Benjamin, just to get my little project started. A much better introduction can be heard at the BBC Archive on 4, produced by Michael Rosen. It includes conversations with scholars about Benjamin’s radio scripts and the very first English reading of them by Henry Goodman. I am quoting here from Lecia Rosenthal’s edition of the talks. And, full disclosure, I am really just going riff on these programs, think about them out loud, meditate on what they remind me of, while avoiding any grand conclusions.

Having said all that, Benjamin’s first radio essay is really interested in a certain portion of the Berlin snout: the Berlin mouth, with all its smarty pants jokes, comments, snarky observations, and cracks. It is a mouth designed to defend oneself from being pushed around in a pushy world. Here are some examples Benjamin offered, such as the tongue of this beleaguered horse-drawn cab operator.

“My God, driver,” complains his latest passenger. “Can’t you move a little faster?
“Sure thing,” responds the Berlin cabbie. “But I can’t just leave the horse all alone.”

Or this bartender, perhaps a bit exasperated with some of his drunken clientele.

“What ales you got?” demands one inebriant.
“I got gout and a bad back,” replies the barkeep.

“Berlinish,” Benjamin explained, “is a language that comes from work.” It is a way of speaking for “people who have no time, who must communicate by using only the slightest hint, glance, or half-word.”

I am very familiar with this language, because I grew up in the Berlin of the United States, otherwise known as New York City. I was raised on apocryphal tales of the smart assed waiters who presided over Manhattan’s Jewish restaurants and delicatessens. I offer these vignettes from memory. For example:

A waiter walks up to a table of four men in a Lowest East Side kosher restaurant. “What will you have, gentlemen?” he asks.
“We will start with water,” one says.
Then another adds with a slightly irritated tone: “And, waiter, in a clean glass, please.”
The attendant bows, then returns in five minutes with the water.
“Ok,” he says, “which one of you guys wanted the clean glass?”

Another example: a waiter humbly approaches four elderly women eating at a Jewish deli.
“Ladies,” he gingerly asks, “is anything all right?”

But what I find most interesting about Benjamin’s first commentary is that it offers a very selective and limited definition of the Schnauz. Wikipedia defines the snout as “the protruding portion of an animal’s face, consisting of its nose, mouth, and jaw.” Yet our radio storyteller seems decidedly uninterested in two out of three of those attributes.

The Kaiser and his celebrated snout.

Why? I can only guess, but hovering over this discussion was one of the great noses of German history, that of Kaiser Wilhelm the Second. Remembered by one historian as a “bad tempered distractible doofus” in charge of the German empire, Wilhelm appears to have been primarily concerned with two things: first, his wardrobe, which consisted of 120 colorful military uniforms, and second, the endlessly waxed and fussed over mustache which adorned his nose. It even had its own name: “Er ist Erreicht!” or “It is accomplished,” which, as you may know, also happens to be the last thing that Jesus supposedly said on the cross at Golgotha. When not preoccupied with the decoration of his own beak, Wilhelm obsessed over those of his colleagues. “Fernando naso,” he dubbed the ruler of Bulgaria, whose proboscis he found unacceptably pronounced.

Therefore, I am not surprised that the young Walter Benjamin, already so focused on language, class, and democracy, stuck to the mouth and left the nose, with all its autocratic overtones, to others.

The post Walter Benjamin radio diary entry #1: selective snouting appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Internet Radio on the Mac, After iTunes

Sun, 06/23/2019 - 19:17

After assessing the state and likely demise of the iTunes internet radio tuner, I started to consider what this means for listening to internet radio with a computer, rather than mobile device, smart speaker or appliance. Then we received an email from a reader who reported they still use iTunes for internet radio, in part because it allows them to curate a playlist of their favorite stations for easy access. The reader noted that using station websites doesn’t quite work the same way, and that those sites vary widely in design and how simple they make it to start a stream.

I’ll admit that iTunes does excel at that kind of radio preset-style tuning. It’s something I’d forgotten since I do most of my internet radio listening using my Sonos, where I keep my favorite stations bookmarked in the system’s favorites.

I started to poke around to see what kind of desktop radio apps are left out there. I started with macOS because that’s what I primarily use. I found that there are damn few.

Go searching in the macOS App Store and you’ll encounter about a dozen or so true internet radio apps. But the majority of them seem not to have been updated in the last three to five years. In fact, I found only one that is worth trying.

myTuner Radio

myTuner Radio is free in the App Store and very simple. It has a reasonably comprehensive directory of a purported 50,000 stations organized by country. Besides that, they aren’t otherwise categorized. The search is decent, provided you know the call letters or name. If you’re searching by genre or format, you’d better hope that it’s in the name.

Stations owned by iHeart are pretty much entirely absent, though I could find plenty of Entercom and CBS stations, along with those owned by smaller groups. myTuner Radio has banner ads, but mercifully no audio ads. A paid version gets rid of all ads.

You can favorite stations for quicker recall, but there’s no provision to organize them, nor is there a provision to add a station’s stream URL like in iTunes. While using myTuner Radio is easier than bookmarking station webpages, you may not find all the stations you want, you can’t categorize the ones you bookmark and you can’t add additional ones not in the directory.

TuneIn Radio

TuneIn Radio has a desktop Mac OS app that replicates the web or mobile app, more or less. To that end, it’s about as good as those. The directory is enormous, and organized by format, genre, location and language. But as I observed earlier, iHeart and Entercom stations have been removed by their owners.

There’s more flexibility in organizing your favorite stations, by putting them into folders. Yet, TuneIn still has no provision to add a station that’s not in the directory. If you like TuneIn on other platforms, you’ll like the desktop app, but it’s not quite a full iTunes replacement.


Odio (not Odeo) is a free open source app that visually resembles iTunes more than the other apps. It’s directory is more idiosyncratic than either TuneIn or myTuner. I could find some iHeart stations, like New York City’s Z100, but not others, like Portland’s The Brew. I had similar hit-and-miss results with Entercom stations.

Stations are organized by country, language and tag. It took me a bit to figure out how the tags get added, since I saw no feature for doing so in the app. It turns out that Odio uses a directory called Community Radio Browser, where anyone can submit a station. That probably accounts for the idiosyncrasies, since you don’t need to affiliated with a station to submit it. Right now Community Radio Browser lists 24,582 stations, and the project’s webpage has an intriguing list of apps and platforms that use its directory, along with code libraries for folks who might build their own app.

You can maintain a “library” of favorite stations, but there’s no way to organize them.


VLC is a cross-platform multimedia player app. In that way it’s the closest we have to a free, open source iTunes alternative – one that’s also continuously updated.

The app uses the Icecast Radio Directory. Icecast is an open source streaming audio platform, and stations using it can opt in to be listed. As a result the selection is very eclectic, though you may be hard pressed to find a lot of US broadcast stations. What you may find are live police scanners or Chicago Public Radio WBEZ’s all Christmas music stream. There is no organization – search is your only friend here.

Because it’s a perennially well-supported project, there are ways to add other directories, like TuneIn’s. However, plug-and-play they’re not. You’ll need to know your way around your Mac’s file system. It’s not crazy difficult, but it’s not as simple as installing most apps.

I would call VLC’s interface utilitarian. It’s built more for a power user than a novice, though there’s plenty of help to be found with a quick web search. Its two most iTunes-like features are the ability to add any station’s stream and to organize stations in playlists.

Other Options, Caveat Emptor

Researching this topic I encountered at least a half-dozen other free and open source iTunes alternatives offering at least some kind of internet radio feature. However, they all seem to have little to no development for at least three years. They may still work fine for your, but an OS upgrade could easily foul up the works.

Is there a currently supported Mac OS internet radio app I’m missing? Please let us know.

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