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Time Is Running Out for FrankenFMs – Just 4 Months Left

Sun, 03/07/2021 - 17:34

The clock is still ticking for FrankenFMs, legacy analog low-power TV stations broadcasting on channel 6 with signals heard at 87.7 FM, on the far left end of the dial. The FCC has determined all analog television signals must convert to digital by July 13 of this year, and just issued a public notice reminding broadcasters of that deadline.

The Commission is pretty unequivocal in its warning:

By 11:59 p.m. local time on July 13, 2021, all LPTV/translator stations must terminate all analog television operations regardless of whether their digital facilities are operational. Stations that have not yet constructed a digital facility must cease analog television operations no later than July 13, 2021, and remain silent until construction is completed. If a station goes silent prior to completing construction of its digital facility, it may file a request for silent authority.

Stations that are still scrambling to get their digital transmissions up and running can make one last Hail Mary pass by filing for an extension no later than March 15. Note that getting an extension doesn’t mean they’re permitted to keep their analog signals going – they just get extra time to get their digital systems ready.

It’s important to note that the FCC makes no mention of FrankenFMs, even though it opened up a proceeding in 2019 to consider what – if anything – to do about them, with final reply comments due February 2020. Today I count 23 analog channel 6 stations that appear to operate as a radio station. The most common format is Spanish-language music, comprising 11 of them. With just 35 total analog LPTV channel 6 stations left, that means only a third are actually operating as true television stations, with video as their primary programming.

If I were to bet, I’d say these 23 remaining FrankenFMs are unlikely to get a stay of execution between now and July 13. Though it’s always possible the FCC will surprise us, the Commission has a pretty full docket as it is, even on the broadcast side, including a radio auction due to launch July 27. Moreover, the idea of letting FrankenFMs remain on the air or get another pathway onto the FM dial remains very controversial within the broadcast industry, with NPR as one of the strongest opponents. 

Chicago’s MeTV Radio is probably the most prominent FrankenFM, having added four true FM broadcast affiliates. When asked about the looming analog shutdown last July, the station’s owner told Chicago media journalist Robert Feder, “We have a solution and [are] moving forward.” The creator of the MeTV Radio format said, “Please stand by.”

Well, I can say I’m standing by and very curious to hear what MeTV and other FrankenFMs will do. Venture Technologies is the largest owner of these stations, and therefore presumably has some resources, as does Weigel Broadcasting, which programs and operates MeTV. 

One solution I can imagine is negotiating space on an HD Radio subchannel (HD2, HD3 or HD4). While there may be some commercial frequencies available for auction this year in some cities that are home to a FrankenFM, that is most definitely not the case in big metroplexes like Chicago and Cleveland. However, it seems like HD subchannels are fairly underutilized, even in big metros, and much easier to lease. Such a move would put a station back on the dial, at least on a large percentage of car radios.

But then that HD Radio channel can be used to feed a low-power translator station, giving it an analog signal, too. Even translators are in relatively high demand in big markets, but still easier to either purchase or lease than a full power signal.

Stay tuned, especially if you have a FrankenFM – operating at 87.7 FM – in your area. If you do, drop us a line and let us know what you hear, and if you catch wind of any announcements about their status.

The post Time Is Running Out for FrankenFMs – Just 4 Months Left appeared first on Radio Survivor.

More New CDs than Vinyl Records Were Sold in 2020, Yet Again

Thu, 03/04/2021 - 23:56

Back in October 2019 I published a response to the breathless news reported across the tech, music and popular press that “vinyl outsold CDs” for the very first time. While true in terms of raw dollars, as I demonstrated, it wasn’t true in terms of volume. More than twice the number of CD albums were sold than vinyl – the revenue difference likely accountable to the fact that records now typically cost twice as much, or more, than the equivalent CD.

Now the sales numbers for all of 2020 are out, and the headlines look much the same as they did. It’s true that vinyl did hit a new sales peak not seen since the late 20th century, increasing its revenue lead over vinyl. In fact, the format’s take increased 28.7% over 2019, while CD’s share dropped 23%.

Nevertheless, 38% more CDs were sold – 31.6 million to vinyl’s 22.9 million. Clearly, the gap is closing. Yet, as audio writer John Darko points out, overall digital album sales outclassed both, at 33.1 million.

Of course, this all seems like peanuts compared to streaming revenue, which racks up $10bn, compared to a combined $1.1bn for physical formats.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-vinyl. I’m also not arguing that CDs are better. Rather, I’m an advocate for looking at the whole picture. In 2021 CDs are simply cheaper and easier to get made than vinyl records. So, while they’re declining in popularity, compact discs are still a very viable medium for distributing music in a physical format.

I stream music pretty much every day, and I buy downloads. But an internet outage or label pulling its catalog cuts off my stream in an instant, while one bad hard drive easily separates a person from their downloads. My CDs, and records, are still the most persistent way to own my most favorite music.

Moreover, the RIAA report does not account for the used market. There, too, vinyl is popular. But so are CDs (and cassettes). In its mid-year 2020 report, online marketplace Discogs said overall physical media sales were up 30% compared to the first half of 2019. Vinyl was up 34% and CDs were up 31%. In terms of raw volume, Discogs saw 5.8 million records change hands, compared to 1.7 million CDs.

Of course, we have to keep in mind that vinyl had a 40 year head start on CDs, and these are global numbers – compact disc was much more delayed in some countries compared to the US or Western Europe. Though I’m not betting that it will surpass used vinyl sales, I expect to see that used CD volume will continue to grow. It will be fueled by renewed interest in physical media, inflation in vinyl prices and concomitantly lower CD prices, combined with the fact that there are thousands of albums on compact disc that never saw a vinyl release that are still hard to find in legitimate digital streaming or download.

As I’ve proclaimed before, now is a great time for music lovers to either get back into CD or give the format a try, especially if the compromises of streaming aren’t quite cutting it for you. Used racks are bursting at the seems with bargains, as are eBay, Discogs and thrift stores. It used to be that way for a fair amount of used vinyl, too, about a decade ago. But just like with records, the compact disc bargains may not last as more listeners realize what is out there, and what they’re missing.

The post More New CDs than Vinyl Records Were Sold in 2020, Yet Again appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #287 – New Station Opportunity, Women’s History Month, and more

Tue, 03/02/2021 - 23:19

Jennifer, Eric and Paul join together to review what’s news as we kick off the month of March. Top of the list is an upcoming FCC radio license auction. Originally planned for April 2020, but delayed by the first coronavirus lockdowns, the auction will see 140 commercial radio construction permits up for bid. We discuss if this is a good opportunity for community organizations hoping to broadcast, and things to keep in mind when applying.

A new Nielsen report shows that the podcast audience has grown more diverse than the US population as a whole, and Jennifer alerts us to a fascinating new podcast the dives into the audio diaries of former first-lady Ladybird Johnson. Then we dig into one of the biggest controversies in podcasting right now, the “Reply All” mini-series on the racist workplace culture at “Bon Appetit” magazine, that brought a spotlight on the racial inequities in the podcast’s own corporate home. Rather than picking apart the details, we analyze how simply being a new medium open to fresh ideas and voices isn’t enough to escape the racial and gender biases that are still pervasive in media organizations and the culture at large.

Show Notes:

Feature image credit: Wikimedia Commons – CKUA Radio Tower on campus / Public Domain

The post Podcast #287 – New Station Opportunity, Women’s History Month, and more appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #286 – Native American Voices on the Air in the Early Days of Radio

Tue, 02/23/2021 - 21:02

On this week’s show we take a look at the ways that Native Americans used sound technology during radio’s earliest days and how that inspired and led to the flourishing Native media landscape, including tribal radio stations. Our guest, Josh Garrett-Davis, is Associate Curator at the Autry Museum and author of a recently completed dissertation: Resounding Voices: Native Americans and Sound Media, 1890-1970.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #286 – Native American Voices on the Air in the Early Days of Radio appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #285 – Running a Big Community Media Organization in the 2nd Year of the Pandemic

Tue, 02/16/2021 - 23:39

Nathan Moore is the General Manager at WTJU and the Staff Advisor of WXTJ at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He is also the current President of the Board of the NFCB, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.

We invited Nathan Moore onto the show to ask about running community and college radio stations at the start of the second year of the Pandemic. We talk about remote live broadcasting, training and recruiting new volunteers, and strengthening the mission of community and student media and the arts.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #285 – Running a Big Community Media Organization in the 2nd Year of the Pandemic appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Radio Is the World’s Most Accessible & Popular Analog Sound Medium

Tue, 02/16/2021 - 00:52

I’m a bit of an audiophile, because I really enjoy music that is nicely reproduced, not because I’m up for dropping five figures on an audio component. One of the most enduring debates among audiophiles is analog vs. digital.

I don’t really take a position in this debate. I’ve owned a turntable since my age was in single digits, and never gave up my vinyl collection. I listen to records every week, but I’ve owned a CD player for 34 years. Convenience combined with darn good sound mean digital audio fills more hours of my day.

The recent news that the FCC approved all-digital AM broadcasting got me thinking about how radio is still a mostly analog sound medium, and arguably the most accessible and convenient one, at that. While digital HD Radio has made some inroads, in the US I’ll bet a strong majority of people tuned into live terrestrial radio are receiving an analog signal.

Analog partisans – many of whom also advocate for open reel tape in addition to vinyl – often argue that non-digital audio reproduction sounds more natural. Given that most music in the last decade or so was recorded digitally, they even posit that a digitally sourced recording sounds better when pressed into a vinyl LP than when heard on a CD or streaming service.

If that’s the case, then FM radio, in particular, deserves recognition as a great analog medium alongside records and open-reel tapes. In fact, I’ll argue that radio is the most accessible and ubiquitous sound medium in the world.

I have no doubt in my mind that most music heard on the radio is sourced digitally, whether from a CD, a hard drive or an automation system. At college, community and progressive-leaning commercial stations a small percentage of tunes still come from vinyl records played live on turntables. But I’ll even bet that a portion of those are first digitized for more convenient or time-shifted playback. Moreover, a lot of stations have transitioned to digital airchains, using digital mixing boards and networked components to more efficiently route signals between studios and transmitters.

Yet, in the end, right now all signals must end up as analog in order to be broadcast through the airwaves.

Fidelity vs. Processing

At the same time analog does not inherently equal high fidelity, just as digital fails the same equation. Plenty of music stations – especially commercial pop music stations – use processing that squeezes the life out of everything. Intended to make a station sound louder than adjacent ones, especially for listeners seeking across the dial, this compression makes everything sound shouty and eliminates any variation in dynamics that might have been in the original recording.

The overuse of compression in modern digital recordings is already a source of contention for many music lovers, with the controversy known as the “Loudness Wars.” But when you take an already over-compressed recording and put it through another stage of broadcast processing I find the result to be headache-inducing for more than a few minutes of listening.

Luckily, not every station pounds the hell out of its signal. I find many more college, community and public stations go a lot easier on the processing, letting more of the original dynamic range – the difference between softer and louder signals – come through. Classical stations, in particular, tend to have the lightest touch, since dynamics are considered especially vital to the form compared to rock, pop and R&B.

A little bit of audio processing is almost impossible to avoid in broadcast. In part, there’s a need to keep the softest passages above the noise floor. Even though FM stereo is pretty noise-free, there’s always a little bit of low-level static, which can be more prominent as you get further away from the transmitter. A little bit of compression helps keep the music comprehensible most of the time.

Unfortunately, there’s also the need to keep up with the Jonses. When surrounding stations are keeping the needle pegged in the red, your station risks sounding obscurely quiet by comparison. You may have experienced this phenomenon when spinning the dial in the car. You’re listening to one station at a reasonably volume, then switch to the next and feel like you get blown into the back seat. That’s because the second station is overusing (or abusing) processing and compression to sound louder, at the expense of fidelity.

Fidelity AND Processing

This might seem like I’m saying broadcast processing and compression is a bad thing, or a necessary evil. That’s not necessarily the case. Keep in mind that all music is processed and compressed for distribution. Music that goes to vinyl also goes through some processing that in some ways is pretty similar to broadcast processing. There are peculiarities inherent to vinyl records that need to be compensated for, one of which is a smaller dynamic range than you have with digital recordings (or open reel tapes); a little compression helps keep the music above the clicks, pops and surface noise, and can keep the stylus from physically jumping out of the groove. Though high-end vinyl playback systems can achieve pretty impressive dynamics, in practice a good FM broadcast and decent vinyl record are roughly equivalent.

That said, one might argue that playing vinyl on broadcast radio subjects the music to double-processing. In that case, you could say that playing a CD or digital recording on the radio might yield the best results.

Still, all that is just hypothetical perfectionist prognostication, with real-world effects that are mighty difficult to detect. For most people, analog FM radio sounds pretty good, especially where it matters most: in their vehicles. Compared to portable bluetooth speakers and skinny soundbars, the oft-forgotten car stereo is possibly most people’s best sound system.

I’m not claiming that analog FM radio is the ultimate in high fidelity. Though, having tuned in a ton of internet feeds for World Radio Day this past weekend, I can attest that the online stream for a lot of broadcast stations is unmistakably inferior to what you hear on air. Rather, I’m saying that if there is still value in analog sound, then we must include radio in the mix.

Listen, digital audio is here to stay, and I, for one, won’t be tilting at that windmill. But there are aesthetic and fidelity reasons to enjoy, and sometimes prefer analog audio.

I’m not here to convince anyone to give up their streaming account, YouTube or internet station. But if you enjoy vinyl and care about sound at all, fire up an analog radio sometime, particularly if you haven’t in a while. Tune around to the left end of the dial and you might be surprised in what you experience. Find yourself a full-bodied table radio, a receiver connected to a nice set of speakers or a good car radio and you’re probably in for a treat.

The post Radio Is the World’s Most Accessible & Popular Analog Sound Medium appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Listen to this BBC Documentary about 5 Community Stations around the World

Mon, 02/15/2021 - 21:41

In celebration of World Radio Day this past Saturday, the BBC World Service released an hour-long documentary about five different community radio stations around. the world. Beginning with Cameroon’s Radio Taboo, a solar-powered station started by an artist, presenter Maria Margaronis then takes us to Romania’s Danube Delta, which is focused on preserving the region’s unique language and history. We also auditorily travel to Tamil Naud, India, Bolivia, and the Navajo Nation to hear from stations that strive to serve the needs of their communities using a medium that can be heard aboard fishing boats, in remote mining communities and on the road across a sprawling First Nation.

Margaronis lets the presenters and producers speak for themselves, as we tune in to their broadcasts, and also hear from the listeners who depend on these lifelines of information and culture. The documentary is produced by David Goren, the radio enthusiast, journalist and researcher behind the Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map. (Hear more about that project on Radio Survivor Podcast #138.)

Voices, music and sound transmitter through the ether is still a magical phenomenon. So much so that the fishermen of Tamil Nadu rig up antenna extensions on their boats to keep their local station tuned in when they sail out of its normal radius of 17 nautical miles.

I can’t recommend “World Wide Waves: The sounds of community radio” enough. It’s well worth an hour of your time.

The post Listen to this BBC Documentary about 5 Community Stations around the World appeared first on Radio Survivor.

World Radio Day is Saturday, Feb. 13

Fri, 02/12/2021 - 00:49

In 2011 UNESCO declared February 13 to be World Radio Day, celebrating radio’s power for democratic discourse, serving humanity in all its diversity. 2021 is the 10th World Radio Day, and stations spanning the globe will join in the commemoration.

Hofstra University’s WRHU will receive the 2021 World Radio Day Award. The 60 year-old station has stepped up its commitment to community service in response to the coronavirus pandemic, earning recognition from the awards jury for programming like “Well Said with Dr. Ira Nash,” a podcast collaboration with the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.

WHRU will air a 72-hour broadcast for World Radio Day beginning Friday, February 12 at 7 AM EST. The programming will feature interviews with over 60 Hofstra alumni, radio hall of famers and musical super stars. Partner stations include Bush Radio 89.5 Capetown, Pocono 96.7 Stroudsburg, Long Island News Radio 103.9 Riverhead, KBOO 90.7 Portland, ICRT FM Taipei, Green Giant FM Manila, Florida Man Radio 660 AM Orlando, Wall Radio 94.1 Middletown and KKHJ 93.1 American Samoa.

Every year’s WRD is dedicated to themes. This year, the themes are:

  • EVOLUTION. The world changes, radio evolves. 
    This sub-theme refers to the resilience of the radio, to its sustainability ;
  • INNOVATION. The world changes, radio adapts and innovate. 
    Radio has had to adapt to new technologies to remain the go-to medium of mobility, accessible everywhere and to everyone;
  • CONNECTION. The world changes, radio connects.
    This sub-theme highlights radio’s services to our society—natural disasters, socio-economic crises, epidemics, etc.

Ultimately, World Radio Day is a time to recognize the power of radio to connect people, often transcending borders, to spread culture, news and ideas, even when physical barriers may intervene.

The post World Radio Day is Saturday, Feb. 13 appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #284 – SpokenWeb and Literary Sound

Tue, 02/09/2021 - 20:28

On this week’s show we learn about SpokenWeb, a Canadian project focused on the preservation of literary sound recordings. Partly inspired by the energetic poetry scene of the 1960s, SpokenWeb works to preserve recordings of these live events and also describe and share this material. Our guest, Hannah McGregor, leads the SpokenWeb Podcast Task Force and hosts the SpokenWeb podcast. She shares not only the back story about SpokenWeb, but also the breadth of material featured on its monthly podcast.

Show Notes:

Eric Klein randomly mentioned an old friend who is responsible for his young fandom of Twin Peaks in 1990, Jessica Hoffmann.

The post Podcast #284 – SpokenWeb and Literary Sound appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #283 – Project STAND is Archiving Student Activism

Tue, 02/02/2021 - 20:48

On Radio Survivor we are interested in not only audio, but also its history as well as preservation efforts. Along those lines, we have done numerous episodes about archives. We additionally have a strong passion for student-produced media, like high school and college radio. On this episode, we discuss an interesting intersection of the two, as we focus on archives and student activism. Our guest, Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, is the founder of Project STAND (Student Activism Now Documented) and is also University Archivist at University of Maryland. She explains to us the importance of archiving student activism, past and present, as well as the complexities and ethical considerations when doing this work.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #283 – Project STAND is Archiving Student Activism appeared first on Radio Survivor.

How to Listen to Super Bowl LV on the Radio Around the World, Feb. 7

Sat, 01/30/2021 - 17:59

Last year I was in New Zealand during the Super Bowl season. In the week before I was hiking the Milford Track on the South Island, backpacking for four days across 33 miles, away from internet and television (though I did pack a little travel radio). For the actual game I was in the capitol city of Wellington, but I didn’t even try to watch because I actually don’t care much at all about football. 

I am, however, fascinated by the global phenomenon, and figuring out how radio listeners can tune in to hear it. But, due to my vacation I didn’t write my annual “how to listen to the Super Bowl” post in 2020. Even some six months ago I wasn’t sure there would be a Super Bowl to write about in 2021. But here we are with the Buccaneers facing off against returning champions the Chiefs for Super Bowl LV on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021 at 6:30 PM EST.

US Super Bowl Radio Broadcasts

In the US it’s pretty easy to find a Westwood One Sports terrestrial radio affiliate carrying the game. Some stations black out their internet feed, and it’s generally hard to predict which ones will. However, I’ve found that clicking around will eventually land you on a functioning live stream. Note that your experience may vary depending on what state or country you’re connecting from.

A reliable internet radio stream can be had with a NFL Game Pass subscription.

The Super Bowl will be broadcast in Spanish on Entravision stations in 24 US radio markets.

Satellite radio subscribers can listen in on SiriusXM channel 104 in the US. Canadian subscribers have it on XM 88. Both are also available online. (Full disclosure: I’m an employee of Stitcher, a subsidiary of SiriusXM Holdings, but that has no influence on including this listing).

International Super Bowl Broadcasts

It’s also easy to find a television broadcast just about anywhere on the globe. But radio is much more of a challenge. Yet not everyone is in a position to watch a screen – whether they’re working or driving, or are visually impaired. For many folks the most descriptive radio play-by-play is the best or most appropriate experience. That’s why my annual quest is to find broadcasters all over the world that carry the game. 

On terrestrial radio, our neighbors to the north in Canada can reliably follow the Super Bowl on the TSN Radio Network in Montreal, Ottawa, Hamilton, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. To the south, Mexican listeners can tune in to W Radio and W Radio Deportes, as well as Los 40.

Further afield, Australians will be able to hear the game called by a home-grown announcer for the fourth year in a row on SEN 1116. In the past years I’ve been able to listen to this broadcast live online without problem.

UK rights to the game seem to bounce around different networks, but this year Super Bowl 55 will be heard on BBC 5 Live. In my experience the online stream is geofenced so that only UK audiences can catch it.

People serving in the American Armed Forces deployed around the world, as well as those who live near a base, can hear the big game on AFN Radio. Military personnel can also hear it the online streaming via AFN 360. 

Otherwise I haven’t been able to track down terrestrial radio broadcasts anywhere else in the world. Please send me your tip if I’m missing one.

Here’s where to listen to Super Bowl LV live from Tampa, FL on the radio, Sunday, February 7: Terrestrial Radio United States

English: Westwood One Sports affiliate stations

Spanish: Entravision stations

Canada

TSN Radio – Edmonton, Hamilton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg

Australia

1116 AM SEN Victoria / 1629 AM SEN South Australia
(also online)

Mexico

W Radio

Los 40

United Kingdom

BBC 5 Live (also online in the UK)

Armed Forces Network

Armed services members deployed overseas can listen via AFN Radio on satellite, and AFN 360 Internet Radio.

Internet Radio

NFL Game Pass (subscription required)

Possibly: Westwood One Sports A on TuneIn

Satellite and Internet Radio United States

SiriusXM Super Bowl Radio 104

Canada

XM 88

Is there a terrestrial, online or satellite radio broadcast of the Super Bowl we’re missing? Please let us know.

The post How to Listen to Super Bowl LV on the Radio Around the World, Feb. 7 appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #282 – New FCC, Who Dis?

Wed, 01/27/2021 - 00:06

What a difference a week makes. President Biden has appointed Jessica Rosenworcel as acting chair of the Federal Communications Commission, only the second time a woman has held the post. This signals the beginning of a new agenda at the Commission – though currently evenly split down party lines – and Prof. Christopher Terry from the University of Minnesota is here to help us read the tea leaves.

But that doesn’t mean the legacy of the old FCC is gone yet. Just one day before the inauguration, the agency was in front of the Supreme Court petitioning to get out of its nearly-two-decade Groundhog’s Day of repeatedly failing to properly revisit and revise media ownership rules. Although many press reports concluded that the justices were more sympathetic to the FCC’s arguments, Prof. Terry isn’t so sure, and tells us why. He also itemized some other important issues – like Network Neutrality – that the Commission will likely have to deal with in the coming year.

Show Notes

The post Podcast #282 – New FCC, Who Dis? appeared first on Radio Survivor.

“Best College Radio Stations” in 2021 According to Princeton Review

Tue, 01/26/2021 - 20:23

It always strikes me as odd that the annual Princeton Review college rankings guide comes out in the year prior to the date listed in its title. But in this case, it makes me feel a bit less guilty about this super-delayed post about The Best 386 Colleges: 2021 Edition. Released in August, 2020, the guide appeared during a strange period in our history. College looks a bit different during the 2020-2021 academic year, with some students staying put at home and doing their coursework online. Tours are largely virtual and some students may even be putting their studies on hold until the pandemic abates.

Since 2008, I’ve been writing about the “Best College Radio Station” list that is included in Princeton Review’s annual rankings.

The 2021 list of the 20 colleges with the “best radio stations” has a nearly identical group of schools compared with the 2020 list. Numbers 1 through 17 were included in 2020. Once again, it’s a mix, including large universities with multiple radio stations as well as small liberal arts colleges with online-only stations. The biggest school on the list is Arizona State (around 44,000 students) and the tiniest is Reed College (around 1,400 students).

The northeast again dominates the list, with 10 schools from this region (including 6 from New York alone). California continues to be absent, although Oregon and Washington colleges are represented, for a total of 3 schools from the Pacific Northwest. The remaining colleges and universities hail from the Midwest, the South, the Southwest, and Canada.

Best = Popular

As a reminder, although the Princeton Review describes its college radio results as “Best College Radio Station,” the title doesn’t tell the whole story. Here’s the skinny:

1. Results are based on student surveys

2. Surveys were conducted at 386 colleges

3. Students are asked to judge the popularity, not the quality, of an unspecified campus radio station at their own college

4. Radio stations are not named in the survey or in the resulting rankings

5. Only schools surveyed can make it into the rankings, so college radio stations at schools that are not surveyed by Princeton Review won’t appear on the list

A number of colleges appearing on the “Best College Radio Station” list have multiple radio stations, including student-run stations, large public radio stations, and everything in between. It makes sense that students would indicate that their school’s radio station is “popular” if they are on a campus with a high profile professional radio station and/or with several radio stations.

Digging into Methodology

The 2021 college radio results are based on three years worth of survey data. Around 143,000 students from 386 colleges took the survey online, representing approximately 370 students per campus. Survey results for this edition are culled from responses given during the 2019-2020, 2018-2019, and 2017-18 academic years.

The survey asks: “How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements at your school?” and among the list of statements is: “College Radio Station is popular.” Respondents are given the following options: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neither Agree or Disagree, Agree or Strongly Agree.

How Similar is this Year’s List to Prior Lists?

For the 2021 Princeton Review list of “Best College Radio Stations,” 17 of the 20 schools were on the 2020 list. Of the three that were not on the 2020 list, none have appeared in the years that I’ve been tracking these lists (since 2008).

The complete list for the 2021 edition is listed below (for comparison, here are the lists from the 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008 editions of Princeton Review).

2020 Princeton Review’s Best College Radio Stations (aka Most Popular College Radio Stations)

Note: I’ve added station names and call signs as the Princeton Review only lists school names. Schools in bold were not on the list last year.

1. University of South Florida (WUSF 89.7 FM and Bulls Radio online/89.7 HD3/on campus 1620AM, Tampa, FL)

2. Emerson College (WERS 88.9FM and WECB, Boston, MA)

3. Arizona State University (KASC 1330 AM, Tempe, AZ)

4. St. Bonaventure University (WSBU-88.3 FM, St. Bonaventure, NY)

5. Ithaca College (WICB 91.7 FM and VIC Radio, Ithaca, New York)

6. Syracuse University (WAER 88.3 FM, WERW, WJPZ 89.1 FM, Syracuse, NY)

7. McGill University (CKUT 90.3 FM, Montreal, Canada)

8. Reed College (KRRC, Portland, OR)

9. Louisiana State University (KLSU 91.1 FM, Baton Rouge, LA)

10. Columbia University (WKCR 89.9 FM, New York, NY)

11. Manhattanville College (WMVL, Purchase, NY) – websites are down and the most recent social media activity was on Instagram in October, 2019

12. Seton Hall University (WSOU 89.5 FM, South Orange, NJ)

13. Hofstra University (WRHU 88.7 FM, Hempstead, New York)

14. University of Puget Sound (KUPS 90.1 FM, Tacoma, Washington)

15. Providence College (WDOM 91.3 FM, Providence, RI)

16. Denison University (WDUB 91.1 FM, Granville, OH)

17. Washington State University (KZUU 90.7 FM, KUGR and Northwest Public Radio, Pullman, WA)

18. Monmouth University (WMCX 88.9 FM, West Long Branch, NJ)

19. University of Notre Dame (WVFI and WSND 88.9 FM, South Bend, IN)

20. University of the South (WUTS, Sewanee, TN) – note that the university gave up the station’s FM license for WUTS 91.3 FM in December, 2019. The station continues as online-only.

Learn More about College Radio

If this is your first visit to Radio Survivor, take a look at our massive archive of college radio content. There’s a collection of radio news in the College Radio Watch column, we report on college radio culture on our weekly radio show/podcast, tour college radio stations regularly (well, when there wasn’t a pandemic!), and have a page devoted to college radio basics.

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Leadership Changes at U.S. Agency for Global Media and Voice of America

Mon, 01/25/2021 - 17:40

With the new Biden administration in place, we’ve quickly seen a series of leadership shifts at the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) and its related international broadcasting groups, including Voice of America (VOA). Up until his final weeks, Trump-appointed CEO Michael Pack had been installing conservative allies throughout the organization and its affiliates.

Pack resigned on January 20 after he was told that he would be terminated. On the same day, Biden appointed former VOA executive Kelu Chao as Acting CEO of USAGM. Chao quickly fired a number of recent appointees and agency leaders.

On Sunday, January 24, USAGM announced that Chao had replaced the heads of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Asia, and Middle East Broadcasting Networks. Additionally, she replaced three board directors that had been appointed by Pack in his final days as CEO.

NPR reported on Pack’s tumultuous seven months at USAGM, with staffers “…characterizing him as seeking political control over their coverage,” adding that, “Pack routinely accused journalists of anti-Trump bias, sought to fire top executives as part of a ‘deep state,’ ominously accused the networks of being receptive to foreign spies and denied requests for visa extensions from his own staffers who are foreign nationals.”

On last week’s Radio Survivor show/podcast, we covered some of the most recent controversies under Pack, including his call for the demotion of a journalist who had asked a serious, yet unwelcome question to the current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a Voice of America event on January 11. But that was just the tip of the iceberg, as Pack was also making even higher profile personnel changes in his last few weeks in office. Many of these moves signaled a focus on shifting USAGM and its affiliates in the direction of being a more conservative mouthpiece for the United States.

With Chao now working to undo those last-minute changes by Pack, she emphasized the importance of independent journalism in a statement this week. “I have great faith in these leaders in ensuring the highest standards of independent, objective, and professional journalism,” she said in regards to the new leaders of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

It’s also interesting to note that VOA’s new acting director as of January 21, Yolanda Lopez, had been briefly sidelined by Pack following the Pompeo incident. NPR writes, “On Jan. 12, Lopez was stripped of all editorial oversight of the English-language news hub after one of her White House reporters posed pointed questions to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about his remarks, made after the presidential election, about a second Trump administration.”

For even more history and context about USAGM and Voice of America as well as some scoop about the first few months of USAGM under CEO Pack, listen to Radio Survivor show #265 from September, 2020, on which we had an esteemed panel of historians and archivists who are experts on the topic.

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Podcast #281 – Wrapping Up Section 230 & the VOA

Wed, 01/20/2021 - 01:27

There are a few stories we were watching closely at the end of 2020, and we wanted to bring listeners up to date. First up is Section 230, the law that provides a degree of immunity to online platforms – from social media to community radio stations – for consequences resulting from what their users might post or share on their platforms. Trump had urged its repeal, apparently to get back at big tech companies like Twitter, and installed a new FCC commissioner in December who is very supportive of the FCC taking over administration of the statute, regulating online speech. That put eyes on the FCC’s January meeting. We’ll tell you what happened.

We’ve also been tracking controversies at the Voice of America, where a political appointee has been pressuring staff to avoid news coverage critical of the US. The situation recently came to another head. Then our reflection on VOA’s mission spurs Paul to share the story of when his grandmother was a broadcaster for the service.

We also spend some time learning about Jennifer’s new podcast project, and discuss the evolution of podcast formats since the early days of the medium.

Show Notes:

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Preserving Pieces of Microradio History

Tue, 01/19/2021 - 10:11

For the first time in a while I needed to dip into my dwindling archive of cassette tape airchecks. A couple of tapes immediately caught my eye and spurred me to restart the digitizing project I’ve been working on and off for the last five years. They took me on a fun journey back in time.

A Micropower Radio Forum in 1998

The first is a recording from a “Micropower Radio Forum” in Berkeley, California, which brought together 1990s community radio activists in celebration of the publication of the book “Seizing the Airwaves,” edited by Free Radio Berkeley founder Stephen Dunifer and radical scholar Ron Sakolsky. Recorded in February 1998, I remembered that I actually sourced the audio from an online archive uploaded to the A-Infos Radio Project, one of the first open internet archives for progressive and radical radio programming.

I had recorded these MP3 audio files to cassette in order to play excerpts on my radio show, “Radio Free Conscience,” which aired biweekly on Community Radio WEFT in Champaign, IL from 1996 to 2002. You see, in 1998 we (like most community stations) didn’t have an audio-capable PC in our main studio, nor any digital playback facility. Therefore the simplest way to bring the audio in was on a cassette. (The station would embrace minidisc for digital recording and playback later that year.)

Upon finding this tape I immediately searched A-Infos and found its entry. Unfortunately many early uploads have become dissociated from their database entries, and a half-hour of searching the site and the internet didn’t turn up the original files. That’s why I decided I should go ahead and digitize the tape now.

I had to take some delight in the path this audio took in its journey back onto the internet. Since cassettes were still the dominant amateur recording technology in 1998, there’s a good chance that the original audio was recorded to tape, then digitized to MP3 for distribution on the internet. Then I downloaded it and recorded that audio to cassette. After being broadcast on FM radio – with no known aircheck – it sat undisturbed for nearly 13 years until I again digitized the audio. I have now uploaded it to the Internet Archive.

This program is significant because it captures a moment in time when unlicensed micropower radio stations were going on the air in communities around the US, as an act of civil disobedience against the FCC’s policy of not licensing low-powered stations. The pressure these illegal community stations put on the FCC would help spur the agency to create low-power FM in 2000.

In this particular program you can hear from a principal of San Francisco Liberation Radio, one of several Bay Area micropower stations in operation at the time. Though somewhat well known then, the memory seems somewhat faded now. You can also hear testimony from prominent activists about why the cause of accessible community radio was so trenchant at the end of the 20th century.

Tree Radio Berkeley

The other tape is also from 1998. It’s a 90-minute aircheck of Tree Radio Berkeley, which was an unlicensed low-power radio station that literally broadcast from a tree in a Berkeley, California park for 11 days in November 1998. In this recording you can hear the hosts taking questions from an elementary school field trip below, sending their questions first by yelling, and then later by what sounds like a walkie-talkie. What’s great about this is that you get to hear the organizers explain what they’re doing, and why.

The FCC, aided by federal marshals, had conducted a number of armed raids on unlicensed radio stations that year, which were fresh on the organizers’ minds.

The funny thing is that I can’t remember how I obtained the tape. The recording is very clear and high quality. It almost sounds like it was recorded in-studio rather than from a radio. The handwriting on the tape is not mine, either. But again, I can’t remember who might’ve passed it along to me.

Of course, I also uploaded the Tree Radio Berkeley aircheck to the Internet Archive.

Though unlicensed radio is still very alive, especially in places like Boston, South Florida and the New York Metro area, I think it’s important to remember that the civil disobedience of the unlicensed micropower radio movement in the 1990s helped to fuel what would turn out to be the greatest flowering of community radio in history in the 21st century. It’s a reminder that people and communities can organize for material change that can have lasting impact.

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Why There’s More Music on AM Now

Mon, 01/18/2021 - 18:46

A number of months ago I was scanning around the AM dial late in the evening from my Portland, Oregon abode. I stumbled upon a station playing hard rock, which I thought to be an unusual find. As the AM dial has become mostly the domain of conservative and sports talk, I rarely encounter music that isn’t a bumper or part of some leased-time foreign-language programming.

In fact, at first I thought perhaps the music was a lead-in to just another talk show, but eventually I heard a full set of three songs. The station identified itself as “The Bear,” but curiously gave an FM frequency, not one on the AM dial. 

An internet search the next day confirmed that “the Bear” is indeed an active rock formatted station located in Merced, California. Its logo features 105.7 FM prominently, with the 1660 AM frequency tucked in the corner. Yet, the AM signal is actually the primary one – the FM is a 250 watt repeater (translator) station. 

Here’s a quick aircheck of the Bear’s station ID, during a break in the syndicated hard rock “Loudwire” program.

Station ID for “The Bear” 1660 AM, Merced, CA

Now, AM stations have been permitted to get FM translators for a few years now as part of the FCC’s so-called “AM revitalization” initiative. But mostly I’ve heard sports and news/talk stations get repeated on FM. 

I filed away this experience in memory, but kind of considered it a one-off. That was until my recent vacation in the Wallowa Mountains of Northeastern Oregon. Stowed away and social distancing in a mountainside cabin with limited internet and no cable, I spent quite a bit of time scanning the AM and shortwave bands in search of interesting sounds.

This time I heard a full set of contemporary hip-hop. At the break the station identified as “The Game, nothing but hip-hop.” After the commercial break, the next ID gave a frequency of 103.5 FM. Listening for about 45 minutes while I made dinner, I never heard the AM frequency mentioned once. 

Here is a short aircheck of two station IDs for “The Game.”

Stations IDs for “The Game” KGA 1550 AM, Spokane, WA

The Game” was coming to me out of Spokane, Washington, 200 miles north of my Joseph, Oregon location. A later search also identified KGA as an AM station, first licensed in 1927, with translator at 103.5 FM. Unlike “the Bear,” branding for “the Game” has no indication of its AM signal. The station’s website curiously makes no mention of AM, either.

For “the Game” it really seems like the AM signal – with a powerful 50,000 watt daytime power – is just a feeder for an FM that broadcasts with less than 1% the power. Granted, I get that few hip-hop fans are likely to scan the AM dial looking for the station, but they might give it a try if they knew about it – especially if they’re on the fringe or outside the FM’s constrained broadcast radius.

It’s refreshing to hear music on the AM band that isn’t being used as a bumper or bed, and isn’t easy listening. But it’s also a little disheartening to realize that it’s likely few listeners actually tune in to the AM signal. 

December 2020 ratings for the Spokane market still list KGA as a sports talk station, ranking at #22 out of 26 stations in the book. Only the AM frequency is listed, and I’m not entirely sure they’d list the FM frequency, too. So there’s no way to really tell which signal has the listeners.

Merced, home to “the Bear,” is no longer measured by Nielsen, and the new ratings company doesn’t share their rankings online. 

With most medium-to-large market FM dials packed to the gills, it only makes sense that some enterprising AM operators would try music as a way to better leverage their FM translators. I understand this has become a bit of a tiny trend, though I’ve not been able to figure out just how widespread.

It seems like music on AM may get even another boost, thanks to the FCC’s authorization of all-digital HD Radio on the dial in October. Stations that already use hybrid HD Radio – where the digital signal is squeezed in next to the analog one – have higher fidelity when received on an HD-capable receiver. Because more bandwidth will be dedicated to the digital signal, all-digital AM stations should have even better sound quality. 

In December, Radio World reported on KMZT-AM in Southern California, which actually flipped from oldies to classical music on its hybrid HD signal. The programming is also heard on the HD–4 channel of a co-owned FM station. The owner says he’ll consider switching to all-digital when there are more HD receivers in use. 

The downside to all-digital AM is that analog receivers – the vast majority of AM radios that aren’t in cars – won’t be able to hear these signals. That is, of course, unless these stations also have FM translators.

I imagine AM stations that have these translators will be some of those more willing to take the risk of trying all-digital AM, since they can still reach analog listeners on the other dial. At the same time, the tiny broadcast areas of translators mean that the potential audience will be smaller, at least in the daytime, when many AM stations run at full power. 

Only one AM station so far has filed paperwork to go all-digital, WMGG-AM in Egypt Lake, Florida. It is simulcast on both a full-power FM and an FM translator.

Even though many of the largest radio owners have signaled little interest in all-digital AM, it should still be a fascinating year for the dial. I’ll be on the lookout for more music formats cropping up. Let us know if you hear anything interesting.

Feature image credit: Michael Curi / flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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Podcast #280 – Student Radio History in Australia

Wed, 01/13/2021 - 00:10

Radio history is close to our hearts at Radio Survivor and on this week’s episode we explore the story of student radio in Australia. Our guest, Rafal Alumairy, is working on book about this little-told history. She shares with us details not only about the timeline of student radio in Australia, but also some intriguing intersections with pirate radio and commercial radio activities.

Thanks to Radio Survivor friend Jose Fritz of Arcane Radio Trivia for alerting us to Rafal’s work!

Show Notes:

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Podcast #279 – Zach Poff Built a Radio Station Inside a Pond

Tue, 01/05/2021 - 20:45


Zach Poff put a radio station inside a pond. Poff is a media artist, educator and maker-of-things, and he explains that project and talks about making art with radio technology and listening to sound art. This is a re-broadcast of our episode from April, 2018.

Show Notes

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Podcast #278 – The Wave Farm Grows Transmission Arts (rebroadcast)

Wed, 12/30/2020 - 09:01

Radios in the trees, a transmitter in the pond, and a weather-driven synth. These are just some of what you’ll find on The Wave Farm, a 29-acre property in New York’s Hudson Valley dedicated to radio and transmission arts. It’s anchored by community radio station WGXC, accompanied by a cornucopia of additional tiny terrestrial and internet stations.

Jennifer Waits takes us on an auditory tour of the farm, along with a visit to the station’s Hudson, NY studio, where station manager and managing news editor Lynn Sloneker lays out all these audio feeds. Then in the Wave Farm studio, artistic director Tom Roe details the organization’s history, which has its roots in the unlicensed micropower radio movement of the 1990s.

Every year Wave Farm hosts artists in residence, who create unique works and installations exploring the many aspects of electromagnetic transmission. One was the musical artist Quintron, who created the Weather Warlock, a weather-controlled synthesizer. Eric Klein gave him a call to learn more about this project and his work.

Show Notes:

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