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What did Walter Benjamin think radio was for?

Mon, 05/11/2020 - 11:38

This is the last entry of my diary of thoughts on Walter Benjamin’s radio talks. The anthology of his programs, from which I have been quoting for some time, concludes with an unpublished essay titled “Reflections on Radio.”

“Every child recognizes that it is in the interest of radio to bring anyone before the microphone at any opportunity,” Benjamin wrote in 1930 or 1931, “making the public witness to interviews and conversations in which anyone might have a say.”

“While people in Russia” were capitalizing on this recognition, he continued, “here [Germany] the dull term ‘presentation’ rules, under whose auspices the practitioner confronts the audience almost unchallenged.” In response, audiences resort to “sabotage” in their reactions, he observed, mostly switching off the radio at particularly intolerable moments.

“It is not the remoteness of the subject matter,” Benjamin warned;

“this would often be a reason to listen for a while, uncommitted. It is the voice, the diction, the language—in short, too frequently the technological and formal aspect makes the most interesting shows unbearable, just as in a few cases it can captivate the listener with the most remote material. (There are speakers one listens to even for the weather report).”

All this reminds me of the contemporaneous comments of Bertolt Brecht, who in 1932 famously (at least in media studies circles) critiqued radio as “one-sided when it should be two- . . . “

“It is purely an apparatus for distribution, for mere sharing out. So here is a positive suggestion: change this apparatus over from distribution to communication. The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life, a vast network of pipes. That is to say, it would be if it knew how to receive as well as to transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him. On this principle the radio should step out of the supply business and organize its listeners as suppliers. Any attempt by the radio to give a truly public character to public occasions is a step in the right direction.”

Yet I can find nothing that Benjamin broadcast during his three or so years as a radio commentator that offered a version of his “public witness” model, much less Brecht’s two-sided proposal. Many of Benjamin’s wonderful talks focused on formal subjects: the history of an earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal, a visit to a brass factory, a tour of a public market, and reflections on the snarky cracks for which Berliners were famous. He did write radio plays for children. But it is unclear how those carefully scripted dramas created radio “in which anyone might have a say.”

Why this contradiction? Perhaps because while Benjamin hoped for a radio landscape that brought “anyone before the microphone,” he was also apprehensive of it. Like almost no other writer in his time, he saw the future, our present, and also saw its risks. In his famous 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of the Mechanical Reproduction,” he sensed a world emerging in which the great masterpieces of the past could be reproduced and appropriated by ordinary people in infinite ways. He argued that with the expansion of publishing, almost everyone would become an author, even predicting that “the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character.”

But Benjamin also asked whether this revolution would be accompanied by a redistribution of power in society, or would be offered as a sop to the public. “Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate,” he warned. “Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property.”

I wonder, as I write these words, whether we are living through Walter Benjamin’s nightmare version of the future. Today we can copy everything, download everything, sample everything, and scream to our heart’s content on Twitter. Meanwhile most of the world’s actual property remains safely in the hands of a tiny percentage of the human race. Benjamin must have sensed this possibility as he carefully composed his essays for Radio Frankfurt and Radio Berlin. He certainly predicted its fruition in our time.

Yet his legacy should be understood as so much more than that. What stands out in Walter Benjamin’s radio talks is his intense love of life: of cities, food, urban legends, children, theater, history, philosophy, jokes, open markets, literature, and technology. Using his radio shows as a vehicle, Benjamin took the time to relish and celebrate most of what he saw, smelled, tasted, or heard over the course of each of his days. We would be wise to follow his example over the course of ours, at least as best we can.

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Podcast #244 – Exploring the So-Called ‘Golden Age’ of College Radio

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 23:23

Some consider the late 1960s through the mid-1990s to be a “golden age” of college radio. History professor Katherine Rye Jewell, from Fitchburg State University, notes that the period begins with college stations taking to the FM dial, and concludes with the rise of the internet. During that time, college radio stations certainly at times did have prominence in the culture, which meant they also were subject to complaints and kerfuffles, sometimes gaining the attention of local media and politicians.

As part of the research for her upcoming book, “Live from the Underground,” Kate has been diving into many of the controversies, and sharing highlights on Twitter. On air content was definitely one of the flashpoints, especially as the culture wars heated up in the 1980s. While relatively few FCC actions or fines were issued, Kate explains that the Commission preferred college and university administrations keep stations in check, and many did, resulting in a kind of chilling effect that particularly effected emerging music forms like hip-hop.

The reverberations of this time are still felt at many college and community stations, especially where volunteers and staffers still remember when the risk of a $10,000 indecency fine seemed – and probably was – very palpable.

On this live-on-the-air episode, we dig into many entertaining garden paths and stories that no fan of left-end-of-the-dial radio should miss.

Show Notes:

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Podcast #243 – A Radio Survivor First

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 23:55

A common theme on Radio Survivor is that claims of being first should be viewed skeptically. From purported first college radio station to first internet simulcast, we’ve learned that there’s always another challenger to the prize.

This time around, however, we can say this is definitively the first ever episode of Radio Survivor broadcast, and recorded, live on the air. We make the leap into live broadcasting at the request of Portland, OR community station XRAY.fm, which is the station that prompted us to turn our podcast into a proper weekly radio show. They have the task of conducting a fund drive in the midst of a stay-at-home-order, so they asked their shows to try to broadcast live – remotely – one way or another. We were more than happy to comply, each of us from our respective homes, united over a videoconference and an Icecast stream to the XRAY studios.

Fittingly, we take up the topic of firsts, as we note how internet broadcasting and inexpensive automation technology have proven to be tremendously helpful tools for community and college radio during this pandemic – even if many stations absolutely prefer to be 100% live. Staying on the air is vital for listeners and for programmers and hosts, keeping these connections flowing with energy.

We wrap up with some positive college radio news.

Show Notes:

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College Radio Watch: WMHD Relaunch, KSLC Goes Classical, WNUW Coronacasts and More News

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 16:57

More than a month into serious social-distancing measures across the United States, college radio continues to readjust to broadcasting during a pandemic. I shared a flurry of posts during that first week of shelter-in-place in my neck of the woods here in San Francisco as many stations moved to automated programming and also brainstormed creative approaches to continue doing live radio.

The bulk of our recent Radio Survivor coronavirus reporting has been taking place on the radio show/podcast. In a 4-week series of episodes, we checked in with college and community broadcasters from Alaska to New Jersey as restrictions grew more intense for both the country and for stations generally. It worth listening back to episodes 237 (How Community and College Radio Can Deal with COVID-19), 238 (Social Distancing, Going Remote and Automation During Global Pandemic), 239 (Hunkering Down with Raven Radio in Sitka, Alaska), and 240 (WFMU is Still on the Air During the Pandemic).

CMJ Brand’s New Owner Revealed

We also covered a bit of college radio-related news in episode 242, in which out guest James Cridland chimed in about the news that the CMJ brand’s purchaser is a European broadcasting company, Amazing Radio. While details are still sparse, this puts an end to speculation about who has been working behind the scenes to resurrect CMJ’s independent-music focused charts, live music events, and editorial content.

WNUW’s Coronacasts & College Radio during COVID-19

In the past few weeks, college radio stations have been expanding their programming and I’m happy to see that some stations that had shut down broadcasts have put plans in place so that they are able to stay on the air. WNUW at Neumann University (see my tour) even started a new project, Coronacasts, to share personal experiences of its DJs and listeners over the radio and social media. Take a listen to some of these stories by visiting Neumann Media’s YouTube channel.

This week, Billboard covered some of the challenges that college radio is facing, pointing out that emptied out campuses pose a problem, yet student radio staffers are finding new ways to broadcast. “Resourceful student programmers have figured out ways to build playlists while isolating in their homes far from campus,” according to the piece.

WMHD Relaunches

I was super impressed to hear that one university has relaunched its college radio station during the pandemic. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre-Haute, Indiana has spent close to a year working on the new version of its radio station WMHD and aired a virtual launch event on April 16 and 19. According to WMHD, “The launch event culminates 8 months of work from the Officer team to grow and reestablish the presence of WMHD both on campus and online.” The special broadcast included both student and alumni DJs and can be heard on the station’s Mixcloud. WHMD’s Faculty Advisor Kevin Lanke reached out, telling Radio Survivor, “We had dozens of alumni interact with us and listeners from 8 nations during Launch Weekend. So the event was a huge success.”

Linfield College Station Goes Classical

I was surprised to hear that Linfield College’s student radio station KSLC FM has given its airwaves over to a classical music station. Oregon Arts Watch reports, “All Classical Portland is integrating Linfield College’s campus radio station into its network, meaning the signal of 24-hour classical music and arts programming will be much clearer for the 100,000 people who live in McMinnville and surrounding communities. The donation of Linfield’s KSLC 90.3 FM to All Classical Portland was, according to a press release, initiated by McMinnville college students.” The details are a bit unclear, but All Classical Portland began broadcasting over 90.3 FM on April 2, 2020 according to the Regal Courier. The FM license remains held by Linfield College per a search of FCC records today.

A Facebook announcement from KSLC states, “After more than a year of planning for the future, KSLC 90.3 FM, Linfield College ASLC Leadership, and Linfield JAMS Leadership have decided to move toward the future of digital media by deciding that KSLC will no longer be producing live, traditional radio content and will become the KSLC Podcast Network in the immediate future.” The statement goes on, explaining that “…the spirit of student-radio will remain the same as we move into the podcast era. KSLC and Linfield’s JAMS department are committed to keeping student voices active and heard.”

More College Radio News College Radio and COVID-19 Profiles of Stations, Staff, DJs Events Programming/Podcasts Infrastructure, Budget College Radio History Alumni Popular Culture Awards and Accolades Music and Industry Connections

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Podcast #242 – Radio on the TV with James Cridland

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 11:45

Did you know that a lot of folks in Europe listen to radio on their televisions? Neither did we, until we talked with James Cridland, editor of the daily Podnews email newsletter and radio futurologist. He explains that outside of North America much of radio is enjoyed on more platforms, from digital DAB to, yes, television.

With a career reaching back to the early internet forays of the BBC and Virgin Radio in the UK, and as a frequent international conference speaker, James has a broad base of experience around the world. Now based in Brisbane, Australia, he joins the show to help us put radio in a global perspective.

In the process we also learn that James got his start in radio by starting a pirate station in his Yorkshire boarding school, and that a supermarket radio station is the most popular digital station Down Under. That ultimately leads us to a discussion of durability of radio, based upon human connection and shared experience

Show Notes:

Image Credit: flickr / Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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Online Panel on the History of Internet Radio Is Part of the World Audio Day Virtual Conference on April 21

Sun, 04/19/2020 - 21:56

This Tuesday, April 21, at 12 PM EDT I’ll be participating in an online panel on the “History of Internet Radio,” as part of the first World Audio Day virtual conference. I’m really excited to be in the company of excellent co-panelists:

Dom Robinson is UK-based writer and technologist who has written about the 25th anniversary of internet radio in 2018 and discussed the topic with me on podcast #160.

Prof. Andrew Bottomley from SUNY-Oneonta has a book coming out this June entitled, Sound Streams: A Cultural History of Radio-Internet Convergence. He guested on podcast #167 to talk about this early history of internet radio and the precursors to podcasting.

Dane Streeter is the Managing Director at Sharpstream in the UK, a leading audio streaming service provider, and a true fan of internet radio.

Rob Glaser is the founder of RealNetworks, one of the first practical streaming media platforms on the internet, and certainly one of the leading technologies from the 1990s through the 2000s.

Live365 is sponsoring the conference, and registration is free for this and other panels on topics like station marketing, studio technology and the “future of podcasting.”

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The Wetland Project Is Slow Radio for Earth Day

Sun, 04/19/2020 - 21:26

Soothing environmental sounds may be just the thing to help quell pandemic-induced anxiety. Multimedia artists Mark Timmings and Brady Marks present 24 hours of this kind of “slow radio” on Earth Day, April 22. Though not expressly designed for the times of “shelter in place,” when many public parks, beaches and natural spaces are closed to enforce proper social distancing – this is the fourth year of the program – the “Wetland Project” nevertheless offers a sonic respite in “the circadian rhythm of an endangered Saturna Island marsh” in British Columbia.

Twelve stations will carry part or all of the 24-hour program, including the first two US affiliates, KALW in San Francisco and KPOV in Bend, OR. As the organizers note, “the program is ready-made and easily automated by staff working remotely during station lockdowns,” so there’s still time for new stations to come on board. Contact them for more details.

As they describe it,

The beautiful and complex environmental soundscape, featuring birds, frogs, airplanes and more, engages with people in real time as they go about their daily routines. This year, many listeners will likely be confined at home by COVID-19. The immersive quality of the slow radio broadcast promotes heightened awareness of the natural environment, which turns the simple act of listening to the radio into a powerful act of collective protest for climate action.

Tune in on one of the affiliate stations or online.

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Podcast #241 – WBCN and the American Revolution

Wed, 04/15/2020 - 01:07

WBCN in Boston, MA is one of the storied freeform FM stations in American commercial radio history. We’re talking about it because there’s a recent documentary film, entitled “WBCN and the American Revolution,” that dives into its history, and how WBCN’s early days in the late 60s and early 70s are intertwined with the counter culture movement in that city.

Our guest is filmmaker Bill Lichtenstein, who was also on-air at WBCN during its formative years. Though much has been said about cities like San Francisco and New York in this era, the stories of Boston are less prevalent in our common cultural history. The story is interesting because the station functioned much like a community station, more like WBAI in New York, than the typical commercial station of the time.

In particular, under the direction of Danny Schechter, “The News Dissector,” who got his start at the station, WBCN wove politically challenging news and public affairs into its music format, reporting live on the scene from pivotal events of the day.

Show Notes

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Podcast #240 – WFMU is Still On the Air During the Pandemic

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 22:57

Ken Freedman is the General Manager and the Program Director of WFMU, a free form community radio station in Jersey City, New Jersey that prides itself on it’s live, in studio sound from every one of it’s DJ’s. So this particular crisis, the Pandemic and the Lock Down, is a unique challenge.

“This disaster is so completely different from any disaster we’ve ever had before such as 9-11, or Hurricane Sandy,” Ken told us on this week’s episode. They are running the station with a small skeleton crew and for the first time ever, they are relying on a lot of rebroadcasts of archived shows. Although Ken is still requiring all of his DJ’s (many of whom do not yet have the gear at home to produce live radio) to participate in the live online chat forum that WFMU had already had built. It’s a compromise Ken is calling “half live.”

The crisis has also increased the radio’s online audience. “Our streaming traffic and online traffic has gone through the roof,” Ken said.

WFMU also has three online-only channels with about 50 volunteer DJ’s who have always been broadcasting live, from their own home studios. Now those remote DJ’s are the online experts who Ken Freedman plans to connect with his WFMU DJ’s that need a little help to learn the ropes of home broadcasting. All of this though, is something that Ken hopes is only temporary. Getting back to live, community radio where everyone uses the same studio and interacts inside the same building is an important part of WFMU’s culture.

This interview was recorded in the morning of April 2, 2020. Careful lovers of radio and sound will note the occasional whine of Ken Freedman’s puppy, who is a very good puppy.

Show Notes:
  • WFMU
  • The Call-in Comedy Show in which WFMU listeners get “tested” for the virus.

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Podcast #239 – Hunkering Down with Raven Radio in Sitka, Alaska

Mon, 03/30/2020 - 22:29

Raven Radio, KCAW-FM, serves Sitka and the remote communities of Southeast Alaska with public radio content, local news and volunteer-produced programming. Like “shelter in place” elsewhere in the lower 48, Sitka is on what they call a “hunker down” advisory. We talk with KCAW General Manager and friend of the show, Becky Meiers about how the station is balancing staff safety and vital public service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right now radio broadcasters are considered essential personnel, so they may travel to the station’s studios, but the advised 6-feet of social distance requires only two people can be on premises at any one time – one upstairs and one downstairs. That’s prompted some shifts in daytime programming when it’s important to have at least one news or operations person on hand at all times.

Because KCAW is often the only reliable information real-time information source for remote villages that have limited internet and landlines, Becky serves on the local emergency planning committee and coordinates closely with emergency personnel. At the same time, the station continues to provide music and cultural programming for that much needed break.

When news of the pandemic first hit, KCAW staff and management assembled a preparedness plan. Though there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sitka when we recorded on March 27, once a first case is confirmed, the station will move forward to the next phase of its plan. Learn what that plan is, and how KCAW engages with its community and listenership in this interview.

Show Notes:

However,

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Podcast #238 – Social Distancing, Going Remote and Automation during Global Pandemic

Tue, 03/24/2020 - 23:53

The University of Virgina’s WTJU now only permits one person in their studios at one time and has five remote locations ready to take over live broadcasting. That’s a couple of ways that community and college stations are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community radio WTJU General Manager Nathan Moore joins this week to explain how university campus-based stations are coping with the ever-changing situation. He is also the staff adviser to student-run LPFM WXTJ. He tells us how forging alliances with local businesses and groups has helped the station provide original programming and a unique community service during this challenging time.

WTJU is primarily a music station, but is able to weave important news and information into its regular programming, without breaking format. We discuss how while a full-on talk program isn’t suited to all listeners or all stations, that doesn’t mean a music station can’t be a vital community resource.

We also review audio listening data from the just-released 2020 Infinite Dial survey. Radio listening continues to change, while podcasting continues to grow. We reflect on what this means for community and college radio.

Show Notes:

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Radio Field Report: Legal Unlicensed LPFM in New Zealand

Tue, 03/24/2020 - 01:30

Catching a low-power FM radio station in the wild in New Zealand requires a bit of luck. Permitted to broadcast with up to one watt of power without a license, these stations have a bit more range – generally up to one kilometer radius (.6 miles) – than a legal unlicensed Part 15 station in the US, which might be heard up to a quarter-mile away. However, that’s still not a big footprint, even when compared to licensed LPFMs stateside, which may broadcast with as much as 100x as the NZ stations.

One factor working in the listener’s favor is that the country’s LPFMs are consigned to a set of frequencies bookending the FM dial: 86.7 to 88.3 mHz on the left end and 106.7 to 107.7 MHz on the right end. When I talked with Kristen Paterson, station manager of Wellington Access Radio and a co-founder of a university LPFM, she conjectured that the top end LPFM band was set aside as a kind of buffer between full-power broadcasts and the air traffic band situated just north of FM. 

Regardless of the reason why they’re relegated to the far-left and far-right ends of the FM dial, knowing this makes it a little easier to hunt for them. That said, during my time in the country in late January and early February, I could confirm reception of only two.

The first catch was in Browns Bay, in the East Coast Bays area of Auckland, the country’s largest city. I tuned in what I believe to be Great Tech Radio at 107.7 FM. I say “believe to be” because over the course of an hour or so I never heard a legal ID. I did hear an assortment of oldies, from Diana Ross and the Supremes to the Bee Gees, along with a 60s comedy record, accompanied by back announcing and weather forecasts. Those forecasts included days prior and after my listening time, leading me to believe the station was automated and the forecasts weren’t the freshest. 

I identified Great Tech based upon several online LPFM directories, though I won’t hold to that ID if challenged. Given that they’re unlicensed and don’t require much investment to put on the air, New Zealand’s LPFMs are quite transitory, and I found rather few that maintain a regular web presence. 

My second catch was in the resort city of Queenstown, located in the southwest part of the South Island. It’s a beautiful setting along the shore of Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by mountains.

Drop FM came in loud and clear for me on 87.7 FM. I first heard 90s vintage drum ’n bass music, which I learned is a staple for the station when I googled it. The station stands out from other New Zealand LPFMs by having a very consistent web presence, along with an internet stream. In fact it has two other frequencies in Wanaka, north of Queenstown, and the suburb of Frankton. 

Drop FM broadcasts live from dance clubs in Queenstown on a regular basis – though, understandably, corona virus seems to have put those events on hold. While drum n’ bass and related electronic genres seem to be the station’s bedrock, I also enjoyed a long set of eclectic R&B one evening as I was packing up to leave for my next stop.

I last stayed in Wellington, the country’s capital. I’m sad to report I was unable to confirm reception of any LPFMs over the course of several evenings. Perhaps the city’s hilly geography – it resembles San Francisco in that way – worked against me. Or maybe there just weren’t any active stations in a one kilometer radius from my Air BnB. 

I remain fascinated by this broadcast service, since, to the best of my knowledge, New Zealand has the highest power allowed for legal unlicensed broadcasting anywhere in the world. Setting aside a set number of frequencies seems to be an effective way of allowing more voices on the air at a very low cost, while also giving an outlet to broadcasters who might otherwise go “pirate.” This was my second visit to New Zealand, and I do intend to visit again. When I do, I’m tempted to bring a small transmitter to set up my own temporary LPFM.

I still can’t help but think that such a service in the US could help stem the tide of unlicensed broadcasters in the urban areas of Boston, New York, New Jersey and South Florida, while also providing an opportunity for communities and groups that weren’t able to get on the air during the last LPFM licensing window in 2013. Though the FM dial is pretty well full in most metropolitan areas, I suggest that the band could be extended a little to the left, to encompass frequencies mostly vacated by former analog channel 6 TV stations. 

Of course, this proximity to the FM dial has long been exploited by the handful of analog low-power TV stations still broadcasting on channel 6, which by and large now primarily operate as radio stations at 87.7 FM rather than TV stations, often known as FrankenFMs. The FCC is currently deciding the fate of those stations, since all TV is really supposed to be digital, and their transition deadline has been pushed repeatedly over the last five years. I propose that if channel 6 low-power TV stations are allowed to stay analog, keeping their near-FM broadcast signal, then that extra little bit of dial space should be given over to unlicensed LPFM everywhere else, where there isn’t an existing channel 6. Keep the limit to 1 watt, and maybe let them have 87.9 FM, too. I can see little harm, and much benefit. 

However, reality is that even that little bit of uncommercialized real estate is unlikely to be tolerated by the National Association of Broadcasters, nor National Public Radio, whom I expect would lobby heartily against such a radical notion. 

Still, I can dream… until my next trip to New Zealand.

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Walter Benjamin’s impossible radio visit to a brass factory

Sun, 03/22/2020 - 14:30

In July of 1930 Walter Benjamin broadcast a radio program titled “A Visit to the Brass Works.” The talk, given at Radio Berlin, focused on the impossibility of the task he had assigned himself: adequately describing the Hirsch-Kupfer Brass Works of Germany to his audience.

Who, Benjamin worried out loud, would want to listen to such a monologue? To any listener who had not already turned off his radio, “give me just a few minutes more,” he begged.

But what they heard for about 20 minutes were Benjamin’s doubts that he could pull this performance off.

“The writer or poet has yet to be born,” he confessed, “who is capable of describing a three-high rolling mill or a rolling shear or an extrusion press or a high performance cold rolling mill so that others can imagine them.”

And as difficult as it was to describe these machines from the outside, how could Benjamin explain them from the inside? He could list the raw materials going into the technology, he noted. He could describe the finished products coming out as well. “But you would not see how it was done, and what with the deafening racket of the machines at work, the rolling cranes, the dropping of loads, no one could explain it to you either.”

Then there were all the other questions he could not address for long. “What is brass?” he impatiently asked his listeners. Where did the power come from to fuel the plant’s operations? Who exactly works at the Brass Works? What is its history? To all these questions Benjamin offered detailed answers, all the while apologizing to his listeners for not doing better.

But even if they visited the plant themselves, he warned, they might not even be able to figure the place out. Especially if they had not gotten a good night’s sleep beforehand:

“That is necessary because otherwise you would stumble over the tracks and workpieces that cover the floor of the hall; you would have no eye for the work and instead would constantly look up in case one of the ton blocks, which are being swung through the air by cranes, was about to fall on your head; you would see only an impenetrable linkage, a network that seems to flicker, and not the clear, sharp division of the hall, where every worker has his specific place and every machine has, in a way, its own small office, from which the manager, with his eye on the automatic electricity, pressure, and temperature gauges, directs it.”

Thus did Benjamin’s fans receive an intimate, detailed portrait of the Hirsch-Kupfer works, the painter all the while insisting on the inadequacy of his canvas.

This is the fifth installation of my Walter Benjamin radio diary.

The post Walter Benjamin’s impossible radio visit to a brass factory appeared first on Radio Survivor.

College Radio Watch: College Radio’s Virtual Meet-up, Creative Responses to Social Distancing and More News

Fri, 03/20/2020 - 15:55

On Thursday, March 19, more than 100 college radio participants and friends gathered virtually for a video meeting: “College Radio and Coronavirus: A National Zoom Meeting.”

Organized by the College Radio Foundation, with assistance from College Broadcasters Inc. (CBI), the one-hour session was a forum for college radio stations seeking advice amid campus closures. College Radio Day Founder Rob Quicke opened the meeting with an official statement (later shared on Radio World), pointing out the important role that college radio can play during a crisis. Quicke says in part,

So, I believe that during this time, college radio stations do not need to disappear. There are things that can be done, even when students are not on campus. There is even a possibility that college radio stations could play an important role in providing information to the campus community and the local communities in which they reside and serve. Even with the transmitters shut down, college radio stations, and those that operate them (faculty, staff, students and community volunteers) can still create community and content that can be shared with a wider audience.

College radio can also continue to serve as an important outlet for student expression and creativity, it’s just that we perhaps need to use different tools to do so. There is no reason why college radio needs to be silent during this time. We just need to adapt to these current circumstances and work together to ensure that the medium continues its important work of providing voices not heard anywhere else, and music and programming that no one else will play on the air. Yes, this is a challenging time, but now, more than ever, college radio is up to the task.

This statement, and Thursday’s call in general, provided calm reassurance in the midst of a week that saw more college radio stations ceasing broadcasts due to campus closures. I was very pleased to hear pragmatic advice during the meeting, from FCC concerns to logistics surrounding remote broadcasts. But perhaps more importantly, I was happy to hear creative ideas to help college radio stations and college radio participants remain engaged even if away from a station physically.

Neumann University’s WNUW-FM in Aston, Pennsylvania has been asking its participants to send in pre-recorded content remotely in order to liven up the airsound. Additionally, the station has aired question and answer sessions with administrators related to changes on campus amid COVID-19. At University of Kentucky’s WRFL-FM in Lexington, they’ve been experimenting with broadcasting live performances from artists’ homes. If you know of other interesting approaches to programming, drop me a note.

More College Radio News Coronavirus Programming Art Culture Alumni

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College Radio Watch: More Stations Move to Automated Programming During Coronavirus Outbreak

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 15:10

On this week’s Radio Survivor show/podcast we take a close look at how community and college radio stations are adjusting to the ever-changing conditions of broadcasting during the coronavirus pandemic. The episode was recorded on March 13, 2020 as some campuses were just at the start of closures.

San Francisco Bay Area Shelter in Place and College Radio

And now, as of midnight on March 17, most counties in the San Francisco Bay Area have ordered residents to “shelter in place” until at least April 7. Only “essential” activities are allowed, which includes media and radio. In response, several college radio stations in the Bay Area are now running automated programming. Stanford University’s college radio station KZSU (see my 2009 tour report) has suspended live DJ shows, playing automated programming instead. A March 16 Twitter post from KZSU’s management expresses hope that this will expand to include “remote broadcasting, including podcasts and other content soon.”

Similarly, college radio station KALX at University of California, Berkeley is running curated automated programming as of March 17, writing, “Due to the evolving situation with COVID-19, the Bay Area’s shelter in place ordinance going into effect March 17, 2020, and the UC Berkeley statement, KALX programming will be fully automated for the next three weeks. We at KALX cherish our listeners and we are sad to make this announcement, but it is what we must do at this time. Please be assured we will still be providing curated, diverse programming created by humans.”

While Foothill College radio station KFJC in Los Altos Hills (where I DJ and volunteer) continues to have live DJs doing programming from the studio, it is beginning to air pre-recorded shows here and there as of the night of March 17. Normally, the student and volunteer-run college radio station has live DJs 24/7, 365 days a year.

College Radio Stations Evolve Plans for Broadcasts

On March 13, I shared how some college radio stations had responded to campus closures and things have also changed considerably since then. Pitchfork reported on the status of some of the same collection of college radio stations on March 16.

As of this morning (Wednesday, March 18), even some of the live radio stalwarts have announced that they will be airing automation or pre-recorded shows. Drexel University’s WKDU in Philadelphia (see my tour) announced today that everyone there will be “working from home” to “focus on social distancing and keeping our DJs safe.” The station’s “robot-DJ system” will be utilized. I was pleased to see that WKDU is also working to stay engaged with listeners. Its post added, “…we will be launching loads of alternative content on our website, blog, social media and youtube channel! Look out for playlists, album reviews, instruction videos, interviews, and more.”

Similarly, Loyola Marymount University’s college radio station KXLU (see my tour) “will be switching to automated programming from March 18-April 1st,” per its statement on Instagram. The Los Angeles-based station will run “multi-genre playlists, new adds, KXLU live compilations, and previously-aired KXLU programming.”

Sadly, some college radio stations are shutting down completely, unable to produce programming remotely.

It’s a tough situation for many stations who pride themselves on airing live programming 24/7, but as restrictions from campuses, local/state/national authorities intensify, some are left with few options other than operating without live shows. WPIR Pratt Radio, the internet radio station at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, posted on Instagram last night, “we are closing the station until further notice, due to our inability to broadcast remotely, we are unable to continue with regularly scheduled programming, we hope to be back soon…”

College Radio Stations Share Tips for Broadcasting amid COVID-19

In order to help provide guidance for college radio stations who are scrambling to remain on-air during the COVID-19 outbreak, College Radio Foundation will be hosting a Zoom meeting, “College Radio and Coronavirus” on Thursday, March 19 at 2pm Eastern Time. According to its announcement, “This meeting will discuss ideas and strategies for college radio stations during this time, and is open to all college radio stations in the USA…Those joining the conference call will be invited to ask questions and share ideas and strategies of their own. If possible, questions are invited in advance…” Speakers will include members of the College Radio Foundation leadership as well as broadcast attorney David Oxenford.

Additionally, various organizations are compiling resources for radio stations. Here’s a sampling:

With radio continuing in some way, shape or forms, charting services are still taking playlist reports from college and community radio. North American College and Community Radio Charts (NACC) shared with its subscribers today, “…please feel free to encourage stations to continue to report weekly and to help us all band together to let the world know how important college and community radio and music continues to be, especially in times like these.”

More News College Radio and Coronavirus Profiles of Stations and Staff College Radio History Music Culture Alumni Awards and Accolades

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Podcast #237 – How Community & College Radio Can Deal with COVID-19

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 00:42

Community and college radio stations are unique in broadcasting because in addition to being important community services, many are also a community crossroads, hosting dozens or hundreds of people in their studios and spaces in any given week. That means the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic poses a specific challenge for these broadcasters.

KPFA’s “UpFront” co-host Brian Edwards-Tiekert and National Federation of Community Broadcasters program director Ernesto Aguilar join to help us understand how college and community stations should deal with the pandemic on and off the air. As a community journalist, Brian has been on the front lines of helping Bay Area listeners get the best information and advice. He has recommendations for how stations should address critical information, and misinformation, on air, and how they can frame issues for vital community discussion.

Ernesto observes that the pandemic is a “learning opportunity” for stations to be sure they have an emergency response plan that keeps them on air, even if functioning with just one staff, volunteer or engineer. Having automation can be one important tool, causing him to warn that the current situation is a “wake up call” for stations that have resisted the technology as a “badge of honor.”

We also review feedback from listeners and readers who let us know how the stations where they work and volunteer are managing the pandemic.

Show Notes:

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Podcast #236 – FCC and the Supremes

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 00:23

FCC policy has left media ownership diversity at “obnoxiously low levels,” especially considering that more minority and women ownership is one of the desired objectives. That’s what Prof. Chris Terry from the University of Minnesota tells us on this week’s show.

The Commission may be headed to the Supreme Court to defend its diversity policy, along with other attempts at ownership rules, after striking out at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals an astonishing four times in 2004, 2011, 2016 and 2019. We’ve been discussing these failures for quite some time on the podcast and Chris helps us understand what the Commission might expect from the Supreme Court.

The FCC’s repeal of Open Internet rules may also land at the Superme Court, as the group challenging that repeal, lead by the Mozilla Foundation, considers a high court appeal.

After the heavy FCC discussion, Jennifer, Eric and Paul lighten things up with a consideration of the first-ever International Minidisc Day, celebrated on March 7.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #236 – FCC and the Supremes appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Podcast #236 – FCC and the Supremes

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 00:23

FCC policy has left media ownership diversity at “obnoxiously low levels,” especially considering that more minority and women ownership is one of the desired objectives. That’s what Prof. Chris Terry from the University of Minnesota tells us on this week’s show.

The Commission may be headed to the Supreme Court to defend its diversity policy, along with other attempts at ownership rules, after striking out at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals an astonishing four times in 2004, 2011, 2016 and 2019. We’ve been discussing these failures for quite some time on the podcast and Chris helps us understand what the Commission might expect from the Supreme Court.

The FCC’s repeal of Open Internet rules may also land at the Superme Court, as the group challenging that repeal, lead by the Mozilla Foundation, considers a high court appeal.

After the heavy FCC discussion, Jennifer, Eric and Paul lighten things up with a consideration of the first-ever International Minidisc Day, celebrated on March 7.

Show Notes:

The post Podcast #236 – FCC and the Supremes appeared first on Radio Survivor.

Happy International Minidisc Day – A Post-Modern Revival

Sat, 03/07/2020 - 22:22

As we enter our second decade of everything-digital-on-demand, the desire for tactile media only seems to grow new buds. By now the vinyl resurgence is old news, and while mainstream publications still gasp or tsk-tsk at the cassette revival, I think we can safely say the tape medium has retaken a beachhead, too.

Today is all about the minidisc. Quite literally, because it’s been declared International Minidisc Day.

Yet, even I, a longtime minidisc user and aficionado, find this new holiday a bit curious. Before I explain, a little history is in order.

Long a format of choice for grassroots and independent radio production, the humble minidisc bridged us from the end of tape days in the early 90s to the full maturation of solid-state digital audio recorders in the mid- to late-2000s. Sony, the format’s originator, imagined the little digital discs as an eventual replacement for the compact cassette. In 1992 this was a plausible proposition, because it offered near-CD quality digital recording in a smaller and more robust package. Sony – and a few other labels – even released several dozen pre-recorded minidiscs to provide an alternative to pre-recorded cassettes, already in steep decline.

But in the days before CD-Rs and iPods it was minidisc’s digital recording capability that was the real attraction. Due to that, MD did become a cassette replacement for millions of people around the world who recorded their own mix minidiscs or just dubbed over their CDs for more convenient listening on the go.

Even In its heyday of the 90s and 2000s minidisc never really took off as a medium for distributing music. I knew plenty of musicians and radio producers recording on the format, but the end products ended up on the radio, on CDs and eventually online.

This might seem odd, since independent musicians and labels distributed on cassettes from the 70s through to today, and once CD-Rs came down in price in the late 90s, they, too, spawned their own music underground. But not minidisc… at least not in the United States.

It’s true minidisc was never as popular in the U.S. as in Japan or the U.K., even though millions of recorders and players were sold here. It’s just that they never reached the kind of per capita penetration of cassettes, CDs or even 8-tracks. It seems to me that running a minidisc-only label even 2003 would have been just too limiting, though I don’t doubt that there must have been some limited or one-off releases.

Coming back to today, Minidisc Day, the funny thing is that the celebration is modeled after Record Store Day, in that record labels are releasing albums on minidisc today. However, unlike Record Store Day, there are no actual brick-and-mortar retail stores participating, as far as I can tell. Instead, small independent labels are selling tiny runs of discs from their Bandcamp or web stores. Quantities seem to run in the tens up to maybe 100 per.

It’s funny because it’s actually kind of a new thing to have a minidisc label, rather than a revival. The labels and releases appear to be dominated by the vaporwave genre, which is itself an extremely post-modern reinterpretation of 1980s and 1990s music, culture and cliches through contemporary musical technology. Clearly there’s a strong harmony between the medium and the message that would make McLuhan smile.

Those 1990s pre-recorded minidisc releases were actually pressed like CDs in factories. All evidence indicates those pressing plants have been offline for nearly two decades. That means today’s minidisc releases have to be recorded onto blank discs, more like cassettes than CDs. Also like cassettes, this is something that an artist or label can do entirely themselves, or can outsource to a few companies that mass produce minidiscs. The advantage of the duplicators is that most will silk-screen art on the disc housing and print up professional looking cases. Those preferring the DIY look can of course just fire up their recorder and inkjet printer.

The International Minidisc Day labels and artists come largely from the UK, where most of those duplication houses also are. As I mentioned before, on a per capita basis minidisc was more popular there than in the U.S. Thus I suspect it has more cultural pull and the nostalgia is more prevalent than across the pond.

Although my minidisc players don’t get much use these days, except to archive old recordings, the whole enterprise of Minidisc Day makes me smile. I’m guessing that a lot of the artists and participants may not even have been alive when minidisc was invented, or even when it was popular(ish). That matters not to me. The point is to have fun and make things. By that score, mission accomplished.

That said, I don’t anticipate Minidisc Day to become even as popular as Cassette Store Day. There were never as many minidisc players as cassette players, and because they haven’t been manufactured in nine years, the number of working units will be in constant decline. Even though decent cassette decks also haven’t been manufactured in at least as long, you can still go to a local discount store or Urban Outfitters and pick up a player.

But I don’t think scale matters for this project. It’s a marriage of early-internet, home to minidisc fan sites, and contemporary internet, which takes for granted the rapid emergence of international memes-turned-movements. Not everything has to, or should scale. God knows that’s the story of most of my hobbies and passions.

¡Viva la minidisc!

The post Happy International Minidisc Day – A Post-Modern Revival appeared first on Radio Survivor.

College Radio Watch: 80th IBS Convention and More News

Fri, 03/06/2020 - 05:00

It’s a testament to the staying power of college radio, that student media organization Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, aka IBS, is hosting its 80th annual national convention in New York City. Taking place on Friday, March 6 and Saturday, March 7, the conference is packed with sessions of interest to high school and college radio participants. On this week’s Radio Survivor show, I speak a bit about the history of IBS, which got its start as an organization for campus-only carrier current radio stations in the 1940s.

Also on the podcast, we discuss accolades for a recent episode about a college radio preservation project and dig deeper into several college radio stories that I shared in last week’s column.

Finally, a piece in University of Virginia’s alumni magazine, Virginia, eloquently captures how college radio culture at WTJU (see my tour) helped germinate a cluster of indie rock projects, including Pavement and Silver Jews:

While some music scenes develop around a certain club or, in more recent decades, message boards and social media, WTJU 91.1, UVA’s free-form radio station, was the soil from which Ectoslavia and its offshoots sprouted. Malkmus, Berman, Nastanovich and McNew were all DJs during their time at UVA, as was visual artist Steve Keene (whose paintings would go on to help define the style of Pavement and Silver Jews) and Thomas Frank (Col ’87), a future founding editor of The Baffler, where some of Berman’s earliest poems would be published. ‘We took it for granted at the time,’ Malkmus says, ‘but it’s funny to see now how all the tendrils of the station have reached all of these unexpected places.’

WTJU alumnus Steve Keene is of particular interest to me, as I’ve spotted his paintings at a handful of radio stations. While not as common a sight as a Leo Blais sign, I get a thrill whenever I run across one of his pieces.

More College Radio News Profiles of Stations, Programs, Staff Infrastructure Events College Radio and Music Culture
Alumni

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