Craft & Design Music
Make your own radio programming

CollegeRadio.jpg
[Photo from MetroMode]

Michael Jackson’s death caused radio’s roboprogrammers to take a back seat for a while. Increasingly, over the past few decades, broadcast radio has ceased to be a local affair. As the FCC regulations on local ownership of media outlets has faded towards corporate behemoths, radio programming more and more these days is done by databases and distant decision makers. For those of us who remember real radio dj’s who made personal decisions about what song would come next, this has driven us more towards our own music collection, rather than being stuck listening to the corporate drivel. Pandora and Last.fm are okay, but they lack the personal touch.

With Michael Jackson’s death announcement, the clacker driven music machine was taken off line, if only for a few hours and only on a few stations. Human beings again ruled the airwaves of some radio stations.

“It’s a good reminder of what live radio can do, of the role that radio can play in bringing a community together,” said Scott Fybush, editor of Northeast Radio Watch in Rochester, N.Y.

Many stations no longer have live announcers, using canned voices for part or all of the day, and so can’t react to a major news event, he said.

DJ Deirdre Dagata, 39, has been working at Mix 98.5 part time since May, after being replaced at Kiss 108 by recorded programming the month before. And yesterday, she was back in action for the biggest radio day in memory.

Dagata was in constant motion during her 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift. Sitting in an elevated office chair in front of four computer screens, she punched blinking phone lines, tapped on keys, and slid knobs – simultaneously editing recorded calls and fielding a steady stream of new ones from listeners who wanted to share stories about Jackson.

Back in the day, I recall listening to the radio knowing something unique was happening. The radio announcers had their own tastes in music, and they helped to create a following around their musical tastes. Sometimes there was dead air as the dj missed the cue for a variety of human reasons, some more innocent than others. This caused me to volunteer at and work at several radio stations in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I actually chose my university because I liked the on air feel of the campus radio station, which turned out to be a very influential organization for me. At the station, I did on-air work, production of public service announcements, newscasts, dj training, and eventually became Program Director. The audience’s active listenership of the music and programming was exciting to be involved with.

Back then, radio was a public service to be provided to the community, not just a marketing opportunity. Almost radio programming was done with people at the microphones, nearly always they were playing actual records, tapes or cds. Even the commercials were created in-house, except those for national campaigns.

Do you miss real radio? There are a bunch of college radio stations around, and most of them depend on the student body and sometimes local community members to create their programming. With web streaming, it is possible to listen way beyond the broadcast range of your favorite station. WERS in Boston plays a good mix curated by communications students. KEXP in Seattle has a wonderful mix of live performances and genuine djs choosing the music they play. Transom and Youth Radio are helping to cultivate the new voices of radio that we need. Public Radio Exchange has a channel on XM radio, and features a mix of voices that you may not have heard before.

With podcasting and the great suite of computer software and hardware available for free, just about everybody has the radio recording studio in their laptop, desktop, cellphone and digital camera that I had in my bedroom as a high school kid. If you want to broadcast, you may want to build your own transmitter. Sending out your homebrew radio programming out to your house or close neighbors could be a neat experience. You could record some short pieces like songs, jokes, or seque buffers, drop them into your music library and set your music player loose, sending your personalized radio program out to the transmitter.

Radio used to be a LOT of fun as a listener and programmer. Now the tools are much easier to get and use for us regular folks. Hopefully, the corporations will lighten up on their centralized programming and return to the human touch of radio, but even if they don’t we can realize that we can choose what radio we listen to or create. If you have any stories of making your own or listening to real radio, pirate or otherwise, tell us in the comments.

18 thoughts on “Make your own radio programming

  1. one of the great things about radio stations streaming online is that some of these great independent radio voices are available everywhere.

    KNHC, a radio station run out of a Seattle high school, is one of the best dance stations out there.

    1. Can’t agree more. Down here in Southern California, I listen to KCRW, a college radio station that’s 50/50 real DJs spinning tunes/News.

      But growing up a few miles south of Seattle, my fondest discovery was KNHC. Until I found that station, I didn’t really even know what that kind of music was. Never really heard any of it before. It got me interested in music and in radio. I’m now a licensed amateur radio operator, and an amateur connoisseur of music :)

    2. At my school in the late 1970s (Colchester Royal Grammar School, a UK secondary school teaching boys aged 11-18), we built our own radio station for the 6th Form rooms. It was made out out donated scrap equipment, old school furniture and a lot of enthusiasm. We played music and occasionally news, during break times. Photo here: http://www.gifford.co.uk/~coredump/rlb.htm

  2. It sucks. This happens to be the town Axl Rose grew up in, thus the suits in la-la land think everybody’s a metalhead who’s stuck in 1987.
    Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, John Mellencamp, that’s about it.

    At least they throw in some more obscure stuff and there’s different genres on the XM once-a-while

  3. Yea I agree that the state of radio is rather sad these days. But their still is hope out there. One of my favorite streaming local stations is http://www.radiofreephoenix.com local listeners can even get a chance to creat their own 15 song program which then get broadcast Saturday and Sunday. The program is appropriately titled “Radio Freedom”

  4. My best times in college were DJing for KNWD at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La. Midnight and 6 a.m. shifts, brutal but so much fun.

    The saddest day of my college life was my last day at KNWD, watching them install a robo and eliminating student DJ slots, to better align students with the “real world.”

  5. This post brings back some great memories of being a DJ for KNTU-FM, North Texas State U (now U of North Texas). The station is all Jazz now, and the market is better for it. Students still run the board there, although last time I visited, it was an all ‘glass’ board.

    In the late 70’s we had two turntables, two carts and a mixer board. You needed a 3rd class FCC license to turn on and off the transmitter and log the power.

    I highly recommend building and playing with Part 15 transmitters, both AM and FM. Lots of fun building. I get tired of ‘phones and play my iPod via FM (stereo) or sometimes AM over my antique Hallicrafters and Zenith receivers.

    Try these:

    AM Transmitter, 2 Tubes:
    http://km5z.us/2-Tube-AM-Broadcaster.php

    or, an FM Stereo model using SparkFun’s amazing FM IC and breakout board (and an Arduino):
    http://km5z.us/FM-Stereo-Broadcaster.php

    Instead of Pirate Radio, I think it’s more Private, or Personal Radio…

  6. Local, independent, nonprofit, noncommercial, listener-supported, volunteer radio is alive, well and webcasting at WEVL Memphis http://www.wevl.org. Volunteer DJs program their own music, with shows ranging from ambient to zydeco, and everything in between, including a healthy dose of Memphis blues, R&B, soul, rockabilly and good old rock and roll. Check it out.

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