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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Don’t tune out student radio

    Pop Wiggins, a musician on the 1940s radio show “”Sun Valley Barn Dance,”” once famously quipped, “”Says here that radio’s gonna take the place of newspapers. I doubt it. Y’can’t swat a fly with a radio.””

    While Wiggins may be alone in his view on the usefulness of the radio, he is certainly not alone in his ambivalence toward the crackling airwaves. Many Wildcats overlook one of the best student-run radio stations in the state: KAMP Student Radio. Unless students tune in and recognize the value KAMP adds to campus, this month the radio station may shut off its transmitters forever.

    In the March 11-12 student government elections, the $1 student fee supporting KAMP radio will be up for referendum, meaning if students don’t turn out to vote for the continuation of the fee, KAMP will likely be forced to close shop. For $1 a head, KAMP is not just a valuable student resource, but also an integral part of college culture.

    KAMP is one of the best opportunities at the UA to get involved with mass media. During KAMP’s 20 years of broadcasting, thousands of disc jockeys have graced the microphone, and dozens have continued on to professional careers. But KAMP offers more than just broadcasting opportunities to the public. This semester there are more than 50 student-run radio programs, ranging from hip-hop to sports talk to electronica. Students can tune in to 1570 AM, listen online or hear KAMP on UATV-3 and channel 20.

    But KAMP plays a larger role than that of an AM broadcaster. KAMP has partnered with the University Activities Board to co-sponsor campuswide events, such as Battle of the Bands and free concerts on the UA Mall. Radio voices hire out as mobile DJs and provide free public service announcements for all clubs on campus, a service Karl Goranowski, general manager for KAMP, said is surprisingly underutilized.

    But despite the variety of shows offered and efforts to reach out to students, the vast majority of students on campus don’t take advantage of the free entertainment.

    The number of ears listening to KAMP at any given time is difficult to measure, but the number of online listeners tends to fluctuate between the single digits and the dozens. But don’t let numbers fool you. KAMP’s difficulties being heard by college students reflect the reality of changing consumer demands – iPods, CD players, Internet-streamed radio and TV have supplanted the old-fashioned radio as primary sources of entertainment.

    Before the days of digital downloads, though, the radio was the linchpin of the national music industry. Radio enabled songs to be heard simultaneously all over the country, creating national pop hits and a distinctly American teeny-bopper culture.

    While radio may have become famous for the music, today the value added lies in the personality behind the soundboard.

    Where else can you get news from someone named DJ Sassy Pants? Where else can you hear guffawing banter between college humorists on a program with the adorable name “”Belching Spunk””? Student radio provides us a reminder that there is still humanity in the music industry; beyond the labels and the promoters, there is still the audience.

    Unlike mechanical Internet logarithms like Pandora internet radio, DJs are fellow fans who can guide listeners to new bands or genres. College students too often think of music as a completely receptive process. But if there is one lesson that should be remembered from the era of psychedelia, it is that listeners are as much the participants in the musical process as musicians.

    In this way, KAMP offers culture junkies a means to share their passion with the public. While I may never find great joy in obsessing over the minutest details of Icecats strategy, it is still nice to know someone out there can. Whether it’s Jethro Tull on the mall or R.E.M. on the airwaves, KAMP taps college students into a musical scene beyond the canned singles offered by corporate radio stations. KAMP connects the average college student with the passionate participants of culture. That is what Steve Allen, original host of the Tonight Show, was likely referring to when he said, “”Radio is the theatre of the mind””; it is through the personality of the DJ that we are challenged to expand our tastes.

    In many ways, the struggles of KAMP to stay on the airwaves parallel the tumultuous changes in the media industry over the last two decades. When, in the mid 1990s, KAMP was forced to shut down its large transmitters by the FCC, large conglomerates began simultaneously buying up radio frequencies across the country. Radio stations became increasingly corporate; playlists dictated more by profitability and fad-value than artistic worth. But KAMP retains its personality and quirky character through a bottom-up approach to broadcasting. KAMP radio is a free-format station, meaning DJs are given the artistic liberty to play, say and spin anything that strikes their fancy, short of N.W.A.

    The day rock ‘n’ roll died is the day that listeners stopped demanding innovation from their artists. The day the radio will die is the day listeners stop demanding personality behind their music. The day KAMP will die is March 12 – unless you get out and vote to preserve student radio. Subsidizing culture is always a worthwhile investment, even if you can’t swat a fly with it.

    Matt Rolland is a junior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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