Edit desk: Spotify killed the radio star

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I stumbled upon Lehigh’s radio station, 91.3 FM WLVR, by chance. I was wandering around the club fair my freshman year, playing the ages-old game called “How much free stuff can I manage to snag?”

Max Rosenbaum

Max Rosenbaum

The DJs of the fair were playing music I loved that I was unaware other people listened to. I was so pleasantly surprised, so I had to compliment the guys playing the tunes. After likely making a total fool of myself, the guy running the stand told me that I should sign up for the radio station.

The extent of my college radio knowledge stemmed from watching “Pitch Perfect,” so I figured I would get a job sifting through records, or something to that degree. The idea of being an actual, on-air DJ never crossed my mind. Until that exchange, I wasn’t aware that real colleges had radio stations.

A year later, I not only have my own rock/alternative based radio show, but I am also one of the music directors of the station. I’ve since realized there is so much more that goes into operating and running a radio show than a casual listener would think. There are so many words and phrases you can and cannot say, and the Federal Communications Commission always seems to be waiting to fine you. Just for slipping a curse word on air, you could be fined thousands of dollars.

For those reasons — and likely dozens more— freeform radio has become a thing of the past. Freeform is type of radio program where the DJ is allowed to choose what songs to play with no restrictions on genre or the station’s business interests.While freeform radio was popular in the 60’s and 70’s, it is only really used online and on college radio nowadays. However, even less college radio stations are taking advantage of the freeform format in the hopes to become a more commercial station. Being a DJ on WLVR has given me a special appreciation for not just freeform radio, but for the art of radio in general.

By the time I got my first car, a few year back, I had just about dismissed the platform. My dad requested from the Jeep dealer that I get the newest radio package, but I figured that I would only use the Bluetooth capabilities to hook up my iPhone with Spotify. Back then, my limited scope of radio consisted of watered-down pop stations like New York’s Z100 and 92.3. I had no interest in listening to the same six songs on loop, so I preferred using Spotify to dictate the type of music I wanted to listen to.

However, at some point in the first year of having my car, I began to exploit the music discovery possibilities provided by Sirius XM radio. I fell in love with channels such as The Spectrum, Sirius XMU, Faction and many others that have introduced me to countless bands and songs that I hadn’t heard before. Those stations have more of a freeform feel to them and are a breath of fresh air from the typical commercial station approach to radio.

Much of my generation turns to the Internet to discover music. With services such as Pandora and Spotify, unlimited music is at your disposal. The sites have managed to use algorithms to produce radio-esque playlists that revolve around a certain artist or song of your choosing. However, my biggest problem with, say, Spotify Radio is that it seems only to choose a few of the band’s most popular songs to play.

To test that, I tuned into the Spotify radio playlist for the band Tame Impala. First, the station played Feels Like We Only Go Backwards, which has over 26 million listens — their most popular song. Next, Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear, Time to Pretend by MGMT, Sparks by Beach House and so on. While all of these songs are great, I knew all of them already. I’m sure Spotify radio does introduce many people to a fair amount of new music, but it isn’t deep enough method of discovery.

In listening to other WLVR student DJ’s shows, I learned about dozens of new artists that have climbed the ranks of my all-time favorite groups. I would stress to everyone, not just Lehigh students, to give their local college radio station a chance. You never know what gems you could stumble upon.

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3 Comments

  1. I was thinking of WLVR from my days when it started.. They had Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” on SXM 27 yesterday afternoon and I hadn’t listened to it in a long time. One memory of it was it being used by DJ’s at WLVR as a way to run out and get a snack since it ran for 20 minutes.

  2. WXJM Harriosnburg is fantastic. My daughter goes to school at James Madison and I’m always depressed when I’m out of range of the station.

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