The importance of college radio shows

The radio might seem quaint, something only old people in Waterville listen to. Rightfully so – most people these days listen to music online with programs like Spotify and Apple Music, making the radio seems like an outdated place to look for new music.

Still, college radio has uses beyond just music. College radio is the ideal local broadcasting because it has freeform programming that is completely community organized and united to market-based obligation.

I saw a post in the announcements almost a year ago asking students to take up two hour slots for their own radio show at WMHB, the Colby radio station. At the time, I didn’t even know Colby had a radio station, but on impulse signed up and messaged two fellow unapologetically brown women, Garima and Mansi, to tell them we now had a show on which we could play the Indian music we get together and listen to anyway. The show—we named it Barsaat Radio—turned into one of the most rewarding activities I put my time into at Colby.

The radio show is a source of invaluable experience and technical skills. Debra Spark, a Colby creative writing professor, teaches a course on telling stories with sound in which students make their own podcasts. Spark commented, “I think everyone should have these technical skills,” going on to say that there are not enough classes that incorporate new technology in traditional disciplines. The course is not offered every year, but participating in the radio allows students to learn how to broadcast, how to talk on air, and how to program for a show. When we leave Colby, these skills become significantly harder to acquire, which is why more people should take advantage of the open resources they have right now.

The radio is also a place for friendships and personal growth. New Yorker music critic Alex Ross says that he owes his whole career to the experience he had in college radio, “The friendships themselves and the musical discoveries that came along—it’s just the best thing that happened to me in college.” Similarly, when I was interviewing Spark, she discussed her son’s involvement in the radio at his college, and said that it was such a rewarding experience for him in particular because he got to surround himself with other like-minded students. Along with forming friendships and making memories, you can also record your podcasts and keep them as a token of college time. College is a time of a personal growth, and obviously this does not happen entirely in classes. Even Professor Gilkes called her show, The Uncloudy Day, her “mid-week mental health moment”.

Very importantly, the radio is a place to share experiences. Because music by itself can be found anywhere, the radio needs you to share experiences and narratives through sound—something you can only get on air. Sabaah Folayan, co-director of the film Whose Streets? visited campus earlier this semester and commented on the radio, saying, “I think it’s really really critical in a place that is so homogenous like this, to have these opportunities to expand our thinking and try to sympathize if we can’t empathize.” She emphasized sharing stories about ourselves, especially for minority groups, saying, “It’s important for their experiences to be represented as well, because it can be very isolating when no one around you shares your experience.” She went on to say, “I really want students of color on campus not to feel alone because I know this is not a diverse state or school [and] I think the radio is critical because it is an easy way to connect with people.”

In line with this, the radio is also a place for social change and activism. This is perhaps best represented in a popular media portrayal of college radio in the hit TV series Dear White People. The show is set in the fictive, predominantly white Ivy League college of Winchester University and follows a group of racially diverse students trying to navigate many forms of discrimination. The show’s main character, Samantha White, is a student activist who hosts a show on the college radio called Dear White People, in which she regularly outlines the injustices she faces and calls students to action.

Finally, the radio is a place where students can be creative. Colby does not give its students enough venues to be creative. We can very easily get caught up in only doing class work and engaging in club activities that do not push us to explore new ways to express ourselves. In this case, it’s up to us to take up these limited spaces where creativity is applauded and cultivated and make them our own.

Even Barack Obama commented on the value of college radio, “By empowering students to add their voices and opinions to the airwaves and connecting listeners to new ideas and artists, college radio fosters creativity, promotes emerging musicians, and serves as a platform for students to engage with one another.”

So, what do you want to do? Make a social statement, share music that is important to you, get a chance to explore new forms of expression, tell your stories through sound? The radio is waiting for you.