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College Radio

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"College radio can be summed up in five words: dead air, 'um', dead air."

Radio stations in colleges and universities, often portrayed as a couple of students working as unpaid volunteers to try their hand at being an announcer or talk show host, which is usually Truth in Television. The students are probably majoring in communications or a related field, although oftentimes, there won't be enough communications students to fill the roster, so students from other departments are allowed to take air shifts. College radio stations are very rarely a high priority.

There was a time when college radio, even at state colleges in fairly conservative states, was both the last bastion of truly unadulterated '60s liberal radicalism in both the media and within the university system, and the proving grounds for many a genre of music that eventually became mainstream, such as Alternative Rock, Indie Pop and rock, and Hip-Hop. The Golden Age of sorts for college radio was in The '80s, before NPR really took off as a major force in "alternative" radio. Nowadays, college radio is still going strong, even if the Internet has mainly taken over the once-pivotal role that it played in the development of pop culture. However, they are still a useful source of underground music.

In fiction, the college station is something that either everyone listens to, or no one does. Either the whole campus (and no small number of people in the school's metropolitan area) tune in to the station, or the astonishingly low listener base becomes a Running Gag. The output will generally either be mind-numbingly boring or Large Ham Radio.

If the school has an Absurdly Powerful Student Council, this will most likely be either its tool or its greatest rival; see also the School Newspaper Newshound.

Community radio stations can also act as college stations, and there are (or were) a few campus/community stations. Some allowed non-students and high school students to participate. One could really learn the details of how radio works, essentially getting a Columbia School of Broadcasting education for free.


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    Comic Strips 
  • Doonesbury has "Marvelous" Mark Slackmeyer, who started out as an announcer-programmer on Walden College's campus-community station WBBY, where he alternated music with anti-Vietnam War, anti-Richard Nixon rants (these got the strip moved from the comics section to the politics page in many newspapers). He still works for an unnamed NPR station.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Blinded by the Light, Javed attempts to get his 1980s secondary school radio station to have an entire show dedicated to Bruce Springsteen. When the student DJ refuses, Javed and his friend trick him into leaving the studio, put on "Born to Run", and lock the door. note 
  • At the end of Old School, Frank "The Tank" becomes a college radio host.
  • In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, love interest Becky Barnes works at NYU's radio station. While she admits it doesn't get too many listeners, it does lead to a few bonding moments between her and protagonist Dave, including the introduction of the film's Breakaway Pop Hit, "Secrets".
  • In the movie Urban Legend, some plot includes Sasha's radio sex advice show.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, her normally grumpy roommate turns out to be great at talk radio (although this isn't spoken of again).
  • In How I Met Your Mother, a flashback reveals that Ted had a radio show in college, where he took on the persona of "the mysterious Doctor X" (a ridiculously over-the-top Soapbox Sadie). His show and his attempts at a secret identity are universally mocked. See for yourself on the Doctor X website.
  • In a 3rd Rock from the Sun episode, Harry took over Pendleton University's radio station and became a talk radio host. He proved popular until he started needlessly insulting everyone.
  • On Family Ties Alex had a college radio show playing old music from the Thirties and Forties.
  • Three Canadian series, Radio Enfer, Radio Active, and Radio Free Roscoe, brought this premise to high-school settings.
  • Beverly Hills, 90210 had "KWBH, the voice of West Beverly High!"
  • On Married... with Children, one of the show's many poorly disguised pilots included an episode that focused on the radio DJs at Bud's college.
  • One episode of The Facts of Life took place entirely in the campus radio station. Jo was forced to fill in all night when another DJ passed out drunk, and the rest of the gang stayed to help.
  • Dear White People features broadcasts from the titular controversial radio show, hosted by Sam White. This example falls into the "everybody listens" part of the trope, with Sam often receiving angry letters about the content of her show, and even the title.
  • In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, Hal is shown to have operated an underground radio station in college where he went by the name "Kid Charlemagne".
  • In Degrassi the namesake high school where the show is set has its own radio station, which in real life is not unheard of at larger high schools in North America.

  • The Replacements' song "Left of the Dial", named after the physical motion to find these stations - they'd usually be found on the low end of the FM dials (anywhere between 88.1 and 91.9, the Non-Commercial Educational band reserved by the FCC) before the commercial stations start to pop up around 92.1 (or earlier in some places bordering Canada and Mexico, which made these stations hard to hear because of the larger station conflicting with the signal of the tiny college stations).
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic developed his stage persona and nickname as a college radio DJ while attending California Polytechnic University for architecture.
  • Canadian Alternative Country band Ox was propelled to quasi-recognition due to heavy play on college radio in the 2000s, before fading to obscurity. This is reference in several of their songs, such as "Indie Rock Radio Nation" which is about college radio and those who listen to it, and in "Burnout", which is about their attempts to make it in music.
    Got a stolen guitar and I'm breaking the scene
    Livin' the college chart radio dream

  • Garrison Keillor, best known for A Prairie Home Companion, has a terrific monologue on this subject, detailing his experiences as a classical music DJ on college radio, that ends with his discovery that the station was not on the air for most of the time (due to their engineer turning the transmission off for his Christmas vacation in California and forgetting to turn it back on when he got back) and the realization that for the last three months he had been, essentially, talking to himself.
  • Max from New Dynamic English said that he started his career in radio because he was pretty good when he was on college radio.
  • That Gosh Darn Hippie Show started out on Camden Community College's station, WDBK.

    Video Games 
  • Saints Row 2 has an indie rock station titled 99.0 The Underground, which is defined in-game as a college radio. It also happens to be a pirate radio station with a limited signal range.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: Strong Bad really made fun of this in the Strong Bad Email "radio", where college radio is depicted as being run by a "bewildered freshman" who mumbles and stutters through his announcements.

    Western Animation 
  • Pete White of The Venture Bros. used to be a college radio DJ for a while. He once pulled a prank on his friend Mike Sorayama, claiming Mike request he informs his crush that "I masturbate furiously to your picture every night", then got kicked off the air for it.

    Real Life 
  • Proving that Real Life will keep on trucking, even if tropes fall out of favour, the University of Bielefeld has a rather professional student radio called Hertz 87,9. Attracting students from all fields, several of Germany's radio personalities had their start here. Their webpage, which includes a broadcast stream, can be found here.
  • Campus and community radio (which are often the same thing) can be found all over North America still, and many universities and colleges still have their own stations. While not as influential, they have a following as a niche hobby and have adapted to the internet by streaming their broadcasts.