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Remember 'underground' radio?

Bettynh 09 Jul 13 - 04:44 PM
Phil Cooper 10 Jul 13 - 09:35 AM
Bettynh 10 Jul 13 - 12:37 PM
Phil Cooper 10 Jul 13 - 12:59 PM
Bettynh 11 Jul 13 - 08:51 AM
GUEST,Spleen Cringe 11 Jul 13 - 09:00 AM
Phil Cooper 11 Jul 13 - 09:13 AM
GUEST,Patricia Gallery-Levin 19 Aug 13 - 01:22 AM
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Subject: Remember 'underground' radio?
From: Bettynh
Date: 09 Jul 13 - 04:44 PM

I was a little confused to see a self-congratulatory ad in the Old Songs program flyer from WCUW-FM announcing its 40th anniversary. I remember listening to WCUW in my dorm room in the late 60s, so what's the deal here? After a bit of research, I realized there are at least two influences on what happened:

FM radio had been invented sometime in the 1920s, but broadcast was limited to line-of-sight, so powerful AM radio became the broadcast band of choice. But FM broadcast was freer of noise and, in the late 1950s, stereo. It became the radio for classical music.

Meanwhile, colleges around the country were licensed to run radio stations. In the 1960s these were in the FM band. There's some sort of technology that uses the wiring of the dormatories for broadcast antennae(s?) that limits the listening area to a few blocks around those buildings. There were no rules or conventions about programming - student radio was run by non-paid volunteers, mainly students, and included just about anyone who showed up and talked or played music.

There were some rule changes from the FCC that allowed the student stations to broadcast at higher power, allowing for a larger listening audience.

So that explained WCUW - it was a college station, graduating to a larger audience in 1973.

In thinking about that I remembered the excitement of "underground" radio of that period - FM radio playing whole albums and new music that never would have made air-time on AM radio (which for some reason limited every song to 3 minutes or less). FM radio was being incorporated into portable radios and stereo music systems (just try to find a vintage 1955 FM portable radio). The over-30 crowd (remember not to trust anyone over 30) listened to AM radio. Perfect! It was an exciting time. To mollify the folk police, I have to mention here that folk music was part of the mix - I remember several shows in which the DJ hosted a show from his own collection of vinyl for 3 hours or so at a time every week.

In particular, I remember seeing Arlo Guthrie's first concert in Boston. It was part of a concert series held in Jordan Hall, the (smallish but beautiful) auditorium of the Boston Conservatory of Music. There wasn't much publicity and the wife of the promoter was absolutely certain that no one would attend - "Who cares who his father was? No one ever heard of him!" - But not only was the concert sold out, the audience knew the words of the chorus of "Alice's Restaurant." The underground radio stations had the same effect as the production of flashmobs via the internet today.

Those are some of my memories from Boston and Worcester, Mass. But I know there were similar things happening in other parts of the country, and I have no idea how long-format music infiltrated into the UK. Anyone willing to share memories?


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Subject: RE: Remember 'underground' radio?
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 10 Jul 13 - 09:35 AM

There was an am radio station in the early '70's in Chicago called WDAI that played long songs, folk, Cheech & Chong, pretty much anything. I used to listen to it at night. It was owned by WLS am. At that time the corporate heads didn't know what to do with FM, so they were letting the station do what it did. Shortly afterwards, WXRT started doing about the same thing as WDAI. 'DAI became a disco station in the mid-70's, when the owners started exercising more control.

There was another free format station out where I lived in the Chicago suburbs called WJKL, the fox. They would play anything. Again the station owners really didn't know what to do with it. I literally heard The Talking Heads "Psycho Killer" followed by Shirley Collins "Plains of Waterloo," once. The corporate heads again fired the staff eventually and turned the station into an automated format rock station for awhile. I stopped listening at that point.


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Subject: RE: Remember 'underground' radio?
From: Bettynh
Date: 10 Jul 13 - 12:37 PM

That's what I'm talking about Phil. There was real excitement both in the broadcasting world and the music world. It was invisible to corporate and much of adult America, making it even more attractive (to me, at least). Those stations seem to have joined the Public Broadcasting System (the original legislation was passed in 1967) or struggled mightily once the money men noticed them. A few have emerged as "community radio" - low power (thus limited range) very local and very community-involved. WCUW fits that category. In Worcester, WICN (Worcester Intercollegiate Network, originally run jointly by Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Holy Cross College) became the NPR outlet.


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Subject: RE: Remember 'underground' radio?
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 10 Jul 13 - 12:59 PM

These stations were owned by big corporations back in the day. I had heard most of them didn't know what to do about FM. Once they figured out there was gold in them thar hills, they put the screws on. WXRT is still corporately owned, and play rock, but they lost their edge. Public radio in Chicago decided to go to talk/news most of the time and kicked all the music people out. They ceased doing folk programming in the mid-90's and stopped jazz in the mid 2000's. My pledge money stopped when they dropped folk and I unashamedly freeload. There is a local college station on the NPR network that still has music. I heard they were pressured by the NPR mothership to go to all news, but they balked. Now that I'm in the middle of nowhere in the UP, I've thought about starting to pod cast some of my record and CD collection.


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Subject: RE: Remember 'underground' radio?
From: Bettynh
Date: 11 Jul 13 - 08:51 AM

Chicago had Jean Shepard and Studs Terkel. Were they on AM or FM stations?


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Subject: RE: Remember 'underground' radio?
From: GUEST,Spleen Cringe
Date: 11 Jul 13 - 09:00 AM

... thanks to the rise of community radio and internet radio I reckon we have a real explosion in innovative underground programming at the moment. Some of the shows I've tuned into include Carl Griffin's 'Nocturnal Transmissions' on Frome Community Radio, Mark Ward's 'Sideways Through Sound' all the way from Sydney and Mog's 'Standing in the Shadows of Lev on Manchester's All FM. They are simply the tip of a huge iceberg. Hooray!


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Subject: RE: Remember 'underground' radio?
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 11 Jul 13 - 09:13 AM

Studs had a show for years on WFMT, Chicago's classical music station. WFMT also has The Midnight Special, which features folk music on Saturday nights. It still exists. Jean Shepherd's monologues were sometimes played on the Midnight Special. I'm not sure which station had his usual show. Oh yeah, WFMT is FM. A lot of Stud's archived shows have gone to WBEZ (the Chicago public radio station that dumped it's music programs).


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Subject: RE: Remember 'underground' radio?
From: GUEST,Patricia Gallery-Levin
Date: 19 Aug 13 - 01:22 AM

My husband, John Levin, secured the FCC license for WCUW in 1973 just after he graduated from Clark. He brought new innovative programming to the station including Spanish language programs. We'll be coming from California to the 40th anniversary in October to join many people from those early days that are coming from around the country and hope to see everyone that loves the station at the celebration.


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