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College radio going strong

Published: Saturday, Nov. 12 2011 11:49 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Anna Anderson was always the kid talking into the hairbrush pretending to have her own show. Now the station manager of K-UTE, University of Utah's radio station, her dream has been fulfilled.

"I can pinpoint exact moments where I was listening to radio and thought it was the coolest thing ever," she said. "I love it. I absolutely love it."

Anderson is a bit of a dying breed. Across the country, college radio stations are selling their rights to terrestrial stations to help cover costs. Twelve college radio stations have sold their stations in the past year, according to Collegiate Broadcasters, Inc.

Among the most popular and controversial cases are at the University of San Francisco, Rice University and Vanderbilt University, which have sold their broadcasting licenses to companies who changed the programming to classical-music forums. The students switched their shows to online formats but have voiced their anger about losing their dial on the terrestrial radio.

Because of the recession, many universities are faced with budget-cut decisions like firing faculty or selling their radio station. While it's understandable that most choose to sell, the stations can never really make a comeback because of strict licensing fees and regulations.

College radio has provided a vital role to communities like NPR, started by college radio junkies. College radio broadcasters convinced Congress to include radio in the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which is part of the reason public radio exists today, according to RadioSurvivor.com, a site promoting college radio.

Radio Survivor Editor Jennifer Waits said the stations offer a way for campuses to seem less insular and communicate more with the outside community.

As the editor specializing in college radio and culture, she is a huge proponent of the effect radio can have on its listeners.

"People will call in and say they were having a really bad day and say you played a song that changed their day," Waits said. "Music can have such an emotional connection with people. It's pretty beautiful that you're putting together a show that can do that."

Some effects are more profound. Radio was one of the only mediums Haitians could turn to after the earthquake that rocked the island in 2010.

"(Radio is) heroic when there's a disaster," Waits said. "Terrestrial radio has helped find victims and save lives. At times when there's no service, radio is there."

The co-founder of RadioSurvivor.com, Paul Riismandel, also believes in the power of radio.

"Radio is going to be with us for awhile," he said. "The simple fact of the matter is, I can go down to any corner drugstore and buy a radio for $10 or less. I can get radio reception just about anywhere I go, and I don't have to pay a fee. I just have to buy batteries."

He said the fees companies are willing to pay for broadcasting rights on stations is evidence that radio will be around for awhile. Rice University sold their FM license and transmitter for $9.5 million to the University of Houston. A partnership with the University of Southern California bought the University of San Francisco's station for $3.75 million.

As a supporter of college radio, Riismandel said working at the station offers real-life experience for students.

"What's unique about these opportunities is that they are not only engaging with other students, but they are inherently engaging with the public and learning to work in different spheres," he said.

At BYU, two students saw the absence of a college radio station as an opportunity. And they capitalized on it. Jordan Huey and Eric Collyer started This University Life to provide Utah Valley with local music and local podcasters.

"I like talking to bands, and every time I talk to bands they say 'This is the greatest thing ever,'" Huey said. "I almost feel like I'm saving the Indie world or something. A really cool thing is getting a good response from people."

The station is only available online for now, but Huey and Collyer are looking add more content and listeners by subsidizing and promoting band recordings.

"I really think it is important just because so much in the radio industry is being controlled by the record industry," Huey said. "It's really easy to produce really good content, but it's really hard for the small guy to get his voice out there."

Collyer said he appreciates the alternative value the station provides and advises all students to find a venue to express their creative side outside of school.

"Express yourself," Collyer said. "It doesn't matter how you do it. Use the skills you are learning to create something beyond the scope of the classroom. The world is our campus, but I feel too often that the campus becomes our world."

For K-UTE's Anderson, she said there are more listeners than ever of the station and feels that college radio stations can be the heart of a town.

She also said she likes that the station provides an independent voice for the community.

"That's the wonderful medium of radio," she said. "There's a difference in printing something."

EMAIL: sgambles@desnews.com

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