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Think it’s a crime D.C. doesn’t have a baseball team? Here’s something worse: None of the student-run radio stations at the city’s major universities have their own over-the-air signals. Since the storied $1 sale of Georgetown University’s seminal WGTB in 1979 (“Radio Free Georgetown,” 1/29/99)and not counting the University of Maryland’s feeble 10-watt 88.1-FM broadcasts from College Parkthe untainted information, opinion, and free-form music freakouts that flow from college radio stations in most other major U.S. cities have had no equivalent in the capital city.
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George Washington University senior Michael Sheils has recognized this shameful state, though, and has moved to do something about it: He’s the organizing force who brought together like-minded radioheads at American, Catholic, Howard, and Georgetown Universities to form the D.C. College Radio Coalition (DCCRC), a strength-through-numbers alliance that held its first-ever conference last week.
Sheils, a GW DJ and hiphop enthusiast, acknowledges that the city’s prevailing radio silence can be daunting. Four of the five university stations operate only as webcasters, he points outHoward’s WHBC, the exception, can be heard only over the campus cable systemand a typical webcast at any one of them might reach 15 to 20 listeners. Still, Sheils insists, “Internet radio is a cutting-edge technology that can accomplish just as much as having a frequency could” and anyone who’s logged on to listen to the groundbreaking free-form webcasters at WFMU knows the truth of that point.
Held at GW last Friday, the D.C. College Radio Conference offered a mix of practical activism (with ideas from Jenny Toomey and Michael Bracy of the Future of Music Coalition), technical and regulatory guidance (the topic of an address from the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System’s Mike Papish: “How You Can Use These Somewhat Boring Words to Subvert the Man and Take Over the World”), and networking among the radio stations’ staffs. A panel discussion on the community impact of a good over-the-air college station hinted that Sheils and his coalition understand the subject; Washington Post reporter Frank Ahrens, Jay Rosenthal of the Artist Empowerment Coalition, the 9:30 Club’s Andi Coulter, and XM Satellite Radio’s Kyle Murdock, among others, were at the table.
Sheils’ stated goal for the coalitionto give D.C. college radio some kind of presence in the community and strengthen the hands of member stationswas met with enthusiasm from his peers. Howard’s Johnny Jones said input from others might help ease friction with his university, which he said neglects the station so thoroughly that “we’re like an individual entity. We have to make ways to support ourselves.” Whether a union of college-radio devotees can begin to topple the imposing obstacles faced by stations such as Sheils’ WRGW remains to be seen, but at least someone is recognizing that there’s a desperate need for some static among the all-too-Clear Channels that dominate D.C.’s airwaves. Patrick Foster