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At least seven of the major universities in the Washington area are currently operating college-radio stations that you may never have heard, and Chic Smith isn’t happy about it.

“The truth is that commercial radio has a lot of gaps, a lot of communities it isn’t serving, and a lot of new music it isn’t playing,” says Smith, a graduate student at Georgetown University and the founder of the new DC College Radio Collective. “I think some of the campus stations in the area are doing some pretty exciting things, but there’s no way to hear it.”

On Sunday, the collective staged its introductory reception at Mangos on 14th Street NW. DJs from the University of Maryland’s WMUC and Georgetown’s WGTB demonstrated a sampling of college radio fare, and local rappers Opus Akoben did some live freestyling.

Smith expects the collective to lobby for regulatory changes as one entity and to work together on concert promotions and station development. Because of licensing restrictions and heavy competition for available bandwidth, the campus stations at Georgetown, Catholic, American, Howard, George Washington, and George Mason Universities are limited to closed-circuit broadcasts, meaning that the signal can’t be heard off campus. Rather, the student broadcasts of news, music, and original programming play to very limited audiences.

Now, however, under pressure from community radio groups, microradio pirates, and college-radio DJs across the country, the FCC is proposing to re-establish the low-power (Class D) licenses it eliminated in 1978. WMUC still operates its 10-watt station on its long-held Class D license; other stations are waiting for the chance to get one.

“I’m going to be filing with the FCC on behalf of the collective to say we’re behind this,” Smith says. “Commercial stations have a lock on the radio dial, and this is the bone they’re going to throw us. I’m not sure that low-power FM is good enough, but it’s better than nothing….Think about someone like Jimi Hendrix, or a lot of the early rap artists,” she adds. “If we would have waited for commercial radio to notice them, we might have never known those guys. What are we missing by not having good college radio now?”

—Colin Bane

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