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Radio Free Charlotte 

When will college radio grow up?

College radio used to be a big deal.

Hell, an entire sub-genre of music -- college rock -- came out of it, before morphing into a marketing plan called "alternative" music.

When I was younger, I'd grab my Walkman at night and listen to a program on Davidson College's WDAV called "Flipsides." They played The Smiths, The Dead Milkmen, The Meat Puppets, Husker Du, and loads of other bands, most of which don't exist anymore. It was run by students at the college, who hand-picked the best of the new crop of under-the-radar rock and roll, presenting it to like-minded classmates -- and others, like myself, who would take these new finds to high school to impress folks with their encyclopedic knowledge.

The days of "Flipsides" are long gone, mind you. At least in Charlotte. There are still top-notch college stations in Chapel Hill and Columbia, SC, as well as the attending area nightclubs like Cat's Cradle and the New Brookland Tavern that cater to those desiring to see said under-the-radar bands live. Of course, there's also area favorite WNCW, which operates out of Isothermal Community College in Spindale, NC, a model for area independent stations for a number of years.

In Charlotte, however, options are few for those looking for true experimental college radio. Of course, stately old WDAV, a member-supported public radio service of Davidson College, is still there. The station, once an entirely student run operation, now plays classical music exclusively, as well as what they term "cultural arts programming." The station estimates listenership at 100,000 each week (the station notes that it receives financial support from some 6,700 -- cheap bastards).

The top choice for those looking for music variety, Gaston College's WSGE (91.7 the Eagle) first took to the air back in 1980. Station manager Jeff Powell says that the station's goal is "to provide an alternative to the commercial stations in the area. We play music from many different genres. WSGE has a volunteer staff -- everybody is here because they love music."

WSGE's nighttime and weekend programming is made up of specialty shows, including big band, gospel, and what's known as "deep cut" rock, also known as "album radio." As is usually the case with such eclectic stations, 91.7's volunteer staff consists of some veteran radio types, some hobbyists, and some students. WSGE is currently looking into increasing their wattage and getting a new antenna, which will help keep the signal clear throughout the Charlotte area.

Over across the border, WINR Radio is a student radio station at Winthrop that broadcasts on FM 98.3 from Department of Mass Communication studios in the University's Johnson Hall. Student volunteers audition for air shifts each semester, and, in a rare turn, the station is actually managed by a student station manager and a student program director, who in turn receive direction from faculty. The station plays mostly jazz, and, in a nod to youth, mostly eschew smooth jazz in favor of Armstrong, Gillespie and Co.

Efforts are still under way to get a 24-hour talk, news and music-themed UNC-Charlotte radio station up and running. The station, WCRO "The Crow," struggled initially to raise the $35,000 to $50,000 start-up costs. The station received little money from the school itself (who seem to be too busy building parking decks to worry about culture), but folks at the station say alumni donations have helped make up the difference. WCRO now says they will hit the ground running on September 3, to be found at AM 1620.

Incidentally, the university's first radio station, National Public Radio affiliate WFAE, went on the air in 1970. Then a student-run Top 40 station, WFAE soon went to FM, though students continued to work there into the 1980s. WFAE moved from the UNC-Charlotte campus to University Place in 1987. In the early 90s, the school's Board of Trustees decided to end funding for the station.

Which brings us to where we are now. Like most any station not aligned with a huge media monopoly, er, conglomerate like Clear Channel, The Crow faces tough odds. What they do have, however, are relatively tireless students willing to work for basically nothing to make their campus a better place -- a considerable asset for any grassroots effort.

Here's hoping they're just as tireless in striving to find interesting programming.

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