Cleveland Uber Alles

Untimely Dispatches from the Neighborhood of the Unrepresented & Inarticulate; Anecdotes that Pedal and Coast Through the Boot-Print of 20th Century American Urbanism

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

College Radio Uber Alles: Help WJCU Rid Its Signal of West Side Static At 4AM, in a car, with the city rising or receding in the windshield, whosoever among us has not found, there amid the static of the left of the dial that Paul Westerberg sang about, the slow-witted voice of a 27 year-old grad student and vinyl snob sifting through a record collection, delicately holding each sleeve against the flats of his hands, so that the slight cardboard bend of it achingly sounds in the microphone? And whosoever among us, driving at that empty hour, has not heard, enjoyed, and secretly wished to further the sleep-deprived, faux transgressive babble of those suburban kids who, thanks to tuition dollars and a lure of free records, find themselves sequestered in the studio, working a set of phone lines that register only the calls of cranks and the voices of their friends? And whosoever among us has not listened to a droll in-joke from these kids without getting it, indeed, never getting it, but hoping for some coherence to rise out of their laughter and their sense of themselves as happy, safe in a tower, at, this, the 4AM hour? And whosoever among us has not wished that the grad student would stop studying his Critical Theory essays long enough to come on the air and read us back his playlist, so that that band he just played (was it one, two, four songs ago), you know, the one whose droning wash of sound is both new and old--that band, whoever they are--won’t remain in our memory, a trace out of Derrida or a fragment from A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes? And whosoever among us (with all apologies to the beginning of Rick Moody’s Purple America, from which I’ve borrowed the whosoever conceit), hasn’t felt in hearing these constant pleas of youth—the death metal more death metal each year, the gangster rap more gangster, the indie rock more, well, about your girlfriend and how you love her and remember some peculiar detail from a Podunk childhood, and so on—whosoever hasn’t felt that our Cleveland is somehow a perfect backwoods for the longing of all 19-year-olds, a place with just enough money to put you in a junk car on your way to a job you don’t want, a place perched right at the edge of the territory where the big dreams happen, call it a wilderness dropped, maybe, a forrest of rust dropped beside some metaphoric Bronx Queens Expressway or PCH, just close enough to these arteries as an idea, at least, to translate all that arty otherness we try to make our own in college back into a quiet lonely moment in your car, on your way back to your parents house or your first apartment or somewhere else in the nation of the mundane. In short, whosoever among us, at one time or another, hasn’t loved college radio? For me, college radio is one of the best things about Cleveland. Until you live somewhere else, my fellow Clevelanders, you won’t realize how spoiled you are—to have not one, but three, or possibly four excellent college stations, each of the staffed with a seemingly endlessly renewed cast of volunteers who make each hour probably more idiosyncratic and personal than any other “modern” media experience. Consider: Columbus, home to 55,000+ college students, still lacks a proper college station, as the story of OSU’s internet and campus cable broadcasting station attests. Meanwhile, Chicago, which hosts five major universities, has only little, anemic-signaled WLUC, from Loyola, and this station fades in and out of reception exclusively to apartments and cars on the North Side of town, bouncing uselessly against Lake Michigan. Cleveland, however, has WRUW, WCSB, and WJCU, and, if WJCU’s signal didn’t fade as you went west and Baldwin Wallace’s station had a better signal itself, the city could claim four college stations. Indeed, if during its radio-thon, which takes place all this week, WJCU raises enough money to increase the power of its signal to three times the amount that it puts out now, the city will indeed have four college stations, at least on its West Side, where BW’s station clearly reaches car radios. (Update: as 54Cermak points out in the comments section, Chicago actually has three solid college station. It's a testimony to the short range of their signals, however, that this former Chicagoan never managed to tune them in over four years on the North Side of the city.) Though it makes no money for opining about anything, Cleveland Uber Alles donated to WJCU’s cause during this week’s Radio-thon, singling out for its support Joe Madigan’s smart, fun, peculiarly polished, and often Cleveland-centric Retro Radio show, which airs on Tuesday afternoons. Worth every penny of the money we don’t earn and worth every penny of yours, this show is a true resource for anyone interested in Cleveland rock history at its most arcane, getting beyond, say, knowing who Eric Carmen is or the fact that Alan Freed hosted the first Moondog Coronation Ball. Better yet, Madigan, the show’s host, is obviously well-steeped in the verbal mannerisms and tone that signify “on-air” personality for a time long lost. Best of all, Retro Radio, in all its simulated 60’s AM glory, is probably the least segregated show on college radio. Just this week, during a Cleveland-centered show for the Radio-thon, Madigan played an Ojays single from their little acknowledged Doo-Wop period and the Raspberries' "Tonight" nearly back to back. Much respect, too, to WJCU’s “Shot of RUM,” which airs on Wednesday afternoons. Great shows like this one and Retro Radio deserve the support of the community. Listen to them and give what you can.


At 8:32 AM, Blogger 54cermak said...

As a former WCSB DJ and college radio junkie myself, I agree that Cleveland is the best city in the country for this medium. (Chicago actually does have 2 other good stations, WNUR and WHPK, but they suffer the same fate as Loyola's during the day). Because of its positioning downtown, CSB's signal can rocket through the valley and can be heard as far south as parts of Akron, pretty amazing for only 800 Watts.


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