Summer is almost over, and campuses around the country are gearing back up for the start of the fall semester. What does this mean for college radio? For one, a lot of people will be taking on new positions and getting involved in the stations. We spoke with Laura Ragsdale, former Music Director and DJ at WIUP at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, about her experience in college radio and the super handy manual for music directors that she created.
What initially interested you in college radio, and how did you get involved with WIUP?
I already had this built-in nostalgia for college radio. I love making mixes for good friends and new acquaintances. I’m fascinated with learning more about musicians and the history of scenes. So, college radio allowed me to do all the things I already like but spread the word and tunes to more than just my close-knit friends. Joining college radio was the one activity I knew I wanted to do when I entered IUP as a freshman, and time flies when you’re on the air. I was a DJ for four years and served as the MD for January 2013-May 2014.
You wrote a manual for college radio music directors. What inspired you to create this document? What were your hopes in creating a resource like this for music directors?
Since my heart will always be singing the tune of college radio, I wanted to make sure I left WIUP-FM in good hands before I graduated. As a parting gift for WIUP-FM, I created a collagey-doodle-ridden how-to guide for the role of MD, including sections on how to inform DJs, office duties, submitting charts and ways to discover new music. Since its completion, I’ve made it as a free PDF available to any interested parties on my music blog, Unclaimed Baggage Music. I hope this sort of webzine can help ease seasoned DJs out there into their new role (and new responsibilities) as hot-stuff management material.
How do you think your experience as music director at WIUP and the advice you offer in your guide can apply to other stations?
If you truly ascribe to the spirit of college radio, we’re all just a slice of this worldwide college radio community, and so we should always be striving to get new music out there and help cultivate this essentially DIY culture of music appreciation and discovery. It’s a mix of a nostalgic mindset and forward-thinking. We all share the common goal of spreading new music and the idea behind the manual is just that.
Stations have different ways they select music for rotation. How did you select what albums would be played as music director?
Whenever I’m reviewing bands as a music director, I always tried to go with a buffet mentality. You can’t go wrong when you give people variety and the freedom to pick and choose from what they’d like to put on their plate, or in this case, their set list. While variety is good, don’t be afraid to be choosey in your selections. The band should fit within your station’s identity. There is definitely a distinct cluster of genres your DJs will be drawn to, and that observation will become clear over time as you log in those Top 30 charts on CMJ.
One section in your manual is about promoting college radio and making stations more visible. How do you think the role of college radio is changing in such a digital and interconnected world?
I think technology is just another way to reach our listeners and build that music community without being tied down geographically where we are. So that part’s great. It’s not about the likes, reblogs or the total number of followers you have. Just use social media as another resource to connect and share with fellow music lovers—your audience. The way we communicate will continually change, and evolve and we need to embrace these changes and use it to our advantage and make it fun. I think what college radio needs to keep in mind with all the social networking is to keep a balance of the personal touch and the practice of using technology to increase your station’s exposure for music’s sake.
What advice do you have for new music directors?
As a college radio music director, the most exciting part of your job is that you’re in the position to not only discover new and unheard music on a weekly basis, but also that you have the ability to surpass the role of a bystander music lover. You now have the opportunity and power to give back to the musicians you love and help underdog acts to break out by passing along their release to a larger audience. Have fun with it!
The more people involved, the better. College radio is stemmed very much in the idea of a community and keeping identity alive. The more people work together (while listening to fabulous music), the more people feel personally invested to make sure your station runs smoothly and for the events to be successful. And without a doubt, never forget or lose faith in the magic of college radio. For me, it’s become one of the most important and rewarding relationships of my life.