|ISSUE 7.3||FALL 1997|
These stories focus on the OSU student-run radio station, KBUX, and how it came into being. The Adventures ... story was written by a one-time KBUX staffer and includes interviews with current KBUX staff. The InActive Radio story was written by a member of the now defunct OSU student organization, Active Radio. He has recently moved on to Texas but has kept in touch via the internet. Active Radio, it could be argued, helped lay the ground work for what became KBUX. At the same time, Active Radio and KBUX never quite saw eye-to-eye ... Finally, there is a prank news release involving the falling out of Active Radio and WCBE ... just for the fun of it.
Adventures in the Letter K and the word BUX
The road off of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi was an odd one for me. It began one night as a young child, when I couldn't sleep. I turned on my radio, my new FM clock radio -- my first radio, and instead of hitting the local teeny bop station I restlessly scanned the dial. Far to the left, past the hip hop station and the classical stuff was a strange new world. The station was playing a song -- of sorts. The song consisted of people who were seemingly just running around the studio banging things and screaming. I was in love. What on earth was this?! Listening to the sounds I could hear odd patterns and a new type of music being created and destroyed. "And that was William Reiflin," the DJ calmly said as the screaming stopped. I fell asleep to this; and thought about what a wonderful new world I had found.
I promptly went back to my Guns 'n Roses and Poison albums though, and only occasionally peeked in on these channels. I was drawn to them more and more as I got older. By the time I was 14 I couldn't fall asleep without listening to them. They were, of course, college radio. Cleveland's college radio scene is notoriously freeform. New shows and oddball sounds were popping up all over as I grew up. Listening to them got me to buy my first Kraftwerk album -- from then on everything was a bit weird, but always an adventure.
This is the power of radio. This is the power of unfettered music. This is what has died in today's radio industry.
With the success of REM and Nirvana came a new world of understanding to college radio -- the world of business. Now that radio was seen as a legit farm team arena for both new bands and talentless future record company employees, the major labels swooped in and literally took control. The once fun and spunky College Music Journal (CMJ) became tight and rigid -- showcasing only the songs and bands that labels wanted "added" to the college radio programs.
It was with all of this on my mind that I began this story on KBUX. It was with the fear of facing down incomprehensible record label weasels and drooling hacks gloating over the latest CMJ #1 charting of a Foo Fighters song. For quite some time I had felt college radio had died, and I was hoping that KBUX would prove me wrong. It did, in a sense.
Let me begin with a little explanation about how radio and the music industry works. Every label has a marketing team, which essentially tries to make sure that you listen to what the record company wants you to listen. This team goes for things called "adds" which occur when a radio station has added that song to their playlist. Now, they don't want you to add any old song at any old time -- they want you to add the new single. They also want all of the stations to add it at the same time. This creates an impression that the song is gaining immense popularity very quickly. All of a sudden the song will be everywhere. College radio still works this way, albeit with less of the pressures (and independent promoters) that commercial radio deals with. College radio reports their playlists to CMJ. The CMJ then compiles these playlists from all over the country and makes a top 100 list of what is being played. Record companies buy this data from CMJ so they know what markets (geographic areas) are playing what songs. Often times the higher ups at a college radio station decide what gets played and what doesn't. These people, who sometimes even hold second jobs working at major labels, create the playlist for the station. They make sure that the song they picked for #1 gets played the most, and on down the line.
Most of this still is pretty innocent -- until you realize what this all means. Because one major top 100 playlist is created (and top 20ís for different genres -- metal, electronic, hip hop, etc.) you create some uniformity. The majority's opinion will create the music that is being played on the station. Individual DJs and their individual music visions are merely absorbed into this list. The whitening of the playing field does just that -- it removes all color from the music being played. A listener is unlikely to hear as diverse of a range of artists as they once were able to during the younger days of college radio.
These worries plagued me before and after my visit to KBUX, but I did come away with a great sense of what KBUX is striving towards. They understand that this is just simply the way college radio is now, and they are doing their best to make of it what they will. I spoke with two people, music director Mike Fitch, and General Manager Alexi Papaleonardos. Both showcased to me exactly what KBUX has been doing to reach out to the local community and incorporate new sounds into their playlist.
My conversation with Alexi Papaleonardos ended as it really should've begun, "What this town needs is a good magazine and a good radio station, we're seeing the beginnings of both." Alexi is the General Manager of KBUX, Ohio State's student run radio station. KBUX began just a few years back with an influx of operating money from Ohio State's Student Government. From the beginning the station was to be run by the students and for the students. OSU already had a radio station, WOSU, run by professionals. WOSU is a typical public radio station focusing on classical music. KBUX was to be different, focusing on student tastes in music and, most importantly, to be run by the students themselves. The beginning was rocky, with virtually no idea how to run a station, a group of dedicated students got the needed equipment and began broadcasting in a makeshift way. At the time they used a low wattage transmitter and worked out a deal with UNITS (OSU's cable service provider to the dorms) to broadcast their signal over cable television. A blank black channel greeted the listener as high quality audio ran over their cable connection instead. In order to be heard by the rest of campus they needed a transmitter. Unfortunately in Columbus' overcrowded market no open signal was found. Under FCC regulations radio stations must keep a safe distance from each other, and unfortunately this kept KBUX from securing a frequency.
This didn't really stop the KBUX crew from branching out. Instead, focusing on the dorms and the nearby community, they worked on their organization and infrastructure to create a broadcast ready station for the time when a frequency did open up. For now you can catch KBUX from any of the dorm rooms equipped with cable and also in select areas on campus (the Morrill Tower dining commons for example). Also, their website (www.osu.edu/students/kbux/) will contain a Real Audio stream in the future. This will let anyone, from Columbus to China, listen to the station. it's a move that a lot of college stations are doing right now, and really is the future of radio.
Mike Fitch, KBUX's Music Director, and I recently spoke about the fundraiser KBUX had at Bernie's Distillery, featuring Tiara, 84 Nash, and others. Mike said that there were future plans for the benefit -- "We're talking about having it every other month." The event brought in some money for KBUX but, more importantly, tied them in with the local music community: "Bernie's has always been really supportive ... We're going to start doing a lot of other stuff. We're branching out more. It's not all going to be just at Bernie's. You're going to see different things now ... We're getting more involved with Skankland and we're doing our own shows." KBUX'S own shows are at this time mainly happening within OSU areas -- Woody's Place, etc. By bringing in some national acts (off of Touch and Go, for example) and combining them with local acts, KBUX hopes to cement itself within the local music scene. One of KBUX'S main assets is Ernesto Lopez who works with Skankland to bring in hip hop and reggae.
Most of college radio has to do with playlists and spin reporting now, but KBUX still tries to retain the feel that the old college stations had. Their set lists range from all over -- Laika to Dr. Octagon to Pizzicato Five to Moviola. Yes, that's right, they do include local bands. "We have a local/Ohio show and we keep local bands in the rotation. In fact since we're seeing local hip hop and electronic bubbling to the surface we're including a lot of that," Alexi tells me.
The future of the station can really only improve. They have a dedicated staff of people and are going to continue to branch out into the local scene. With the live shows and the continuing diversification of music at the station we're less likely to hear Meredith Brooks and Alanis Morissette and more likely to hear Bentley Rhythm Ace and Cornershop.
What does all of this mean to us, The Kids of Columbus? Well let's hop on up to the earlier quote -- "What this city needs is a really amazing radio station and a great magazine." The musical spirit of 1997 has really been the cross-fertilization of music. No one is doing the same old crap anymore. With the sheer amount of local bands and amazing national acts, the competition for our music dollar is fierce. Stations like KBUX and zines like the one you're reading now can only keep the fertilization coming -- and the music getting better. The kids are doing it for themselves.
- Jason Beaumont (Jan 14, 1998)
Of course when I moved here 6 years ago, I was a cynical fuck spewing what seemed to be the town motto: "Yea, its cheap, but there's nothing to do ... " However, I changed my mind in the spring of 1992. I started dating a punk-rock girl from Cincinnati who introduced me to the "Columbus Scene." She repeatedly drug me to the squalid stink-hole mainstays, Stache's and Bernie's, while I complained about the mushroom-cloud size of the second-hand smoke. Yet it only took a few big-name, lackluster arena shows to convince me that the only way to enjoy a band was when you're close enough to spit on them -- right up front, where you can steal their beer so you don't have to lose your fought-for prime territory. Even being a guitar-geek I had to admit some of the bands were good. It wasn't long before I was going out to see bands almost every night of the week.
To me, it seemed like you couldn't throw a rock in Columbus without hitting a band worth listening to. There were so many: The Turks, Greenhorn, Earwig, Pet UFO, The RC Mob, Gaunt, The Econothugs, The Hairy Patt Band, Clay, Moviola, Scrawl, The Afghan Whigs, Pretty Mighty Mighty, Feversmile etc. etc. etc. So many, and every damn one of 'em capable of making you thank the gods you lived in Columbus, Ohio. Fuck Seattle and their grungy Sabbath wanna-bes. Why wasn't the world paying attention to columbUS?
No radio, that's why. I knew I had to help the world.
It was slow and painful, like every other group-driven project at first, but we eventually made some progress. We even got a visit from USG, offering us support and information. They did scare the hell out of me though when they sent us on the quest for the Holy Grail: "If you want this thing to happen, YOU HAVE TO SUBMIT A PROPOSAL TO DAVID WILLIAMS&." Active Radio was up against university red tape already. We tightened our belts, mentally prepared ourselves, lost another 20 or so members, and tried to get started writing a proposal. Well, at least Torsten did. Most of us just half-assed our assignments and promised to check up on how much a box of transistors from Radio Shack would cost the university, just as soon as we finished this term paper.
We also started getting some publicity. After an editorial about radio at OSU in the Lantern, Dale Outz, general manager for WOSU, got nervous enough to ask us over, brag about shutting down college radio stations across the country, and politely ask us not to bother them with our little plans.
Then the Big News: Norm Beaker, then programming director at WCBE 90.5 FM, invited Active Radio down to WCBE for a chat. He offered us training and MAYBE a chance to be on the air. Suddenly people started showing up to meetings again.
Maybe you know the rest of the story: we never made it on to WCBE. Our self-produced radio shows were awesome. Quirky, witty, and annoying DJs playing songs you've never heard of in no order what so ever. Just what college radio should be. Just what WCBE had asked us not to do.
We lost the chance to broadcast on WCBE over an internal squabble. Torsten and I, with our German love of order, had agreed to WCBE's request that we format the Active Radio program. All the seasoned DJs balked at this notion immediately. They weren't going to be told what to play, for it smacked of CORPORATE ROCK. In the end, I agreed with their cries for freedom. Our show would be free-form. That was the end of our careers at WCBE, but we wouldn't know it for months to come.
Back to the university for the death blow: with our on-air chances gone, membership dwindled to less than 10 individuals. We carried on as best we could, hoping to restart things at WCBE with a different format, and trying to get our radio proposal finished. Then we got THE news: USG was starting a radio station at OSU.
We were floored. Mashed down flatter than a field in Franklin County. Joel Treadway, whom most of you know as mild mannered, was angry enough to go yell at David Williams. USG had stabbed us in the back. We were also excluded from any future planning of the radio station. We got more "You'll be informed" promises than President Clinton. We got more brush-offs and promises from David Williams. We got screwed royally. We were truly Buckeyes: our flawless season was spoiled by two crushing defeats, and we were destined to end up in the Toilet Bowl.
After weeks of trying, we finally got a copy of the USG radio-station proposal that had won the mighty University Trustees over. It was shorter than this piece you're currently reading. Allow me to summarize: we would like a radio station, it will cost the university money, and we will need people to run it. Sweet, simple and full of nothing, it made our 15 page over-referenced, over-researched proposal look like bran flakes at a sugar bar. Sure it might be "better" but who the hell wants to read it?
The sad part was we knew why they had accepted the USG proposal. Look at the situation now: that's what the university higher-ups wanted. OK, kids all-together now, go up and scream real loud "WE WANNA RADIO STATION!!!" They'll smile and say "You have one." "WE WANNA HEAR IT" you'll say. "Move into the dorms and get cable," they'll reply. Dale Outz at WOSU still gets lots of money from students to play classical music and talk radio on OSU licensed stations. David Williams can lie to incoming students about OSU having an operating radio station, and the university doesn't have to worry about someone saying "Fuck Michigan" on the air and getting sued by the FCC.
To add another swift kick in the ass, the part that bothered some of us the most, was the fact that this whole student-swindled radio was pulled off by a student themselves. None other than the duly elected president of USG, Kevin Shariff. He bravely led the students into the mire-pit of the current radio situation on his curb-ignoring, hey-I-paid-my-tickets charges, like a night of the round table coming to rescue. A mini-Bill Gates to lead the masses into inferior territory, and convince them its the promised land. Anyone wanna take bets it says "Started Student Radio" on his resume???
So OSU is stuck with a wimpy little station you have to turn on a TV to actually hear (What kinda radio is that?) and has such a moronic genesis as to be named illegally. (Ever hear of another station east of the Mississippi that starts with a K? It's a little rule the FCC has.) Even after their recent illegal power boost (Active Radio lives as a secret espionage group!) you still can't hear them on High St. Had I known how lax the FCC was going to be, I wouldn't have fought so hard to keep Active Radio legitimate and OK'd the pirate micro-broadcast plan.
Well I'm not. Like any good Buckeye, I'm ready for the next season. We're rebuilding right now. We've built new stadiums to hold more fans and treat the band with better equipment at both major playing fields. (You can now get lung cancer even quicker at the poorly ventilated Stache's replacement, Little Bros.) Sure, we've lost a few players (where in the hell is Greg Dulli?) but we still have some all-stars. The New Bomb Turks, Scrawl, Pretty Mighty Mighty and others, I'm sure all have new releases due out soon. Cleveland may have the Rock 'n' Roll hall of fame, but we got the Ron House of Rawk right here in Cowtown. All we need is some good recruiting and Columbus will have live music shows that'll rock you so hard, your kids will be born deaf.
Of course I'm still bitter about the Radio situation. I'm admittedly biased about KBUX for sure. Maybe there are some cool DJs there actually playing some good music. I can't tell you because I've never listened to KBUX. Honest ain't I? Well I can't hear them, even though I work on campus.
As for WCBE, we toyed with the idea of redoing the show, just Torsten, Joel and I to meet their demands and get on the air. In the end, we didn't have time or the juice to do it anymore. Plus Torsten had the habit of cursing on the air. Norm Beaker eventually left for safer parts in Italy when this press release was circulated on the Active Radio email list. We'd lost our connection.
Looking back I've often wondered if one of the reasons Columbus had so many good bands was BECAUSE there was no radio here. Situation was, if you wanted to hear good music, you had to get off your ass and make it. Maybe it's not such a bad thing. I'm damn sure glad we never became the next Seattle.
So Goodbye All You Punks, Stay Young and Stay High. My family still lives in Ohio, so I'm sure I'll be back. I know in my mind I'll fantasize about my return to Columbus, buying CDs at Used Kids, drinking beer at Bernie's and suffocating at Little Bros. to some engaging local rock sounds. Blatant localism indeed. Of course, while I'm driving around town I'll be listening to either 87.9 RadioU for their eclectic play style, even if it is religious, and screaming "SHUT UP AND PLAY MUSIC!!!" at Max Faulkner.
Epilogue I'd just like to point out that I don't mention very many people here by name who were involved with Active Radio, many of them through thick 'n' thin, nor many others from the local community who heaped support on us when we were getting started. So thanks to everyone who helped any tiny bit along the way: bands, bars, writers, record company executives, gossipers and everyone who showed up to a meeting at least once to see what was going on. Special credit goes to the people who actually became some sort of friend, ranging from casual to top-notch: Joel Treadway, Mr. Local Music; Mark Gundersun, prankster extrordinaire; Bernie Grendel and Jen Scwartz, my fellow Tuna Boxers; John "Press Release" McClusky, my DJ partner and agent saboteur ("well it didn't work, but I sold it to them anyway"); Jen Angel of Fucktooth fame; Nate and Dorian, the best unheard DJ team in the universe (to my dying day the words "that's Everything's Pork and they're in Bexley" will make me laugh); "Mr. Patience" Barry Lanham at WCBE and of course Torsten Moeller and Greg Schuemann for getting the damn thing started in the first place. Hey at least we got a few free CDs from Elektra.
- Chris "camster" (Dec 2, 1997)