On Being a College Radio Station Music Director in 2001
Scenes from College Radio Volume 3
I was chosen/elected/whatever to be Music Director my Junior year of college due mostly to possessing the position’s most necessary trait: tenacity.
WVUM’s executive board was made up of different people with responsibilities over the station’s moving parts. Among these were positions such as station engineer that fixed stuff that got broken, production engineer who recorded anything that was neither music nor the droning monotone of our DJs, and an Underwriting Director whose responsibility it was to go out and find our equivalent of advertisers.
Truth is though those jobs could be, and were, halfassed. We had a real engineer that came in whenever anything serious broke. The promos almost never got switched out and promos I recorded for specialty shows were played for a full 3 years after my departure. Underwriting was difficult to secure due to the onerous requirements and the percentages earned for it were laughably small, so it was essentially being in ad sales only being thankless and impossible.
The three top positions were as follows in order of importance: General Manager, Program Director and Music Director. These could not be halfassed though finding the time to do them well was hazardous to your GPA and/or sanity. To offset this somewhat, the top two came with scholarship bonuses that unfortunately had the side effect of being the actual reason most people sought the positions rather than any real love of the station or its work. Contrast this with the benefits to being Music Director, specifically free CDs, tickets to the occasional show, and undeserved swagger. Oh, and severe and nearly instantaneous burnout.
I had managed to make myself omnipresent at the station and was more or less always around and willing to help, so the executive board thought I was capable of all the different requirements of the job. These included keeping up with the intense influx of CDs, contacting (or being contacted by) music reps, corralling a small and spacey music review staff, trying to organize band interviews or anything else music related, and generally managing the rotation that made up 70% of the station’s programming was a daunting task for anyone much less the disorganized creative-types the position seemed to draw.
Two music directors quit during my tenure and the one that followed me apologized for getting on my case after realizing what he’d actually gotten himself into. It was impossible keep up and even more impossible to make everyone happy, as everyone had their idea about how the stations format should sound but no time with which to help make it better. It was also impossible to do the job quick enough and to anyone’s satisfaction despite the aforementioned lack of help. Finally, there was a heavy pressure to keep things “independent,” so much so that charting Radiohead’s Amnesiac (despite it being far and away the most popular album at the station) was taboo.
I did it anyway though without really thinking about it. The random thank-you copy of the album I was mailed wasn’t worth the derision I received from one faction nor having been yelled at by another faction for not having gotten it into the station faster.
A lot has changed since then. Miami’s music scene has grown, the internet has become an easier place to find new music legally, and WVUM has not only updated their format but also realized that being MD is impossible to do alone and begun recruiting co-MDs. The format today is a better reflection of Miami as a community and doesn’t simply play music for the sake of being different anymore, which makes sense. WVUM doesn’t compete with WZTA or WSHE anymore – it competes with your iPod. Miami is better for it.
My original draft of this article had a lot more whining about how hard being MD was, how it was impossible to make everyone happy while doing a good job, and that if I had a year of my life to do over I’d choose my year as MD so I could have spent it the right way: having more fun, worrying less about what people thought, and pushing the station into a new post-internet, pro-community era.
Who cares though? There’s no point in harping any more on the past than I need to. The absurdity of the posturing involved in college radio is hard to discuss without devolving into bitchy farce. A bitchy farce that’s worth sharing, no doubt, but is entirely the subject for another post.