Props Out of Nowhere

Community radio stations are strange animals. While they all have paper-missions to be inclusive, alternative, and oriented toward citizen access to the airwaves, the reality is that they often have poisonous internal politics, can get caught up in their own legacies to the detriment of their futures, and – like many volunteer-driven organizations (but ironic for a radio station) – don’t necessarily communicate well amongst themselves.
My current home for radio-catharsis, WEFT, is not immune to this. I’ve served a year on the Board of Directors and came away completely frustrated. Fortunately, many community radio stations – if the volunteers are detached from the baggage, empowered with a sense of collective responsibility and left to do their thing – can almost run themselves. This applies to WEFT as well.
To be an airshifter on WEFT, you have to take on an extra volunteer commitment to the station. This is fair because there’s only a finite number of shows in the week, and competition for some slots can occur. So, going on-air is a privilege, and if you’re going to “represent” WEFT to the general listening community, you need to do more for the station than just spin music and talk on-air 2-4 hours per week.
It sounds onerous, but it’s not: the volunteer commitment for my own show is to be in charge of all the electronic music that the station receives. (We have a whole Music Committee working to keep WEFT on the cutting-edge of all genres.)
It’s not work, it’s fun: every week I get new CDs to take home and sample, rip the tracks I’ll use on my own show, then mark up the releases for rotation in our studio. After three months, new CDs rotate out of the studio and are filed in their respective section of our Great Hall music library.
In return, I e-mail music industry promoters once a week to let them know how their releases are doing and submit a top-10 electronic-music chart to the College Music Journal (the preeminent chart for college and community radio stations). No sweat: the most time-consuming part of the “work” is listening to the new releases.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I found out I was nominated for Specialty Music Director of the Year for the 2010 CMJ Radio Awards. Somebody has to nominate you (with a coherent rationale for why you deserve the recognition), and then there’s a primary-vote to select the top five finalists. I made that cut, too.
Although I didn’t win (big-ups to Maggie Overton at fellow community station WERU for taking the cake), it was a pleasant surprise get the recognition. I still don’t know who nominated me or how I made the finalist-cut, but it’s a real honor just to make it that far in the process. It shows that, simply by doing my job and being honest about it (honesty is a sometimes-thing in the music biz), the industry has a level of respect for me I never realized.
Even better, it’s another fond memory (besides the show) to take away from WEFT when I finally pull up stakes from Champaign. It also demonstrates that, despite what sh*t one might experience from a community radio station’s collective mood or structure, good things can still happen if you focus on the aspects you love.