Tuesday, January 3, 2012

adventures in Morris: the college radio edition.

I went to college at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and I loved every minute of it. It’s a fairly small school; enrollment was something like 2100 when I went there. I briefly considered going to a larger school in a larger city: ever since I could talk, I had been telling everyone that I was going to school on the East Coast and never coming back to South Dakota again. And here I am, living in Sioux Falls… me and my big mouth.

I ultimately decided to go to UMM for a number of reasons. One, it was far enough away from home so that I could feel like I was branching out, but close enough so that I could go home for a weekend if I wanted to. Two, they had very few rules. I had visited two other colleges with curfews, and there was no WAY I was going to have a curfew in college. Three, it was just a feeling. Allow me a moment of cheesiness, but when I toured the Morris campus, I had this feeling that I belonged there. Gag, I know, but it’s true.

As it turned out, I was right. I met the greatest people and had the greatest professors (mostly). During my tenure at UMM, I uncovered a major benefit to going to a small college: you could participate in an extra-curricular activity that you wanted.

At a bigger college, the competition to be in jazz band or concert band would be fierce. Not at UMM. Sure, we had a top jazz band with the aforementioned fierce competition, but there were several other jazz bands for those of us who just wanted to play. Concert band had soloists and section leaders and all that, but anyone who was willing to show up to rehearsal could be a part of it. Even though my degrees are in English and Art History, some of the best friends I made in college were people I met through band. (NERD ALERT)

It wasn’t just jazz and concert band that I got to participate in: again, the beauty of a small school. I did a bunch of other dorky stuff, like the Art History Association and the English Honor Society. I worked on the school newspaper for three years, and I was a radio DJ for three semesters. The radio, my friends, is what this story is really about.

The radio station at UMM is 89.7 FM, and any student, staff, or faculty member could sign up for a two hour radio show during any day of the week. You could choose music from the huge CD and vinyl collection in the studio, or you could bring your iPod and play songs from your own music library. The best part of the radio station, though, is its call letters: KUMM. I promise, I am not making that up. Just think of all the t-shirts that were produced.
This was the Valentine's Day bumper sticker.
When I was a sophomore in college, I was dating a hipster. He was a studio art major with a love for tight pants, and his musical snobbery ran deep. He had a radio show of his own for the first semester of my sophomore year. I had no idea what he played; I had a class when he had a radio show, so I was never able to listen. However, it seemed like so much fun to me – to be able to play whatever music you wanted for a two-hour chunk once a week? Awesome!

When the spring semester rolled around, I decided that I wanted to be on the radio, too. I asked my then-boyfriend if he’d be willing to share a slot with me, and he agreed. As a radio newbie, I certainly didn’t want a solo show, and who better to show me the ropes?

Our shows were on Monday evenings, and I was delighted. I told my parents, who were more than happy to listen each week via internet streaming. The first few sessions were smooth sailing; I was just learning how to run all the controls, so I didn’t complain too much about my co-host’s musical selections. He wanted to dedicate ten minutes to Morrissey? Gross, but whatever.

However, the longer we were on the radio, the harder I began to fight for my choices. I thought it would be fair to choose every other song; Hipster Boyfriend did not agree. He didn’t think my musical choices were hip enough for KUMM, which was billed as an alternative radio station. I argued that “alternative” radio stations can play whatever they wanted. We did have some guidelines to follow: no swearing in the song, and we couldn’t play anything that had been in the top 40 for the last ten years. No problem: I simply had to avoid popular songs ranging from 1997 to 2007. There was nothing good in the top 40 during those ten years anyway.

Don’t get me wrong: I do enjoy quite a few artists that could be considered alternative and are completely accepted within the hipster crowd. David Bowie, for example, is one of my very favorites, and a sure-fire way to hipster acceptance. However, I have an appreciation for early 90s country music and 80s hair bands, which are completely outlawed in hipster circles. My musical tastes are wide-ranging, and that’s where Hipster Boyfriend and I came to disagree.

My parents were faithful listeners, and I liked to throw in as many songs for them as I possibly could. One fateful radio show, I wanted to play “Faith” by George Michael. I knew my parents would get a kick out of that, and besides, who DOESN’T want to hear “Faith” on the radio? I had done my research: “Faith” had been nowhere near the top 40 in the last ten years, surprise surprise. I informed Hipster Boyfriend that I wanted to play George Michael, and he flat-out refused, using his old “it’s not alternative enough” excuse. I was way too stubborn to accept that.

Of course, at our next break, I brought it up on the air. “So… why is it I can’t play “Faith”?” I asked innocently. Hipster Boyfriend responded, “Well, it’s not appropriate for the radio.” I baited him: “Why not?” He answered, “The song is about a guy looking for sex, and it’s all about touching each other’s bodies.” I triumphantly said, “Well, since you just explained ON THE AIR exactly what it’s about, why can’t we play it?” Hipster Boyfriend knew I had him there. He then did something that made me absolutely indignant: he pulled seniority. “Since I’ve been here longer, I say we can’t.” I was furious. Since swearing on the air can get you kicked off of the radio, I settled for “you’re a JERK” with as much venom as I could muster. Before he could respond, I cut him off with the next song: “Kiss You Off” by Scissor Sisters.

The rest of the radio show was spent in stony silence. I was not at all sorry, so there was no way I would be apologizing. As soon as we signed off the air, I stalked out of the studio without a look back. About a minute later, my mom called. “Soooo…” she said. “That was some show!” It turns out my parents were dying of laughter while this on-air argument was happening: they didn’t much care for Hipster Boyfriend, so they were pleased to hear my annoyance. I broke up with him a few months later, and “Kiss You Off” has become one of my mother’s favorite songs.

I did have some really great times on the radio, though. My friend Bob visited me on his spring break in March 2007, and I persuaded Hipster Boyfriend to let Bob take over his slot. Bob was my co-host for the evening, and much to Hipster Boyfriend’s chagrin, we spent most of the two hours playing songs like “Standing Outside the Fire” and yes, “Faith.”
I'm sure we're saying something extremely intelligent.
The next school year, I was a junior with a whole new outlook on life. I was living off-campus with a herd of fantastic people, I had finally declared the majors I would ultimately stick with, and I had a new non-hipster boyfriend named James.

I had really enjoyed doing the radio show, but now I needed to find a new on-air partner. I talked my roommate Sara into a Sunday evening show, which we entitled “Like, Wow” and began with gusto. One of the requirements for a KUMM radio show was that you had to play four songs from the “new music” section every hour. Frankly, most of these songs were garbage, so Sara and I played all four immediately to get them over with. The rest of the hour could be spent playing whatever our little hearts desired. My family would call in and request songs (they enjoyed listening to Sara’s and my banter much more than Hipster Boyfriend), and we would frequently dedicate songs to our housemates.
We spent more time playing with Photobooth
than we did on actual programming.
The longer we had the radio show, the goofier we got. We started setting aside the last five minutes of every show and calling it the “Friendship Five.” Sara and I would then tell each other why we were friends that week. The reasons ranged from “you wrote an article for my newspaper section” to “you drove to Alexandria when we wanted to go to Target.” When Valentine’s Day rolled around, we used a good portion of time reading aloud a list of the top love songs of all time and then playing the love songs that could sneak by under KUMM rules. One of them was “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” by Meatloaf. I asked Sara if she would take an art history class for love and she said, “Calla… I won’t do that.” We were a riot.

We did our radio show for the entire school year, and it was on Sunday nights for both semesters. Sara and I had our weekly newspaper staff meetings right after the radio show each Sunday, so we worked straight through supper. Food was not allowed in the studio, so we got a little creative around dinnertime. Some weeks, we would get a pizza delivered to the student center (the radio station was in the basement of the student center), and we’d set it in the little waiting room-type area outside the studio. Then, we’d put on some super-long song like “Albuquerque” by Weird Al Yankovic or two long-ish songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and some late-model Beatles song. We’d sit right outside the studio and eat our pizza, listening carefully for when it was time to push “play” on the next five-minute song. By the end of the year, we had it timed to perfection.

Though we had a great run in the 2007 – 2008 school year, Sara and I decided not to renew our radio show during our final year of college. We both had senior seminars and enough credits to make a grown man cry. Something had to give, and it was the radio show. It was fine, though: it left us more time to write twenty-page papers and bake four-layer cakes for our roommates (but that’s another story).

My three semesters of DJ-hood were fantastic, though I’m sure I wouldn’t want to do it for a living. KUMM allowed a certain degree of freedom: since it was a college station, no one expected you to take it too seriously. And with call letters like KUMM, could you EVER take it seriously? No. The answer is a resounding no.

So if you’re ever in the Morris area, go ahead and tune your radio to 89.7 FM. I can’t guarantee you’ll hear anything good, but at least you can tell people that you listened to KUMM. Not everyone can say that.

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