Music Education

Why Independent Radio Matters

There’s nothing like turning on the radio and hearing one of your favorite songs, especially if said song is not a Top 40 hit or “Highway to Hell,” which for some reason seems to be the song that every commercial rock station loves to air every ten minutes. No wonder we turned to other ways of finding new music. It’s pretty hard to discover fresh artists when the same handful have been played on repeat since 1975.

Steaming services have completely dismantled and redefined the music industry. I wrote a blog about this phenomenon a while back, but algorithms have changed the way we pay artists, listen to music and even write songs. With thousands of curated playlists at the tips of our fingers, it’s beyond easy to find new music nowadays. But where’s the human aspect? That lovely, warm feeling of requesting a track and then hearing it played for thousands of people is impossible to recreate on Spotify. Heck, that feeling is why I decided to become a DJ at WKNC (and why I love getting phone-in requests during my show).

Independent radio has an incredibly rich history. WKNC (then WLAC) started in 1922 as an experiment in NC State’s Communications department. From there, it’s morphed into a hub of community engagement and one of the only public sources of alternative music in the Triangle. Other college radio stations, such as KALX 90.7 for the University of California and Ithaca’s WICB 91.7, have had similar impacts in their own communities. Non-commercial stations that aren’t affiliated with a college or university still remain popular, some of the most notable being those with NPR programming.

Although, when it comes to music, indie radio has seen a significant decline. Stations to the left of the dial are commercial, and most likely owned by one of the major broadcasting companies, such as iHeartMedia or Entercom. These for-profit stations air commercials very frequently and generally stick to playing Top 40 and classics, pandering to the widest audience possible to increase listenership. Many of these stations have forgone live DJs and opted for customized, pre-recorded air breaks instead to cut costs. Turning on the radio doesn’t really feel like turning on the radio anymore. What’s the point of listening to the same songs over and over (with commercials breaks at that), if that personal, human feeling is lost? These types of stations threaten the beauty of radio as we know it.

WKNC has remained one of the most popular stations in the Triangle because we’re keeping the ridiculous, unique fun of independent radio alive. Yes, you may tune in and hear a new (or experienced) DJ fumbling over their words. There might be random, brief silences when someone forgets to turn the “aux” button on. And yet, we all come together for the music. Never mind hearing the same song twice in one day, it’s almost impossible to hear the same song twice in one week. Each DJ is unique in their style and truly takes pride in their sets. We’re a random, silly hodgepodge of alt college kids, but you’ll always find something new on 88.1.

By toad maiden

A little Butter makes everything better. Part-time WKNC content manager and graphic designer, full-time sludgy surf rock funk master metalhead. Get in touch with ya suggestions n' such at