News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 28, 2006

College radio is the only place listeners can hear edgy groups most commercial stations don’t play

It’s 3 o’clock on a Monday afternoon. The really hard stuff is four hours away.

Down the hall from Dave Sabaini’s office in the WISU studios, disc jockeys Rachel Carl and Ashley Hood ponder what musical mood they’re in today. Carl is leaning toward a retro binge of 1980s punk, full of the Ramones, the Clash and the Cure. Hood prefers spinning some more current Dead Can Drive. To help a reporter unfamiliar with that band’s style, Carl explains that Dead Can Drive plays “industrial Goth,” which she adds, “is just not what our audience likes.” So instead, Hood settles on hardcore rockers Clutch.

Clutch’s “Passive Restraints” CD can be found on Earache Records.

Suddenly the thought behind Sabaini’s “7 o’clock rule” unfolds. It’s one of the few WISU playlist restrictions imposed by Sabaini — the 51-year-old director of audio operations who’s been tutoring fledgling DJs at Indiana State University since 1983.

“No screamers before 7 p.m.,” he explains. “After 7, guys like us want earplugs and Tylenol.”

Sabaini, a fan of classic rock and the blues, and his wife, a classically trained musician, have a vast CD collection in their Terre Haute home. “We have about everything except what we play here,” he says.

And that’s precisely the quaint beauty of college radio. It’s the only place the under-25 crowd can hear edgy groups such as The Diffs, Bouncing Souls and Bad Brains. Kids can’t find that music in their parents’ album stack or on most commercial radio stations.

“You will never have heard of any of it,” says 43-year-old Chris Newton, operations coordinator at DePauw University’s WGRE, “but the kids have.”

WGRE (on FM 91.5), WISU (FM 89.7) and Rose-Hulman’s WMHD (FM 90.7) are three of more than 600 college radio stations in America, estimates the editor-in-chief of the College Music Journal. And each offers “a lot of freedom, a lot of variety, a lot of options and a kind of programming that isn’t dictated by commercial dollars,” says the CMJ editor — known as “Reverend Moose” — in a telephone interview from the publication’s New York City offices. “It’s a breeding ground for new ideas and free-thinking minds and everything you always thought college radio should be.”

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