Friday, February 20, 2009

You can't go home again. WRFN becomes Norse Code Radio

I'm going to sound like an old man in today's post.

When I say that I graduated from college thirteen years ago, it makes me feel old. I graduated from Northern Kentucky University in 1996. Looking back, I wish I had majored in something different. Alas, I majored in Radio/Television with an emphasis on engineering. I wanted to be a broadcast engineer.

The way that turned out is a story for another day.

Since I enjoyed radio, in my freshman year of 1990 I was instantly attracted to the campus radio station, WRFN. It was there that I found my home away from home. It was there where I spent all my extra time, where I became a DJ, learned the art of voiceover work, production, promotions, sales, and became the general manager in my final year. I put a lot of myself into that place, trying to make it the best little radio station I could. And I succeeded in improving it both technically and aesthetically. I had an awesome set of friends, and we all worked together to keep th station going. It was like our own little club, and we loved it.

WRFN was set up to mimic a commercial radio station. We had a definite format to follow, modern rock mixed with classic rock We logged all music and spots and promos we played. WRFN was kind of a training lab to learn how to work in radio, even if the only audience were those who had to listen in the university center or those few who tuned in their radios in the dorms.

We did things almost the same way as the "real" stations: we sold air time, produced and played commercials, read PSAs, played station promos, wrote and read news. We signed on in the morning and signed off at night. We followed a playlist and went live when the log told use to. We played carts, records, and CDs. WRFN was a place to hone our talent both in voice and production. The longer we worked at it, the better we got. We had a lot of students work in commercial radio after leaving WRFN.

Everything was analog from 1990 to 1996. Except for CD players, everything was done on tape. We played records on the air. There was no computer.

And we were happy. These were among the best years of my life.

However, radio had been changing and we didn't know it. Analog was shifting to digital. Computers were taking over the radio studios. Even the CDs were disappearing along with the old cart machines.

And since I graduated, internet radio has come into its own in supplementing terrestrial radio.

Which finally drags me to today's point.

WRFN went through a whole lot of change after I graduated. WRFN was dark for a lot of the time; it seemed like people weren't interested in it for a while. Eventually the doors reopened, new staff was brought in, a lot of the equipment was replaced. The studio moved. They started broadcasting again, until it went dark and went through more transition into which we find the little station today.

The station has moved yet again and no longer resembles what it once was. Welcome to Norse Code Radio, which has no distinct format. Today the station is located in a small room with a laptop and a tiny audio mixer. I found these pictures through their website. As you can see, it's no longer a training ground for future broadcasters, it's your basic little internet radio station.

And that's not a bad thing at all.

In today's world, there's almost no point to learn how to do radio. Companies have cut their staff in half and the reality is that there are far fewer jobs available in radio anymore. Internet radio has allowed just about anyone to take to the web and broadcast their favorite music.

One thing that amateur internet broadcasters have to learn how to do is make themselves stand out. The problem is that there are far too many choices of internet stations to listen to. I could go on and find a hundred different stations playing basically the same thing.

One of the chief problems of amateur internet broadcasters (by which I mean, webstreams that are not streamed off of a commercial FM or AM radio station) is that they tend to lack any kind of personality. The station plays like a music service with ten or fifteen songs in a row, then a brief station identifier. I guess I'm in the minority when it comes to radio listeners who want to hear any chatter. I like chatter. I like listening to the wacky personalities. I like to hear someone introduce a song, or entertain me with a clever piece of production.

Norse Code Radio is somewhere in the middle. NCR isn't set up to be a training lab for future broadcasters, it's a place for an NKU student to play his favorite music for a couple of hours and have some fun. I've been sampling the station for the past few days and found that there is no real format. There are two-hour blocks of shows where the person plays specific types of music. Most of what I've heard is alternative and its variations, some classic rock, some modern rock, and an interesting Japanese rock show.

With all due respect, most of what I've listened to lacks personality, but two of the shows deserve mention. I listened after six on both Wednesday and Thursday nights and have enjoyed both the music and personalities of those who were on. It didn't sound like they were following any kind of format; they didn't have liners to read, promos to play, or even PSAs. It sounded to me like they were playing their favorite music and having some fun doing it.

That's really what WRFN boiled down to when I worked there from 1990 to 1996. A place to play your favorite music and have some fun. We all did have a lot of fun and most of us took our roles very seriously. I think it's great that WRFN is back in 2009, even if has lost the slogan we gave it around 1994, Northern's Best Rock.

I plan to listen more often and see how my old radio station is coming along.

I know a piece of equipment they desperately need, though, and that is a good processor. Winamp may be a great tool, but their levels are all over the place, one song plays loud, the next one is soft, the microphone is somewhere in the middle. I'd suggest an Omnia-3net and that would make them all the more listenable.

Otherwise, it's not bad to listen to, and I have pretty eclectic tastes.


At Thursday, March 19, 2009 3:41:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

As a member and Program Director of NCR, I'd be happy to clear up any confusion and answer any questions about the station in its current incarnation that you may have.

As the station was nothing more than a PA system before we started our online broadcast, we'd love your help filling in some history gaps from when you were here. We don't know why the station disappeared in the late 90's. And we have been trying to revive it and unearth its history. Any information you have would be appreciated.

At Monday, June 22, 2009 2:16:00 PM, Anonymous Chris Beiting said...

Allen, this is Chris Beiting. After you left I ended up becoming GM in 1997. I reformated the station to WRFN: The Edge and switched formats to all new alternative rock. 1997 was a banner year for the station, we got a computer - started using MP3s, and generated some money.

Then in 1998 I left in the spring to chase the .com dream. By then it was mainly me running the show with a few people, I gave the keys to Dave Thompson and told him to find someone new -- the passion for radio left me.

Like you, some of my greatest memories are in that studio... well the old studio in the University Center 2nd floor.

At Saturday, December 12, 2009 10:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My name is Ron Schumacher. I was at NKU when WRFN first began in 1980. I still have playlists, logs and other items from WRFN's infant years. I would be happy to share these and any memories of the station if you're interested. You can reach me at I too have very fond memories of WRFN.

At Wednesday, April 14, 2010 11:36:00 AM, Blogger Allen said...

Regarding the post by "Beth" of NCR, I did in fact email her so I could provide her with whatever information she wanted and to "clear up my confusion" regarding the current status of Norse Code Radio.

Never heard back.

I stand by my comments. The station has lost its structure and original purpose as a training studio for up-and-coming broadcasters. If there are no promos, no station IDs, no commercials, no set format, and no real structure, then it's not a radio station.

And that's what NCR appears to be: a place to hear music. And that's it.

Kind of a shame.


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