MY Experience With College Radio

At one time college radio broadcasting was the source of new, cutting-edge music. Some of the most influential bands of our time, such as Nirvana and the Pixies, were first given regular airplay through college radio broadcasting. While this is still the case to some extent, because of present day content rules and pressure by both the FCC and the public, there is more censorship of music in college radio today.

What Can and Cannot be Played on College Radio

The Federal Communications Commission, or the FCC, was created in 1934 to regulate the airways. They are responsible for administratively enforcing the federal laws regarding content rules of both radio and television. Their purpose is to protect the public, particularly children, from offensive material. College radio broadcasting is also subject to FCC laws – they receive their licenses to play from the FCC, answer to this organization for any complaints filed against them, and are required to practice strict record-keeping for the FCC.

What is the censorship of music on college radio according to federal law? There are three content rules.

  1. Material that is obscene can never be broadcasted, as it is not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. This means that any content which talks about sex in an offensive way, encourages an extreme interest in sex, and lacks “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” cannot be aired.
  2. Music that is indecent, meaning that it invokes sexual or excretory organs in an offensive manner can only be played during hours when children are less likely to be listening. From six in the morning until ten in the evening, indecent material cannot be played.
  3. Profane lyrics are as well restricted by federal content rules. Anything considered to be “grossly offensive language’ cannot be played during the same daytime hours as indecent material.

The Byproduct of FCC Censorship

While the content rules are not absurd – stations can still play what genres of music they want, whenever they want, and the general population would agree that offensive material should not be broadcasted – they are something that each indie musician who wants to have their music spun on college radio should be aware of. Even a single curse word or a reference to what may be deemed as indecent can turn off a music director who is deciding whether to play a new album or not.

The censorship of music for college radio broadcasting is technically only a trifle limiting, banning the obscene, indecent, and profane. In reality, the pressure and the possibility of enormous fines, sums of money which would likely cripple any small independent, non-commercial broadcasting station, are truly the problem. Music directors may not be comfortable with material that may be even reminiscent of something that may violate federal regulations. From their point of view, they have to be wary of a public that files hundreds of thousands of complaints each year against commercial and non-commercial broadcasting.

Because of the threat and the public pressure to adhere to a more community pleasing playlist, college radio broadcasting is becoming more and more limited. For example, instead of allowing individual dj’s to play whatever they want, music directors make the decision to check every song that may be played, as a small infraction can cost thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars. In some cases, recorded broadcasts are used in place of live sets so all material can be pre-screened.

College radio broadcasting is not by any means doomed by the censorship of music, but they are subject to the power of current public opinion. While all artists may have their own conception of what is or is not acceptable, when submitting material, it may be wise to consider as well the ideals of the community that will be potentially listening to the music.