Breaking free from mass produced, big record label music means no more drinking the Kool-Aid of mainstream radio.
Since the 1940s, and as recently as 2007, radio stations have been losing credibility for their cozy relationships with record labels. For years, station owners and DJs have taken payouts from labels in exchange for playing artists, whether they were worthy of attention or not. The system, known as “Payola,” is technically illegal, but difficult to police.Even so, the FCC has levied tens of millions of dollars in fines against both stations and labels. But the real losers are the people who tune in and get an earful of mass-produced music backed by the industry’s biggest labels.
Large companies, like Clear Channel, own multiple stations in multiple cities and duplicate programming formats in every market. But in the Internet era, those stations are losing their stranglehold on the industry.
Around the world, nonprofit radio stations are playing creative music from independent and established artists deserving of a listen. These stations develop unique programming with no agenda other than to introduce listeners to the best music being recorded today.
Rather than rely on commercial advertising to earn their keep, these stations are funded largely by listener donations. The model results in radio stations adhering to a level of programming integrity and broadcast ingenuity not found in mainstream media.
These stations also allow listeners all over the world to opt out of local cookie-cutter radio by streaming programs online. As a result, people everywhere can do more than just listen to great music, they can help usher in a global Armageddon for big radio. So, put your headphones on and get your fist in the air—here are four of the best independent radio stations.
TECH TIP: All of these Internet radio stations are available through the free smartphone app, TuneIn. Use that app with your Bluetooth enabled car stereo and cruise around with the best beats in town.
KPOV / 88.9 FM / Bend, OR
Bend’s listener-supported radio station started in the fall of 2006 after a five-year wait that involved fund raising, problem solving and a lengthy FCC application process. Today, KPOV has an eclectic lineup of programs and hosts who play everything from obscure and historical music to the freshest tunes around.
Favorite program: Left of the Dial, Thursdays 8-10 p.m. PDT
Hosts Scott Aycock and Ben Salmon spend two hours every Thursday night delivering buzz worthy and educational tunes. A blend of influential music and artists who are pushing genres into new realms, LOTD is the most committed local program to the cause of innovative music.
The Current / 89.3 FM / Minneapolis, MN
Minnesota’s longstanding public radio offers an airplay spectrum that includes everything from the pioneering sound of David Bowie to the best hip-hop being made today. DJs at The Current are truly a part of the Minneapolis community and support the local music scene as well as the national artists who come through town.
Favorite program: The Current Presents, Sundays 7 p.m. PDT
As if playing creative music isn’t enough, The Current also gets conceptual with their programming. The Current Presents is a show dedicated to pushing radio in fresh directions. One week the show explores the evolution of garage rock, and the next talks to chefs whose kitchens are inspired by music.
KEXP / 90.3FM / Seattle, WA
Nestled within the University of Washington’s campus, KEXP’s mission is to facilitate listener discovery of new music by supporting unknown and creative artists. KEXP has a variety of expert DJs who truly love the songs they play and can trace the evolution of those tunes through the annals of music history.
Favorite program: Audioasis, Saturdays 6-9 p.m. PDT
Host Hannah Levin has been deeply rooted in the Pacific Northwest scene for 10 years and focuses her show on the best new music from the region. The show is also one of the best places on the dial/Internet to learn about established Northwest bands you may have overlooked.
andHow / 107.5 FM / Porirua, New Zealand
Before you start going all geo-centric and think the music world revolves around the U.S., you better check out New Zealand’s answer to big radio, andHow FM. No government funding, no university partnership, just a link to Paypal where listeners can donate their hard-earned scratch. With a rock heavy format, andHow streams a variety of syndicated retro and indie programs from around the world.
Favorite program: The Hype Machine, Wednesdays 6 p.m. PST
Host Dev Sherlock plays tunes each week that are discovered by following the most in-touch music blogs. If it’s being talked about on the web and it’s good, The Hype Machine finds it and plays it for you. It’s guaranteed to help make your friends look music-stupid.