If you’ve been following the social media exploits of The Tribe lately, you may have seen our own Tom Clancy’s fairly scathing writeup of the sorry state of NYC radio. I felt compelled to respond because I listen to a lot of music on the radio when I’m in my car driving out to the data center that hosts a lot of our equipment. Right off that bat though, I’ll say that I’m not here to defend New York radio or give a different take on it.
My trip takes me from Philadelphia to Parsippany, NJ, so it’s only once I’m around Princeton that I can even pick up radio from NYC, and I never listen to it because Tom just may be right. But since it’s a trip I’ve been making on a weekly basis for almost two years now I’ve managed to find a radio station for every stage of the trip. Mostly small college radio stations that have extremely limited broadcast ranges, so I only get maybe 20-30 minutes with each before they fade into static. But as one fades, I know exactly where to tune to pick up the next until that one fades, and so on until I finally reach my destination. But the music is so consistently good that I decided to make a playlist of the music I was hearing one day when I was driving out, and also give my thoughts on the radio stations that help brighten my drive.
91.7 WKDU (Drexel University. Philadelphia, PA)
Drexel University’s radio station. Student run in the truest sense of the word. I remember one time listening to this station when the student DJ couldn’t find the concert listings he was supposed to plug, so the listeners were subjected to roughly 20 minutes of “Uhmmm”s and “Uhhhh”s while he frantically searched for them, and I think just finally ended up Googling to see who was playing at Johnny Brenda’s. Somehow that’s part of the charm of this station though. And if you like reggae this station has you more than covered.
88.5 WXPN (University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA)
University of Pennsylvania’s radio station is not the amateur affair that WKDU frequently descends into. Probably most famous as the home of World Cafe, which is carried by NPR stations all over the US. They have a bad habit of getting fixated on a new single the way commercial radio stations and massively overplaying it, but I find a lot of new music that I love through this station so I can’t fault them too much. Also, if you don’t like what they’re playing at the moment and you have a HD radio, they have an HD-2 station they call xponential radio.
91.3 WTSR (The College of New Jersey. Trenton, NJ)
If I get into an accident because I’m fiddling with my cell phone while driving, it’s going to be because I’m frantically trying to Shazam something I’m hearing on this station. I can get this station for maybe 30 minutes at the most, and that’s only on a day when the weather is helping. But I’ve probably found more music that I love from this station than any other (Shout-out to Makthaverskan who I love and found here).
103.3 WPRB (Princeton University. Princeton, NJ)
They play classical in the morning when I’m on my way out, and that’s really not the best driving music. Also has the distinct disadvantage of being sandwiched between WTSR and WRSU. If the weather is cooperating I’ll end up skipping this entirely on the way out. On the way back I’ll switch to this when I start to lose WRSU, but is rarely good enough to keep me from switch back to WTSR as soon as possible.
88.7 WRSU (Rutgers University. New Brunswick, NJ)
A relief when this starts coming in because I don’t have to listen to WPRB anymore, but I don’t ever remember hearing anything I fell in love with on this station, but it’s almost always good enough to keep me tuned in.
91.9 WXPJ (Hackettstown, NJ)
Ok. So this is just another broadcast location of WXPN, but it fills the gap between WRSU and…
91.1 WFMU (Jersey City, NJ)
As a Not New Yorker, I totally consider this to be New York radio. But since New Yorkers tend to view anything west of the Hudson River as being on a completely different planet, I understand if they disagree. I literally have no idea what I’m going to hear when I tune into this station. Sometimes it great, sometimes I can only listen to it for a few minutes before my brain start to hurt. If you want to test the limits of Shazam’s ability to recognize a song, this is the place to go. Also, if you’ve been hosting a party and you want it to be clear it’s time for your guests to leave without being rude, this station will accomplish that for you.
There is one important fact that needs to explicitly be brought up in regards to all these stations. They are all freeform radio stations, and as such the DJs have almost complete control of what gets played when they are on the air. This isn’t so much a review of the radio stations as a whole as it is a review of what I hear in the limited time that I’m passing through their broadcast ranges. If you were you tune into these stations in the evenings or at night, I guarantee you that you will hear entirely different music and have entirely different impressions of these stations. But that’s really part of the beauty of it. Do you have a favorite station, or a DJ that you love to follow? Let us know on Twitter @thevaliantway!