December 2: “The Wagon”, Dinosaur Jr.


What makes a college radio show great? A host thrilled to share his or her eclectic collection and knowledge of music with others, adept at cueing up multiple turntables and CD players and lowering the volume just so so there’s a nice fade between the end of that and the beginning of the next.  Low-key but entertaining stories, a couple of friends sharing banter on the air, a hesitant but earnest stream of little-known facts. Themes: a whole show featuring female drummers or power pop trios or bands that broke up after one perfect album.  Variety: the unexpected record-store find! The cassette tape from the gig!  The weird jazz and the foreign language cover song! The live performance at an unusual hour by the local singer-songwriter! You tune in from week to week because you stumbled across the show once while cooking and were taken in by the charming host and the steady stream of fresh, never-heard music.

What makes a college radio show not so great? A host who has a slightly obsessive personality that means he or she is fixated on one, two, or three albums at any point and cannot make it through a show without returning to those favourites.  Lack of variety: a focus on music of a certain style released in the last 30 days or, perhaps, six months. A host who can never remember the interesting little tidbits about this record label or that guitarist, whose banter sometimes involves rehashing the plot of “Beverley Hills 90210” with a passing station mate, who has ideas for show themes (Prague Spring!) but is then unable to think of how to manifest this in an actual show (but really: if the station doesn’t have any Plastic People of the Universe recordings, what then?).

But even that show will have its fans, and maybe a person who will call in to say, without irony, “I just wanted to say thanks for playing Dinosaur Jr. again at 10:00 in the morning. You are making my day.”