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Radio in the UK
How the British copy KUCI
by: Blake Howerton

I turned on the television to see Donald "Rummy" Rumsfeld's bespectacled face bob to and fro across the screen -- apparently he was being filmed by a hand-held camera. It was early July, and I was watching a news program on England's own BBC while on vacation in the UK. In my blurry early-morning post-sleep state I was vaguely disconcerted to see Rumsfeld's face floating to the far corners of the screen, a la Blair Witch. Usually when Rumsfeld is filmed, he stands in front of a podium or something. With a moment to wake up, I realized that Rumsfeld had not become an indie moviemaker, but rather, a British reporter had cornered ol' Rummy in a hallway and was inquiring about US reasons for war in Iraq.

I remember the gist of his off-the-cuff rhetoric. It went along the lines of "no compelling new evidence" for the war, that action in Iraq was necessary because of "old evidence seen in new light" since September 11, that there was no substantial new intelligence since the weapons inspectors pulled out way back in the Clinton days. This was inconsistent with what we Americans had been told on the news. Even with all my cynicism, I was not prepared for this. For the first time, I felt awkward on account of my American citizenship. I'd been told by numerous people that, while abroad, I might be criticized because I was American. Nobody told me I might criticize myself.

My time away flew by and eventually I returned to California -- back to the land of 24-hour genre radio stations with 20 song rotations. I became re-acquainted with Fox News. Altogether, I found the media to be much less critical of the government and other powers. This is sad; media is such a powerful force. And like "the force," it can be used for good or evil. Media is a window to the world we cannot witness for ourselves. Instead of broadening our horizons and teaching us about our world, the media shapes how we think by limiting what we know. I didn't know that the U.S. had no new information that justified a war in Iraq. I had no idea that "garage" music could mean something other than bands inspired by Nirvana. American media is owned by conglomerates and honed to ultra-money-making-efficiency. To my American eyes, the independently funded BBC was television and radios' knight in shining armor.

However, there are some pockets of relief from the vigilant bombardment of commercial media... like KUCI, for example. Before my trip to England I had been under the impression that since its very birth, radio had been as I'd known it. This was not true.

Radio in England comes in an entirely different format from our commercial stations. Living in California, I had always thought that all radio stations (except college stations) had a genre that they were meant to play, and that all the songs were picked by recording company's marketing departments. Rap stations are for rap, rock stations for rock, country for country, etcetera. And when the hot new single from the hot new artist is released you'll know the words in a week, whether or not you like the song.

Radio stations in England, for the most part, play the "big hits" of the top whatever. Beyonce Knowle's "Crazy In Love" played pretty much non-stop the whole time I was there. Truthfully, I didn't mind so much at first. I think the horns are catchy. However, in spite of all that nonsense, one does definitely get the distinct impression that DJs have more control over what they spin. Many stations broadcast shows that seem to neglect what's popular altogether. Who would have thunk it?

Not only do the DJs get a little more room to breathe, so do the listeners. The commercial radio stations here that cater to one niche, 24 hours a day, don't exist in England. The only stations that I found there that were 24-hour genre-specific were classical and news stations. There aren't any "24 hour party stations" or anything like that, except, perhaps, in major urban areas like London. The radio is reminiscent of KUCI in terms of genre and show scheduling. There are different genres on the same station depending on what time of day you tune in. For instance, you can hear the squeaks and growls of Swedish death metal at 9:58, but at 10:02, four minutes later on the same station, you might hear the throbbing pounds of hard house.

I recall one late-night European pop punk/nu-metal show in particular. These scenes have it made in California, but this is not so across the pond. Yet they still get their airtime. Perhaps in another part our USA, maybe in a big city, there is a "garage" show. To the uninitiated, garage is a type of house that typically has MCs rapping over the music. It's actually an entire culture, like hip-hop, and has DJs and MCs, like hip hop, and cliques and crews, like hip hop (I'll find out later that I am oversimplifying this). It's kind of a techno relative of hip hop, the sort of thing that the average American person, like myself, would never hear here.

Now for the serious part.

On June 2, the Federal Communications Commission axed decades old limits on the number of media stations one company can own in a single market. This means, of course, that larger companies can take over smaller ones, bringing us, the listeners and viewers, a narrower interpretation of the events in our world. If you're down with KUCI, you were as glad as I was to find that the House of Representatives is currently seeking to halt the FCC's ruling. However, this is not going to solve all of the problems with our shady corporate media. Supporting public radio and non-commercial radio is a start and you need look no further than KUCI to begin helping. KUCI is dedicated to bringing Irvine, OC and the world (through our webcast) the most new and diverse music and views available -- exactly what all radio should do.

I remember reading about the then-pending decision months in advance and being concerned. I was disconcerted by the notion that fewer hands would control it. However, my apathy (which I believe I inherited from media), soon reared its sleepy head and I didn't do squat. Benjamin Franklin once said that if he had to pick between a free government and a free press, he'd choose the press. I think I'm beginning to understand why.


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