Yes, it’s true. There was a time before they played REM, Depeche Mode, The Cure or even U2, on mainstream radio. These groups were on the cutting edge of music and the folks who dared to introduce us to this “new’ innovative sound of the time was college radio. Through the years, college radio has presented audiences a countless number of musicians, playing classics like The Police’s “Next to You” or “London Calling” from The Clash for the first time. Because of this, college radio has come to be associated with up-and-coming music movements including genres such as punk, New Wave, alternative rock, metal, indie rock and hip hop, long before those genres became part of mainstream music.
Now, one south jersey college radio is taking music to the next level by providing their listening audience a “new” alternative format of dance/electronic music. Burlington County College’s Z88.9, (WBZC) The Pulse of South Jersey, has been providing this new sound since 2005, when Brett T. Holcomb was hired as Operations Manager/Program Director and the station undertook a dramatic format change.
“We knew the station format needed an update so the students could relate to the music,” said Holcomb. “At the time, the station was playing singer/songwriter standards in a Triple A format and there was little participation from students at the station.”
College radio without college students? Seems kind of funny somehow…
Holcomb, an alumni of Burlington County College, had a variety of radio experience, working as program director at WDBK (where the station got national recognition in DMA (Dance Music Authority) Magazine for its aggressive playlist), to working for Temple University’s WRTI as a sports reporter and on-air disc jockey He also was a producer at Sports Radio 610 WIP for ten years. Holcomb knew he had his work cut out for him when the station switched formats and “went” dance/electronic.
However, since then, Z88.9 is the only college radio station with a full-time dance/electronic music format and people are beginning to take notice. The station has received numerous finalist nominations at the Philadelphia A.I.R. (Achievement In Radio) Awards, Best Radio Station at the International Dance Music Awards and Best Dance Station at Promo Only’s Summer Sessions. Not bad accolades for a college radio station whose competitors include Sirius Satellite’s array of dance/electronic formatted stations and Philadelphia’s 93.3 WMMR and Q102 WIOQ!
On-air Morning Show Host, and Programming Assistant/Remote Engineer, Ricky “Keebler” Ayala, explained that dance/ electronic music is bigger than ever.
“At the Bamboozle music festival this this year in Asbury Park, there was a huge section that had to be expanded just for the electronic dance bands, DJS and their audiences. Electronic band, Swedish House Mafia, recently sold out Madison Square Garden and DJ’s David Guetta and Deadmau5 headlined performances at the Grammy’s for the first time this year.”
According to Keebler, the dance/electronic music’s listening audience isn’t just the “Jersey Shore” crowd, either. “Listeners are from a variety of backgrounds, ages and locations,” he stated. “Electronic/dance music festivals like the “Electric Daisy Carnival” are sell-out events with over 100,000 attendees.”
Electronic/dance music itself, incorporates an array of styles including house, techno, drum and bass, and synth pop and the increased popularity of it in the United States seems to have created unique artistic development in the ever-evolving plethora of named genres, styles and sub-styles. Many “alternative rock” bands (usually featured on college radio for the first time) have DJ mixes of their songs, including Goyte’s hit, “Somebody that I Used to Know,” that had a heavy rotation on Z88.9.
In Philadelphia, the dance/electronic music club scene is also making resurgence and the city has a diverse DJ scene of electronic dance music, based in an area sometimes called Vinyl Row on Fourth Street. Most major events and parties are advertised in a column by Sean O’Neal called DJ Nights in the Philadelphia City Paper.
Popular artists including the likes of The Wanted, Alexis Jordan, Lady Gaga, Pitbull, Example, and Steve Aoki, have been feature interviews of Z88.9. Other popular artists including Avicii, Calvin Harris, Afrojack and Skrillex shine with hit after hit on the station. Z88.9 also features “specialty” shows for a wider listening audience including classic rock, bluegrass, progressive rock, fusion and metal at specific times and days. And since the college station has reformatted, what about student participation?
“We currently have 50 students involved in the station,” said Holcomb. “The students now want to get involved. We train all students for on-air broadcasting, as well as sports reporting, producing shows, and on-site promotions. The station helps students and I have seen a variety of our students overcome an array of disabilities through broadcasting including, speech impediments to blindness.”
The station features state-of-the-art equipment and it’s one of the best places in the tri-state area to learn the business. According to Holcomb, many commercial broadcast radio station recruit Burlington County College radio alumni.
Z88.9 is underwritten by several area businesses but is completely funded through Burlington County College. It broadcasts to all of New Jersey’s Burlington County and parts of Monmouth, and Ocean County, as well as parts of Philadelphia and Bucks County in Pennsylvania. The station also broadcasts via a 24-hour web stream on the internet.
What does the future hold for the station?
“We are currently putting together a strategic plan for the future,” said Holcomb. “We will continue to approach Facebook and Twitter applications to reach our current and potential audience”. Z889 has also launched a new 2nd web stream Z E.D.M. which is a more aggressive version of Z889 and can be heard 24/7 online at www.Z889.org.
And it seems that as long as the dance music keeps moving on Z88.9 – so will we be “moved” by some of the newest and hottest music of the 21st century.