Digital Killed the Radio Star

November 7, 2009 at 5:48 pm Leave a comment

For a couple years in college, I got to play radio DJ. I know that I wasn’t especially good, but I like to think that at least I played good music. Our college radio station was pretty low tech at the time. We liked to say that we were broadcasting with the power of a light bulb (a 100 watt transmitter on the highest point on campus). And our equipment was far from sophisticated: an ancient board hooked up to a couple cart players, a couple turntables, and a couple CD players.

As you can imagine, with a bunch of college kids running a radio station, it could sometimes be a challenge to make sure that you stayed on the air. Someone doesn’t show up for a shift, or they don’t pot up the right channel, and nothings going out. Dead air meant someone had screwed up, or the transmitter had crashed (again).

So it always amuses me when I hear professional radio stations hit dead air. But it never really occurred to me why that might happen until today. I had known for a while that radio stations had gone digital. After all, why have to keep swapping CDs and fading between channels when you can set the whole playlist up on a computer and just let it run?

But as I was driving home today, in the middle of the song, the radio station I was listening to went dead. I figured it was a fluke and waited for it to come back up. After several minutes of silence, suddenly, clear as a bell, the station broadcasts the Windows log-on sound.

Apparently, they had to reboot. Who knew that Windows was alternative rock?

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Entry filed under: Music.

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