It used to be that if you were looking for an alternative to Top 40 hits, you turned the dial on your portable, digital or boom-box radio to your local college radio station. The advent of the Internet voided the requirement of turning to terrestrial signals to find new bands but had an adverse effect as well: The Web is so saturated with music—and people writing about and recommending music—it's difficult to discern what's what. Boise State's University Pulse—a part of the larger Boise State Radio network—is trying to put the "college" back in college radio by offering contemporary but off-the-grid choices for listeners. They also sponsor free, all-ages concerts as part of their Rockstar 101 series. The next concert is Intro to Boise Rock Stars and will be held Friday, Nov. 30. Portrait of the Assassin and A Blinding Spyre take to the Student Union dining room stage at 6 p.m.
The University Pulse has both Internet streaming radio and a location on the dial where music can be heard from noon to midnight and then 24-hour-a-day online streaming music. General manager Jeremy Miller talked to BW about how the station chooses the music they play and why.
BW: Do you have to be a student to work at the station?
Jeremy Miller: Not necessarily. To be on the AM station as part of our 12-hour programming (noon to midnight on Sundays), you have to be a student or have a student co-host. We have two shows co-hosted by non-students each week.
That's a lot to organize.
Yes, but unlike live radio, where you have a little time to prepare and then you go on, these [shows] are all prerecorded.
Do you have any live shows?
Online, we have one live show on Tuesdays. People can call in and talk with the host. [In the future] we want to do more of that.
Are the online programs available 24 hours a day?
Yes. But they're not really programs. They're genre blocks. On Friday and Saturday night, it's all unedited, uncensored hip-hop. So if you're throwing a party and you like hip-hop, you don't have to DJ: You just turn on the Pulse.
How long has the Pulse been around?
It's been known as the Pulse since 2005. I think it was set up in response to a few hardworking students who saw there were no students on Boise State Radio and yet [Boise State Radio] was receiving student fees. So they went through the [proper] channels, and what they got was a radio station that's funded by the same amount of student fees as Boise State Radio which is $2 per student. They're bigger and have higher wages for their non-student employees, so they get underwriting.
So the $2 per student you receive is enough?
For now. We are looking at getting more underwriting and doing some more fundraising.
Will you be in charge of that?
No. I'm only in this position for six more months (it's a one-year, part-time paid position), but I'm trying to get everything done before I go. That will include going into the community and finding underwriters and hopefully getting a full-time staff person.
Are you also responsible for programming?
We have a program director who is responsible for keeping all the programs together and making sure everything runs smoothly. He's the head of what would normally be an operations department. But we don't really have a department; we just have a staff member who covers the whole thing.
You mentioned genre blocks. What kind of music do you play?
The online stream is played during the day in the [Boise State] Rec Center and in the Student Union Building, so we cater to student traffic in those buildings. We play stuff that's a little more mainstream. Maybe not mainstream songs, but songs from mainstream artists or aspiring mainstream artists. We play some classic rock because we get requests for classic rock, but we don't play "Riders on the Storm."
Is that because that's part of your image? You're trying to be more alternative?
Yes, and more informative, too. It seems like every time I ever hear anyone talk about classic rock, they complain about the limited playlists on classic rock stations. So we're not trying to fill any sort of niche that already exists.
For our genre blocks, we play hip-hop, reggae, world music, classic rock, indie, punk and what we call loud rock, which is like metal and screamo. We have what we call AM music, which is just really mellow—singer/songwriter and soundscapes—and plays in the wee hours of the morning. And we have an other category.
How do you decide what music plays in which block?
We have three people currently feeding the music library. A music director, a music director assistant and a music assistant. What they do is say, "These songs from these CDs should go into our online music archive." When the music assistant is putting those songs in, she tags them as pop, rock, indie, classic or whatever [and that decides] when they play. ... Local music gets preferential treatment. We don't have a local-music segment because we don't want it to be a token local-music show. We think that would be really condescending. We mix it in with all of the other music.
Where does the music that you play come from?
All over: MySpace, private collections, promotional materials. And we'll always take donations.
On Sunday nights, you can hear the Pulse on 730-AM in Boise, 1450-AM in Twin Falls and 89.9-FM in McCall. You can listen to the Pulse online and podcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from the Sunday shows at Pulse.BoiseState.edu. For a full schedule, visit Pulse.BoiseState.edu/streaming.html. You'll need Real Audio Player to listen. For more information, or to volunteer or donate CDs, contact Miller at email@example.com. For more information on the Rockstar series, visit MySpace.com/BoiseRockStar101.