It’s another humid Saturday night in San Antonio, and throughout Trinity University’s campus, the sounds of Alamo Stadium football echo in the trees. Inside an empty building, the KRTU radio machine runs on automatic until DJ Scub Nice, aka “Scuba” Steve Balser, flips on the station lights and Super Soul Saturday begins to lift off. DJ Donnie D, the Super Soul Saturday architect, soon arrives, on-point and ready to bless the listeners he’s been serving since back in the day, when Chingo Bling was born in this very building.
“People really still want to take their chance on commercial radio, which is good, but I think college radio is the outlet,” says Donnie D, who recently manned the boards for the now defunct Power 106 FM. “I can’t even put it into words.”
“The thing that really separates independent radio, college radio, from commercial radio is that I feel it’s a responsibility on our behalf to provide a diverse musical offering to the public out there and not repeat the same track,” says Balser. “If it’s our responsibility, it’s their job as a corporation to sell this repetitiveness, to burn these songs into somebody’s mind to where that person wants to go buy the ringtone and download the CD. We’re not trying to sell music. We’re trying to just give them the dopest mixtape they can get on the radio.”
Going on its fourth year, Super Soul Saturday broadcasts quality music to Alamo City listeners from 9-10 p.m. on 91.7 FM. Hip-hop stalwarts including Count Bass D, Chuck D, Bavu Blakes, Mojoe, Pugsly Atoms, and Headcrack have all come through the door, and the radio show has spawned the highly successful Super Soul Shakedown, a quarterly soul event backed by national magazine Wax Poetics. The demise of Power 106 left San Antonio with one hip-hop radio station, giving college radio’s scattered offerings a new resonance with those seeking the latest in local hip-hop. But San Antonio’s not the only city relying on the university-sponsored stations. Even a cultural hotbed like Detroit has few alternatives to commercial mainstream.
“I gave up on corporate radio a long time ago, so I don’t listen to it very often,” says Invincible (See “Invincibility,” April 22, 2009, for more), an inspiring MC based in Detroit, where San Antonio’s Clear Channel operates WJLB, a 98.5 The Beat clone. “When I do happen to hear WJLB it is usually the same 10 songs in rotation, with the exception of a few DJs who support local music when they can, but it’s still only a token song here or there, or their jobs will be at risk.
“Detroit used to have two high-power local FM stations that played local music,” adds Invincible. “One was through Wayne State University WDET, which has switched to an all-talk format with a few exceptions. The other was the Detroit Public Schools station, which broadcasted many progressive shows, but was sold off by the broke school system and is now a classical music station.”
The only other college station with a high-powered signal in the Detroit area, she says, is Canadian station CJAM, from the University of Windsor across the river, a station which Invincible speculates plays more independent, locally produced hip-hop than both of Motor City’s commercial stations combined.
For San Antonio heads, Trinity University’s KRTU and San Antonio College’s KSYM have been holding it down, albeit minimally. At KSYM, Monday nights have traditionally been reserved for hip-hop, and this semester Lady Rho runs the airwaves from 9-11 p.m., followed by station hip-hop director Micky Sweet, who takes over from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Combined with Donnie and Scuba’s Saturday offering, college radio in Bexar County totals only five hours of weekly hip-hop
“I think college radio is doing a good job in San Antonio” says KSYM’s Lady Rho. “As far as hip-hop, I think there could be more, because it’s only on Monday nights, as far as KSYM goes. I know not everybody’s a big fan of hip-hop, but there are a lot of people that listen. A lot of people are calling in trying to figure out ‘when can we hear some more of this.’”
Some fans point to satellite and digital radio as the final solutions to commercial station sameness, but Invincible insists here’s another, more populist solution.
“Digital and satellite are very limited and therefore will only be accessible to those who can afford it,” says Invincible. “The viable alternative the grassroots organizing community is developing in Detroit is building more and more low-power FM stations which only reach a few neighborhoods, but feature unique content about these neighborhoods as well as music chosen by people from the neighborhood. … Once these transmitters are put to full use, other neighborhoods will also be able to build their own transmitters, and we can potentially have a truly community-led and accountable alternative to these corporate stations.” •