From CDs to iTunes: The Passing of the Torch

by Diana Gallagher, SUNY Cortland

Posted in on Wednesday, Jun 27

cditunes.jpgFriday night in the basement of Corey Union: I’m in the production studio of the SUNY Cortland radio station, 90.5FM WSUC. While I sing “Living On A Prayer” into the microphone, praying that it’s not accidentally turned on, I glance up at CD Player 1. Ten seconds are left on the countdown.

What’s the next song? I wonder. Oh, wait…

With nine seconds left, I fumble through my CD case, pull out a mix CD, jam it into the second player, advance to track seventeen, and hope for the best.

Seamlessly, Bon Jovi fades into U2’s “Mysterious Ways.” I mentally applaud myself. After all, no DJ wants “dead air,” that awkward silence between songs.

This CD-based radio system, however, has already become archaic. WSUC is currently in a state of limbo as the age-old transition from old technology to newer, more convenient technology takes place. The computer next to the manual control board points to the future. Sooner rather than later, the entire music library of the radio station will be stored in iTunes. The computer will then be connected to the control board. A DJ will be able to access thousands of songs and create a playlist for the entire show. Heck, she can get up and walk away, letting the songs run.

In keeping with the times, WSUC began streaming its broadcasts over the Internet in the fall of 2005. Anyone who wishes to listen can click a link on the station website. Friends from New Hampshire, Long Island, and Washington, D.C. exclaim, “I heard your show last night!” Listeners can instant message the studio and make requests (or simply chat). However, WSUC also continues to broadcast over its radio frequency. Turn the dial to 90.5 within a fifteen to twenty mile radius, and you’ll hear punk rock or someone reading an announcement about the anime club.

An instant message box pops up on the computer screen. “Nice song choice!” my friend Angela types enthusiastically. “Can you play some Rascal Flatts for me?”

Eventually, all of Rascal Flatts’s songs will be stored on the computer. Members of the elected board had kicked around the idea of purchasing AudioVAULT. This software creates and stores broadcasts and music, organizes and loops the broadcasts, and can essentially run the station with or without a DJ present.

When student programming finishes for the day, the closing DJ turns on the National Public Radio (NPR) feed. Many of the older listeners in Cortland grumble that WSUC’s student programming interrupts their listening of NPR for several hours each day. With AudioVAULT, NPR could be eliminated entirely from 90.5; the software would re-loop previously recorded shows between live broadcasts. The natives would be distressed, indeed. Luckily for them, the e-board decided to spend its budget money on other equipment.

I turn to my CD case. AudioVAULT may pride itself on its automation. Yet it is this automation that I can’t quite accept.

I still carry dozens of CDs to each show, from Bryan Adams to Audioslave. Mixes from high school are more than acceptable. I rock out with a sixteen-dollar Discman from Wal-mart instead of an iPod. I love the Internet as much as the next person, but I will miss the feeling of dropping the CD into the tray and watching it slide in. I have grown fond of the active search through my personal library, knowing exactly where my favorite songs are on this unadorned CD or that one with a tiny purple mark on it.

Track nine, “Me and My Gang.” An IM immediately pops up from Angela: “Love you!!!”

I’m about to type back when I hear it. The skip.

I wait. Maybe it was just once.

No. Rascal Flatts has turned into a dance remix, and the track is stuck. I hit the forward button and advance to track ten. What song is this? I can’t remember.

“PLZ MAKE SURE ALL SONGS ARE CLEAN!” a Post-It note pleads on the CD burner, where songs are in the process of being burnt to the computer and uploaded to iTunes.

I’d done this quickly-turning-to-another-song one other time, but with less success. I’d moved from the skipping track to a song which dropped the F-bomb twice before I could get another CD into Player 2. Cringing, I had stared at the phone. I was convinced that a belligerent townsperson had heard and would call in, offended and unforgiving.

This time, however, Ryan Cabrera croons over the speaker instead of a violent System of a Down song. I sigh in relief.

Perhaps there’s something to be said for the computer, then: a massive collection of smooth tracks, free of curses. My favorite songs from freshman year will always play clearly. The ears of the local population will not be offended by foul language.

But as long as the CD remains relevant, I’ll take my chances.

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