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How important is college radio to today’s underground bands?

An exploration of modern radio’s role in music discovery with WPRK’s “Local Heroes” and the Modern Music Movement

Photo: PHOTO COURTESY OF R.E.M., License: N/A



with Stephen Rock and Wheeler Newman 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28 | The Imperial at Washburn Imports, 1800 N. Orange Ave. | 407-228-4992 | free

Will streaming music be the death or salvation of radio? It depends on how you define modern radio. As radio options divide listeners across streaming services like Spotify Radio or Pandora and digital services like Sirius XM, the good old AM/FM dial accumulates a thin layer of dust. But while radio may be an evolving concept, so far it hasn’t phased out traditional channels.

Local station WPRK at Rollins College continues broadcasting, as it has since 1952. On air every Wednesday at 5 p.m. is “Local Heroes,” which has been on air since the ’90s (facebook.com/wprklocalheroes), when alternative rock dominated freeform shows. Currently hosted by George Wallace, Ilene Lieber and Daniel Pacchioni, the show’s intent is to highlight Orlando community figures doing interesting things in our city.

It also features live performances with a primarily local focus, inviting a range of talented area bands like Roadkill Ghost Choir, the Sh-Booms and Ancient Sun to perform songs on the show. For Pacchioni, who coordinates the music schedule, it’s an opportunity to expose less-motivated music listeners to sounds they otherwise wouldn’t encounter without specifically seeking it out, a true return to the roots of college radio.

“It’s funny,” Pacchioni says. “When I ask people if they like music, they’re like, ‘Of course!’ But then I ask them what sort of bands they like, and it’s all the bands you hear on popular radio. At that point, I’m like, ‘Do you have time to look for new music?’ Maybe it’s just convenient for you to like the stuff that’s out there already, and just jam out to that. So maybe it’s not your fault that you like what’s popular. Maybe it’s inconvenient for you to find new music.”

In the ’80s, when college radio was a vital tool for audiophiles to discover underground bands, R.E.M. ruled the airwaves and defined what later became identified as college rock. An independent rock band from Athens, Georgia, R.E.M. released their debut LP, Murmur, in 1983 and, somewhat shockingly, Rolling Stone named it their No. 1 album of the year. Through constant touring and college radio airplay, the band ascended to define an era and a genre without the support of a major record label, which would change in 1988 when the band signed with Warner Bros.

It’s this introductory era of R.E.M. that local show promoter Nicholas Sellitto of the Modern Music Movement is celebrating with his free R.E.M. tribute night at the Imperial 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28, featuring Stephen Rock and Wheeler Newman.

“It’s gonna be a broad selection of R.E.M. songs, but it’s not going to be the Warner Bros. years, meaning it’s gonna be all the real college-based stuff,” Sellitto says. “The stuff off of Murmur, the stuff off of Reckoning, Chronic Town, Dead Letter Office, obviously Fables of the Reconstruction.”

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