In the spring of last year, Adam Barnett — then, a first year sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (he transfered from Drexel University in Philadelphia) — saw the need for a true college radio station on campus, and set out to satisfy it. Within the next few months, Pizza.fm is slated to evolve into the University of Illinois’ only student operated free-form non-commercial radio station.
“College radio is like the hub of independent music … it was basically where people would go if they wanted to listen to music that wasn’t normally played on the radio. And so it’s almost like a tastemaker,” Barnett said. “That’s something we really need, especially because we have 40,000 students on campus, and we really have nobody doing that.”
Granted, other community stations like WPGU, WEFT, and WILL have the power to reach Champaign and beyond, to other parts of Central Illinois. However, Barnett maintains that none have quite the same values or goals as Pizza.fm. “We do have a lot of radio stations, but we don’t have the radio station that we should have,” he said. “We don’t have one that really represents the students and what college radio should be.”
So, why pizza? The logic behind the moniker is quite simple, actually: Everyone likes pizza.
Pizza.fm is now a registered student organization (RSO) with the University of Illinois. In addition to the radio station, which will hopefully be up and running by the end of this summer, Pizza.fm extends to an online magazine where music news, reviews, free music, and general buzz about Champaign-Urbana’s local scenes are shared. Barnett is hopeful that the opportunities offered to students by Pizza.fm will remain diverse. The coupling of an online magazine with free-form radio will give students the chance to take on roles as writers, photographers, DJs, and even dabble in production. More than being considered professional, Pizza.fm aims to be a place where students can express themselves and share the music they love.
“Students can choose the music because they’re the experts,” said Tyler Cochrane, who manages Pizza.fm’s finances and serves as the loosely defined vice president to head-honcho Barnett. The two conceived Pizza.fm together.
The premise of freeform radio is intriguing because it will give students the chance to share a diverse range of music. Pizza.fm holds no prejudice for certain genres, so DJs can delve into any type of music they prefer, be it hip-hop, punk or free form jazz. Anything is fair game.
Though Barnett and the other few, though dedicated members of Pizza.fm hope to reach full scale production in the coming months, the station is still fledgling. Establishing a radio station that is ready to broadcast comes with quite a bit of red tape. Plenty of performance rights organizing licenses must be acquired first before Pizza.fm can reach the air. And each cost a pretty penny for a student organization with only a couple hundred dollars to its name. Still, Barnett and Cochrane are confident that funds can be raised to get the station up and running soon.
Since the plan is to operate Pizza.fm on a strictly noncommercial model, fundraising has been a key step in developing the RSO. Recently, members of Pizza.fm stepped out onto the University’s quad to spread the word about the growing organization. Pizza.fm also hosted a benefit show at Mike ‘N Molly’s in downtown Champaign last month where local bands I Am God., Hank, Kowabunga! Kid, Morgan Orion, and The Palace Flophouse played.
For now, members of Pizza.fm are working to beef up the content and legitimize the image of the online magazine. A slew of different offerings with clever, pizza inspired names litter Pizza.fm’s WordPress, including: Mixtoppings, weekly mix tapes featuring downloadable tracks from local artists; The Weekly Mouthful, video interviews with bands and other music industry folk that are filmed while the subjects stuff their faces with pizza; and [Royalty] Free Pizza, weekly posts offering unlicensed songs or concert sets from the public domain.
The coming months will prove if Pizza.fm has what it takes to take off with power, and stay afloat, while also staying true to their goal of remaining noncommercial. If Pizza.fm grows to be a success, it will provide the campus with a unique outlet for students that has yet to be tapped.