It used to be a perennial surpise for many who arrived at Berklee College of Music: With all the great music being produced there, it must have its own radio station, right? Wrong.
But thanks to a technologically savvy dean and several dozen students, Berklee now has not one, but four Internet radio stations.
The idea behind the Berklee Internet Radio Network, or BIRN , said Stephen Croes , dean of the school's music technology division, isn't so much to play music by Berklee people, but to provide a place for the student musicians at Berklee to share the music they love, old and new, with a larger audience -- as Croes and his peers did in the 1960s, when FM radio was the new kid in town.
"All the young musicians I knew were dying to find the next cool thing and play it for their friends and get credit for discovering Hendrix or Zeppelin or something like that," said Croes, who went on to work with a number of famous musicians, and later composed music for films and television. "These kids are just like we were -- they're out there scanning and finding the coolest stuff, and they want to be the first to play it."
Recorded programming began this spring, and after being granted a small space in a Commonwealth Avenue dorm building last fall, the station began broadcasting live daily, starting between 4 and 6 in the afternoon and ending as late as 3 a.m. some nights -- a popular time slot, given the number of night owls at the school.
The network, thebirn.com , officially launches tomorrow with a week of special programming including music and interviews with Stevie Wonder and Herb Alpert.
On the three channels that are not live, the programming is mostly Berklee-related, including music by alumni, concerts at the school, and lectures by visiting musicians, which plays 24 hours a day out of a bank of computers in the station's cramped foyer.
But the heart and soul of the operation are the two even-more-cramped studios used to create the live channel, BIRN1, where the music is, well, just about anything, from bagpipes to blues to electronica to themed shows like "BLSARSWAA," for "Brendan Landis' Super Awesome Radio Show Wins Again, Awesome." On a recent Friday the 13th, the theme was "evil music," which included a classic by Slayer and a possible future classic by Sleepytime Gorilla Museum .
A native of Mill Valley, Calif. , the 23-year-old Landis, who went straight from high school to tech industry work before coming to Berklee this year, takes all of the new technology in stride, including the fact that not only can listeners request songs by instant message, they can also send in their own work and have a realistic chance of getting it played, as one student did when he heard about the day's theme.
"It's the future. May as well make use of existing technologies," Landis said.
For Landis, the mission seems to be about having fun without a format, but for Allison L. Smith , a senior who will graduate next month, the mission is about breaking down barriers to female musicians. Initially, Smith wanted to help out with promotions, but Croes has a strict policy that anyone involved in the station must be trained to run the equipment, which Smith did, reluctantly at first. That changed quickly.
"I absolutely love it," she said. "I think I may have found what I want to do."
Smith's show, "Girl Town," is her way of creating an outlet for female musicians both famous and obscure, whether it's a new release by k.d. lang or something that no one's ever heard before.
"Anyone who wants their stuff played, I'll play it," said Smith, who also plays drums in a local band. "I'm trying to get more unknown submissions, because you never know who's listening, and the Internet's a great way to get yourself out there without a lot of hassle."