The loss of one headbanging college radio station is a blow to the genre, says Evan Serpick
Serj Tankian, John Dolmayan, ...

Why Nu-Metal is thriving — what might kill it off

Heavy metal has long been considered the domain of greasy outcasts banging their mulleted heads to Megadeth while playing ”Dungeons & Dragons” in their parents’ basements. But now, with bands like System of a Down, P.O.D., and Linkin Park setting up residence on the mainstream album charts, metal’s not just for purists anymore.

The recent wave, which has been dubbed ”Nu-metal,” tends to be influenced by hip-hop, with a minimum of guitar acrobatics and a maximum of bludgeoning thrash chords. For 15 years, one unique radio station championed the genre, helping to launch the cream of the headbanging crop into nationwide orbit. Now, just as that station’s labors of love have borne big-time fruit, the plug is being pulled.

Even among college radio stations, Seton Hall’s WSOU stands out. With the exception of an occasional Seton Hall sporting event, the station’s schedule is filled with heavy metal and hardcore rock. We’re talking about the real thing here: You won’t find Creed or matchbox twenty on WSOU, which boasts the slogan ”New Jersey’s Hardest Rock.” More likely, you’ll find little-known bands like Meshuggah, 40 Below Summer, and Darkest Hour. A few years ago, you would’ve heard bands like System of a Down, Slipknot, and Sevendust, bands that went on to mainstream success. Many of the station’s 100,000 listeners are rabid followers who use WSOU’s playlist as a guide to purchases and live shows. Album Network Magazine, a trade paper, named WSOU ”College Station of the Year” four years in a row.

Unfortunately for fans, the Catholic-affiliated Seton Hall recently ordered the station to institute a format that better reflects ”the diversity and values of the university” by Jan. 2, 2002. Yet to its credit, WSOU had always seemed to respect both metal fans and the Church: They have avoided playing songs that overtly endorse the occult or flirt with sacriledge (For example, DJs refer to the band God Forbid as ”G Forbid” to avoid prickling Catholic sensibilities.) Personally, I was always impressed that Seton Hall had allowed such a great station to thrive on its campus.

In an industry where true fans rarely have an opportunity to determine the music that makes it big, losing WSOU will be a major defeat. Although the signals are weak and influence is diminishing, many college radio stations still provide an excellent alternative to repetitive, dull commercial radio. College radio in general, and WSOU in particular, represent one of the few outlets for music fans to hear music that hasn’t been pre-selected by industry executives.

Traditionally, metal and hard rock are young, underground genres. More than almost any other type of music, metal shows are all ages. Thanks to the dedication of fan-directed outlets like WSOU, mainstream record labels realized that there was a large, viable market for nu-metal bands. And as a result, young music fans — who buy a disproportionately large chunk of albums and concert tickets — had a tangible effect on the music that is mass-produced and marketed. Without outlets like WSOU, young peoples’ input is greatly diminished. For now, you can listen to WSOU at on the web and at 89.5 FM in the New York/New Jersey area. But come next year, a fantastic source of new music will be gone and America’s listening choices will be further narrowed.

What do you think?