A college radio station, fall semester 2004

Writers who stutter tend to shy away from the college radio station, but that’s where I found a treasure trove of free music and invaluable friendships. Much of both have remained constant companions as those university days just keep on receding deeper into the past, comforting reminders that even our dumb college selves were capable of good decisions when it came to the things that really matter.

My student-media of choice was the college newspaper. But for someone who shamelessly skipped class to go proofread in the news office’s basement enclave, I spent a disproportionate amount of time in the radio station where The Bronc broadcast a truly eclectic smorgasbord of music, sportsball chatter, near-miss f-bombs, dead air, utterly impenetrable but equally hilarious inside jokes, and all-night music marathons that were really an excuse for roughly a dozen sleep-deprived co-eds to run around the student center at all hours and make ill-advised but completely necessary 3 am supply dashes for all the coffee and energy drinks and sugary treats our loopy lot could savage.

The station was an extension of our dorms and we absolutely treated it like a communal living space. It was where we hung out between classes. It was our end-of-the-day meeting place before descending on the dining hall in shared pursuit of something other than dry cereal and drier ramen noodles. It was where we turned radio shows into impromptu parties. It was where we napped on a couch that we didn’t so much forgive for its sins against hygiene so much as we became desensitized to them. It’s where I rifled through CDs to borrow and old posters to keep in what would apparently be the beginning of a lifelong pursuit to broaden my musical horizons guided by sheer luck and just the right kind of off-kilter cover art.

All These Interruptions, the first and seemingly only album from Canadian indie quintet Kids These Days, came into my life toward the end of the 2004 fall semester, its weary vocals matching my feelings for the winter to come. I loved the entirety of its 47 beautiful minutes, but the closing track is what hooked me at first listen. Aging Friends caught me with the question “How’d we get here? How’d we survive?” and still hasn’t let go no matter how many times I’ve put it on infinite repeat in the years that followed. I’m probably more fine than I should be with the inevitability of my own death, but the reality of my loved ones shuffling off this mortal coil is a constant terror: Each near-miss is a reminder that I wouldn’t be so lucky next time. It does make me sad my friends are aging, though we learned all too well that age has little to do with mortality.

Not even two months before I met Kids These Days’ lone record, that same womb of a radio station was where I spent October 2004 comforting some of my closest friends as they grieved in ways that many of our young hearts had never before known when one of our own — my roommate — lost a brother and the rest lost a friend. By the happenstance of being an English major adopted by a cadre of communications students, I didn’t know the friend and brother so many of my nearest and dearest had lost; I did know the gaping void he left, though. Being a firsthand witness to my college family’s torrent of shocked mourning, helpless to do anything but be present and listen, taught me how to be a good friend in hard times in one of the most enduringly important lessons I learned while pursuing my degree.

By the time finals rolled around and fall was losing to winter, the onward march of time had reminded us that the world waits for no healing process. We’d returned to class, to our extracurriculars, to our lives as best we could, always still reconvening in the radio station.

But the gut-punch of such profound loss touching our college lives left us all a little more tender and wary. We knew college was our last stop before being launched unceremoniously into a world that’s historically hostile to a bunch of creative types, and, for me, I did feel a little robbed of some innocence I felt entitled to hold onto for a little while longer. Sooner or later, though, railing against the unfairness of 22 being too young to die gives way to the gentle reminder that celebrating the here and now and those you’re sharing it with matters more than keeping a suspicious eye on the thieving future.

Adapted from two stories first featured in 12,700 Songs.

(US spellings have been retained)

Stereo Story #555

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Madeleine Maccar has always been a word nerd and went professional almost 15 years ago; she has loved music since high school but can't even carry a tune. She reconciled these truths with the still-nascent blog 12,700 Songs (12700songs.music.blog), an autobiographical, alphabetical tear through one iPod and two decades of music.