College Countdown: 90FM’s Top 90 of 1995, An Introduction

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I don’t orchestrate when certain countdowns will start or end. It is my good fortune that it is time to begin a new exercise in counting backwards on the first Sunday in 2015, allowing me to unveil a chart from twenty years ago (or, technically, from nineteen years ago since it would have been presented on the last day of the calendar year in question, but this is the anniversary year of much of the music contained herein). Such round-numbered ages aren’t a necessity for our charts. It’s still nice when it happens.

This is third time this feature will turn its attention to a year-end chart of WWSP-FM, the student run radio station of the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, my alma mater. Previously, we’ve marched through the station’s Top 90 Albums of 1989 and 1996. To the best of my knowledge, the 1989 edition was the first — or at least the first in quite some time — effort to distill the voluminous amount of new music played by the station between the first of January and the last of December into a single, ranked list. I was the one who did it, initially out of boredom at the midpoint of the year (using the year-to-date version of the chart to determine the selections on a late night radio shift), then out of a determined passion, an attempt to use the predilections of my fellow left-of-the-dial deejays to come up with a cooler equivalent of the sort of summation of the most popular music of any given year that I once loved when it was presented by, say, Rick Dees or Casey Kasem. I was involved in compiling our chart every year until 1992, when my pending graduation in the spring took me out of it. I still remember sitting in a neighbor’s kitchen listening to the 90FM year-end countdown on New Year’s Eve 1993, and finding it especially odd (as I recall, Siamese Dream claimed the top spot). That program was my domain. Glad as I was that it continued, I was wistful about someone else dancing with the ranking.

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The 1995 is strange for me in a different way. While I graduated in 1993, I stuck around my college town for another year-and-a-half, even pitching in at the radio station as a community volunteer. The music of the station was the music of my life, right up until the close of 1994, when I moved south to the state capital of the state, Madison. This chart is foreign to me as a reflection of the music of the college radio station. It is, however, filled with bands and albums that I played, often with tedious repetition, at the “new rock alternative” commercial station I worked at all through that year. For me, this chart is an amalgamation of the overly familiar and the crazily obscure.

Without getting too deep into process, my plan is to go through this chart two or three albums at a time, depending. I expect to always have one longer review, more akin to the norm in this weekly space these days (I have absolutely used the “College Countdown” feature as a way to replace the “Rediscover/ Revisit” pieces I used to write for Spectrum Culture). But there’s plenty of stuff to come over the next several weeks that I don’t believe I can even get my ears on to make an assessment of it. There’s plenty more than I don’t care to revisit. For example, I’m still weighing whether or not I will make a painful sacrifice and offer a fresh listen to the album at #30 on the list. If I opt to do it, I will be embarking on an alternative rock corollary to a day several years ago when I watched a bunch of Michael Bay movies right in a row. It will likely be that painful to me.

So we dive into a deeply complicated year for college radio, when the high of the grunge years was starting to turn into a hangover, and glossed-up hit-makers rubbed shoulders with the scrubby ragamuffins that normally populated the noncommercial airwaves. 90FM-WWSP addressed it in its own unique way: more forgiving of commercial success that much of their college radio brethren, but also deeply committed to local (defined broadly to mean just about anywhere in Wisconsin), giving a loving showcase to bands that may not have made a single other station’s weekly CMJ chart report. This Top 90, to the immense credit of the student programmers who were there at the time (and I am great friends with quite a few of them), goes all over the place. Next Sunday, we’ll start the process of going all over the place with it.

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