College Countdown: The Effort Thus Far


(Photo found elsewhere)

It’s been five and a half years since I decided to take an old CMJ chart that I found and offer a sort of a digital duplication of a radio program hosted by my old movie reviewing colleague. As I noted when tracking through that tally of forty tracks, it was a Sunday night ritual during my first semester of college to listen to the show that aired on the student-run station where I was securing my own FCC Operator License. At the time, it was The College Count-Up, inverting the usual numeric progression, because playfully tweaking convention is what college radio did. Later, the show did switch to the more conventional journey towards the top spot.

There’s another piece of my broadcasting past that greatly informed these posts: the year-end ritual I launched at the station that involved compiling data from fifty-two weeks, more or less, of dutifully tracked airplay charts in order to create a Top 90 that could be counted down to fill a full day of programming on New Year’s Eve. Three times during my undergraduate years, I officially crossed from one calendar year to the next sitting in the radio station air chair. I never felt I was missing out on the debauched raucousness of the holiday. There was no place I would have rather been, and I still feel a unique pang of nostalgia whenever December 31st comes around. In a way, this feature has helped me recapture a bit of that experience. When I tracked through the 90FM Top 90 chart for 1989, the inaugural year of the practice, I even wrote most of the entries in the style used for the radio scripts back then. The station staff maintained the tradition for a few years after I graduated, but it has long since fallen away.

I’ve worked through three separate 90FM Top 90 charts, a handful of CMJ charts, and a scattering of others that allowed me to explore some particular passage of college rock history. In the writing, I hit a turning point with the Trouser Press selections for the finest albums of 1981. Those entries were basically everything I hoped for when I sat down to tap out a new Sunday installment, each among the rare instances in which I was satisfied with something right after hitting the “Publish” button. I’ve probably written stronger pieces since, but they remain the touchstone of what I want to accomplish with the College Countdown.

This introspection-laden pontificating is presented as preamble to the next chart — or, if I have the wherewithal to tackle it properly, charts — to fill this weekly feature. Much as I’ll acknowledge the italicized term I’m about to use is overblown, I also think it’s accurate. Next week, I’ll provide the introduction to the magnum opus of the College Countdown. At any reasonable pace, it will take me years to complete it. Before that, it seems right to take a moment for a little retrospective. The links below provide passage to every one of the charts that have been covered in this space to date.

The 90FM-WWSP charts

90FM’s Top 90 of 1989

90FM’s Top 90 of 1995

90FM’s Top 90 of 1996

The CMJ charts

The First CMJ Album Chart (from 1978)

CMJ Radio Top Cuts chart from Winter 1991

CMJ Top 50 Albums of 2001

The other charts

The Trouser Press Top 10 of 1981

KROQ-FM’s Top 40 Songs of 1987

First Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart from Fall 1988

Rockpool‘s Top 20 College Radio Albums from November 1988

The Gavin Report Top 20 Alternative Chart from October 1992

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