Live from the Underground

A History of College Radio

By Katherine Rye Jewell

480 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, 2 tables

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7725-5
    Published: December 2023
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7620-3
    Published: December 2023
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7621-0
    Published: November 2023

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Awards & distinctions

Runner-Up, 2024 Book of the Year Award, American Journalism Historians Association

Bands like R.E.M., U2, Public Enemy, and Nirvana found success as darlings of college radio, but the extraordinary influence of these stations and their DJs on musical culture since the 1970s was anything but inevitable. As media deregulation and political conflict over obscenity and censorship transformed the business and politics of culture, students and community DJs turned to college radio to defy the mainstream—and they ended up disrupting popular music and commercial radio in the process. In this first history of US college radio, Katherine Rye Jewell reveals that these eclectic stations in major cities and college towns across the United States owed their collective cultural power to the politics of higher education as much as they did to upstart bohemian music scenes coast to coast.

Jewell uncovers how battles to control college radio were about more than music—they were an influential, if unexpected, front in the nation’s culture wars. These battles created unintended consequences and overlooked contributions to popular culture that students, DJs, and listeners never anticipated. More than an ode to beloved stations, this book will resonate with both music fans and observers of the politics of culture.

About the Author

Katherine Rye Jewell is professor of history at Fitchburg State University.

For more information about Katherine Rye Jewell, visit the Author Page.


“Jewell . . . chronicles the rise, fall, and legacy of college radio in this sprawling and richly detailed account. . . . [Live from the Underground] offers both an animated homage to college radio as a microcosm of American culture and reassurance for readers that the medium isn’t dead. It’s a fascinating deep dive.”—Publishers Weekly

"A meticulously researched book."—Boston Globe

"The large and small stories told [are] valuable . . . Jewell follows the interesting tension in the college radio idea of musical, social, and political communities. Without commercial pressure, they could stand outside dominant commercial culture."—Brooklyn Rail

"Offers a deeply researched, insightful account of college radio from its beginnings up to the present day. . . . Live from the Underground will be influential on future histories of radio and broadcasting. Jewell expertly shows how to source rich narratives about ephemeral media."—American Journalism

“Deeply researched . . . Jewell tells some wonderfully obscure tales. . . A pleasure for fans of alt-rock and its dissemination in the face of corporate and academic resistance.”—Kirkus Reviews

"An interesting and insightful look at how this nationwide phenomenon has sculpted American culture. . . . Live from the Underground teaches us the importance of listening to college broadcasters while supporting their experimental stations as sites of free speech and free expression critical to our Democracy."—Midwest Book Review