If silence can be sound, then certainly radio can be language, and anyone temporarily donning an imaginative linguist’s clothes could term radio “endangered.” I wouldn’t blame you if the word were to stir in your mind the image of an anthropomorphized WYBC X DJ as a T-Rex with a microphone, headset and playlist — a predator-nomad momentarily settled in New Haven, who possesses a wealth of knowledge and resources, but who exists as if convinced its inevitable, greater predator, the asteroid, will never come.
In the last 500 years, half of the world’s languages have died. A large contributor to what linguists term “language death” is the restricted geographical domain of a language, which is exacerbated by bilingualism and further aggravated by socioeconomic or sociopolitical factors such as stigmatization, industrialization or globalization. It is not uncommon for a language’s impending death to reawaken identity feelings among speakers of endangered minority languages, linguist Mark Janse would say.
And it is with this regard that WYBC X (ed. note: WYBC X is the Internet-only, FCC-free arm of WYBC Yale Radio) has launched a formidable publicity campaign, deploying print (a black-and-white zine in the mode of a cyber-superhero-narrative (to which they’ve attached a box of crayons) and internet (Facebook groups to publicize individual programs; Facebook events for studio training workshops; Facebook events for a relentless schedule of live performances).
Add an onslaught of print and internet publicity to plans of vaulting ambition for a comprehensive catalogue/Web site to an army of bright music freaks with Macbook sensibilities and you’ve got yourself a radio station whose language, if not given a fighting chance, is at the very least establishing itself a legend and presence for audience to experience and for historiography to mold.
As WYBC X’s self-mythologizing zine exclaims, “RADIO IS DEAD — LONG LIVE RADIO.”
Of course, if radio were really dead, it wouldn’t be alive. But more important is that this ludic slogan achieves enticing, successful branding, while addressing the organization’s own troubling existential space. As has been suggested, WYBC Yale Radio has been taking a lengthy nap, and while recently Volume magazine has filled critical gaps and Yalemusicscene.org has begun filling student music gaps, WYBC Yale Radio has finally awoken as WYBC X, and seems to have had a fairly dreamy slumber. Now it has assessed its surroundings and is employing every medium available to broadcast and perfect its gap-filling language. The past year’s resurgence of Yale Radio, satellite streaming and all, undermines what would have been a linguist’s standard lament, that the loss of the genius of a language is nothing less than tragic. But it is fighting language death by being a fucking T-Rex.
Perhaps the Dean of Rock Critics, Robert Christgau, should be summoned here. Though we’re mostly talking about an Internet radio station run by and for Yale students, a paraphrase of Christgau’s words on rock music literature is applicable here; essentially, after its flood of exposure, WYBC Radio must now prepare for a deluge of documentation. This article represents the first wave, which signals the end of a phenomenon, its formalization, so to speak. “Nothing fails like success,” says the Dean.
WYBC X’s overarching project seems to draw on the power of the meta-narrative as well as the appeal of underground culture to subvert the aural tradition, to not let the category “radio” define them. This is a form of seduction, in which they are saying that there is so much great music programming, live performances and community experience they are capable of, so much happening, so much innovation and thought, so much sexual appeal in their art and artifice, that you can’t help but want to join, or tune in, or watch from the periphery.
If an endangered aboriginal language could speak as broadly as if it were English in the early 21st century incarnated, it would certainly express the sexual appeal of its circumstance, the circumstance of soon becoming a meaningful loss in the diversity of human language, study and expression, and by this performative means, it would retain some autonomy in the face of industrialization and globalization. ONGOTA (BIRALE), A LANGUAGE OF SOUTHWEST ETHIOPIA, IS DYING – LONG LIVE ONGOTA!