College rock was the alternative rock music played on student-run university and college campus radio stations located in the United States and Canada in the 1980s. The stations' playlists were often created by students who avoided the mainstream rock played on commercial radio stations.
The bands of this category combined the experimentation of post-punk and new wave with a more melodic pop style and an underground sensibility. It is not necessarily a genre term, but there do exist some common aesthetics among college rock bands. Artists as diverse as R.E.M., U2, The Cure, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Camper Van Beethoven, The Smiths, XTC, The Smithereens, The Replacements, 10,000 Maniacs, and Pixies became some of the better-known examples by the close of the 1980s.
By 1988, some college rock artists had begun to gain mainstream recognition with several having singles reach the Top 40 portion of the Billboard Hot 100. Among these were The Church, whose single "Under the Milky Way" peaked at #24,Midnight Oil, who reached #17 with their single "Beds Are Burning" and Love and Rockets, whose single "So Alive" peaked at #3 in 1989. Also by 1988, R.E.M. had become popular on mainstream pop radio due to the success of their singles "The One I Love" and "Stand".
The CMJ New Music Report, a publication that reported on the scene, created a chart which measured popularity of artists played on college radio. The journal's charts were used by Rolling Stone magazine and other media. In September 1988, Billboard introduced the Modern Rock Tracks chart which monitored airplay on modern rock and college radio stations. Several college rock artists were highly successful on the chart during its first few years in existence.
By the 1990s, the use of the term "college rock" for this style of music was largely replaced with the terms "alternative" and "indie rock". Many 1980s college radio music directors went on to have successful careers in the mainstream American music industry.