This is part 7 of my weekly series of excerpts from a special radio-themed edition of the QRD 'zine, published by Silber Records chief Brian John Mitchell. In his "Radio Special" issue, which came out earlier this year, Brian conducted interviews with Music Directors from a number of college radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. To learn more about the publication and Brian's connection with college radio, see my interview with him in which he details the project and some of the big insights that he gained from his discussions with radio MDs.
I first learned about the "Radio Special" edition of QRD when I ran across Brian's interview with the former Music Director of my home radio station: Foothill College's KFJC.
KFJC, a nearly 50-year-old college radio station in Los Altos Hills, California, is an eclectic station that is devoted to unearthing underexposed music, but is also home to a large number of long-time DJs and specialty shows. KFJC got some buzz a few months back (including a write-up in CMJ) when the station organized an underground music festival in Japan and broadcast it live over FM and over the Internet (along with a video feed).
In his QRD interview, former KFJC Music Director Thurston Hunger talks about both the joys and stresses of being MD. He also discusses the station's love for music from all over the world and the lengths they've taken to present that music, his varying takes on technology (from digitial releases to show archives to DJ automation), KFJC's relationship with other like-minded stations, and his feeling that a music library is museum worthy of respect. The following are some choice tidbits:
QRD – Did you read the charts of other stations & if so how did they affect your charts?
Thurston – Before, during, & after my tenure as KFJC’s MD, I’ve enjoyed an excellent friendship with Brian Turner at WFMU. I always welcomed input from him, & in turn would be pleased if I turned him on to a band or project that he had not come across yet. WFMU gets a lot of deserving accolades, but KFJC ain’t too shabby. WFMU was honestly the only other station that I would watch the tops of... & loosely so. CMJ has gotten to the point that a hit there almost works against a band at KFJC.
There are some fine stations in the Bay Area, KZSU, KALX, KUSF, & others. Don’t get to check them out too often personally, but have enjoyed them over the years. I’d also put a plug in for Aquarius Records, Andee & his team run their store with the passion of a radio station! Should be more like them.… [Jennifer writes: See QRD's interview with Andee from Aquarius in their most recent "Record Store Special" issue]
QRD – What’s the longest time you felt comfortable keeping a record in rotation?
Thurston – KFJC had a long-standing policy of 8 weeks in rotation, we were adding about 45 items a week, which led us to consider 6 weeks ins, but there is something about having a record get a splash, & then work its way back into the sound stream that 8 weeks was conducive towards.
QRD – How much control did you let individual DJs have over what they play & how did they deal with requests?
Thurston – At KFJC DJs call the shots. There is a 35% “rotation” requirement for most shows; but with roughly 360 items to choose from, I don’t think anyone had any problems with putting their own sonic signature on their own show. As for requests... connecting with the audience is a fantastic thing, but the mighty majority don’t pick up the phone; they don’t want to miss the trip you are taking them on. Requests again are ultimately at the DJ’s discretion.
QRD – What’s the importance of specialty shows at your station?
Thurston – Very important, often these are listener favorites. I loved (& miss) KFJC’s Spiderman for being a hip-hop show that could also drop the Flying Luttenbachers or Jimmy Castor into the mix. Any time a noted specialty DJ at KFJC, like Robert Emmett or Jo Ed showcases an idiosyncrasy into their show, it can really open a window for listeners.
QRD – How is your station involved in the local music scene?
Thurston – I think at one point, there was a stigma of playing local music at KFJC, I’m talking over a decade ago. But the creativity of the Bay Area is an unstoppable force, & KFJC has certainly helped to champion a lot of local artists. I’ll forever fawn over Faun Fables! Again it’s one of those things you wish you could do more... Mills College is the great resource that KFJC sort of bats earlashes with.
On the flip side, many at KFJC consider the world our music scene. We love having bands from remote places come & play live in our pit. & if they cannot make it, we’ve journeyed abroad to send back live performances from New Zealand, the UK, as well as domestically a Terrastock or two! I’d like to see us do more distant remotes... there’s talk of a jaunt to Japan. Noise summit from China, punk rock explosion from Mexico, folk freak out in Finland, Bhutanese pop... contact us!
QRD – What were the best & worst parts of your job?
Thurston – By & large I loved being KFJC’s MD, but doing it on top of a paying job & raising kids was a study in sleep deprivation. Still, at 3am hearing something amazing that you cannot wait to share with your fellow DJs & listeners is the best. Also hearing people take stuff you’ve added & fit it into a musical mosaic that blows you away, that too is quite a reward. Encouraging artists, labels, & DJs is something I enjoyed, & strived to do. Being inundated with inadequate stuff, & trying to listen to it all, that wears the soul & ears down. & the obscured tragedy is that underneath the bad packaging, sonic clichés, & hackneyed lyrics lies a true love of music, that kind of got to me. For the people who sent KFJC music that did not make it: the hell with us, keep on doing what you love. It is its own reward... right?
QRD – I imagine a lot of the younger generation of DJs pretty much exclusively use MP3s over CDs (much less vinyl). How do you feel about the situation?
Thurston – Music wants to be free, & not just jazz. Musicians, however, are not nourished by the starving artist syndrome. If it can work out that musicians get their due, & less raw materials are consumed with packaging & stuff; MP3s work for me. That being said, I do enjoy the totem... sprawling out with a gatefold record will be missed. I sometimes dream of wearable music, earrings that pop into an MP3 player, or a necklace of nanodiscs?? People identify so much with music; let them wear it on their sleeves?
QRD – Did you try to get your entire catalog digitally encoded on a hard drive for radio play?
Thurston – We’ve done some encoding, went with MP3 just as a diving-in point. Rarely do we play from that archive live to air at this point. Having the catalog online helps with show prep & discovery by DJs; it also serves as insurance against !@#!@$ theft...Honestly, I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t followed the varying formats that well & frequently flirt with sonic infidelity, blame it on Guided by Voices??
QRD – How do you feel about automation for overnight or unfilled DJ slots?
Thurston – We are 24x7 with human beings (or reasonable facsimiles) manning the controls at all times. I’ll take a KFJC graveyard over an autobot any time. I’d actually like to see KFJC grow to have 100 active staffers & two shows on at any time... one to the air (& web) & one to the web alone.…
QRD – I know that some labels & promotional teams are pushing towards digital download links over physical copies. How do you feel about this?
Thurston – This was just happening at the end of my tenure, & at that point they realized that us dinosaurs do treasure our totems. Again, I guess it makes sense from the point of view of environmental impact, & 47 years of age make the KFJC library bust at the seams of storage, still... I like KFJC’s library as a museum, with artifacts!! What happens to Christian Marclay’s Record with No Cover in such a world??
Coming up next week will be excerpts from Brian John Mitchell's interview with the Music Director of Canadian station CFBX.
Previous QRD MD Interviews:
Interview with Brian of Silber Records about QRD Radio Music Director Issue
QRD Music Director Interviews Part 1 - Wesleyan's WESU
QRD Music Director Interviews Part 2 - McGill's CKUT
QRD Music Director Interviews Part 3 - UMass Dartmouth's WUMD
QRD Music Director Interviews Part 4 - University of Georgia's WUOG
QRD Music Director Interviews Part 5 - Stony Brook University's WUSB
QRD Music Director Interviews Part 6 - University of Victoria's CFUV
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