Spinning Indie 50 State Tour: Stop 6 - North Dakota Station KNDS
It's time for the another stop on the Spinning Indie 50 State Tour. The goal of this project is to do interviews with folks from college radio stations from each of the 50 states in order to highlight fascinating stations (and their tales) from all over the United States.
For the 6th stop, today we visit Fargo, North Dakota to learn more about KNDS, which is an interesting hybrid of a college and community station. Students from North Dakota State University and members of the community fill the DJ shifts at the 4-year-old FM station. Prior to that time, North Dakota State University students had their own radio station called "Thunder Radio", which was an Internet-only station from 1999 until 2004. Community organization "Radio Free Fargo" joined up with "Thunder Radio" in order to apply for an FM license. Now, both groups work together as a cooperative to program KNDS.
Thanks to Program Director Randal Black (aka "the 30-Year-Old Freshman") for taking the time to speak with me about KNDS. In his interview he explains the ins and outs of the partnership between the community and the college, talks about the challenges of getting the word out about the station, discusses the dearth of indie radio in North Dakota, and chats about some of the shows that are unique to his station.
Spinning Indie: In searching for a college radio station to profile in North Dakota, I was struck by the small number of true college radio stations. The left end of the dial seems to be filled with NPR affiliates and religious stations. Is it tough to be one of the few outposts of independent radio?
Randal: The toughest part is gaining a sizable audience. It would be fair to say that - because of the regional disposition - most people aren't use to the type of entertainment that KNDS provides, but it is a point we revel in. We pride ourselves on being an alternative to local radio fare. The funny thing is I don't feel we're doing anything truly revolutionary in broadcasting; for example, most of the music we play is essentially the same music that you would hear on similar stations in larger markets. But in a community the size of Fargo, ND, it's perceived as something of an anomaly.
Spinning Indie: KNDS is a unique station in that it's a collaboration between a student (Thunder Radio) and a community (Radio Free Fargo) organization. What brought the two groups together into a partnership?
Randal: Bills. The people that spearheaded Radio Free Fargo believed that their idea of broadcasting would be beneficial to the community so they tried to figure out ways to bring it to fruition; partnering with the local university was a great way to accomplish their goal.
Spinning Indie: Do you consider the station to be a college station or a community station?
Randal: It is a community station. The primary owner/operators are not part of the university system. Our partnership with NDSU (Thunder Radio) is just an extension of our presence in the community.
Spinning Indie: It's my understanding that you're a low-power FM station. What made you apply for this type of license? What frequency do you operate on and how far does your signal travel?
Randal: I had nothing to do with the acquisition of the license or why they chose to go LP. I believe it was mainly because of practicality. As far as the frequency, KNDS broadcasts on 96.3 FM. Before July of 2008, we did broadcast on 105.9 FM but were granted a change in frequency by the FCC. In a twist of fate, the FCC really did a lot to bolster LPFM in 07-08.
Spinning Indie: How do the 2 groups (Thunder Radio and Radio Free Fargo) specifically work together. Does each group program their own portions of the schedule? How do you divide it up?
Randal: Essentially, it's an every-other-day schedule. RFF gets Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays; the student side takes the other days. Each group has its own Program/Music directors and, yes, each group also designs its only schedule. But we obviously have the same Station Manager and have a common purpose so it's not a "your side, my side" mentality.
Spinning Indie: Do you have any specific programs/specialty shows that are unique to KNDS or stand out as being different from anything else on radio?
Randal: One of my favorite shows on KNDS is broadcast on Sundays called "Radio Rangoli". It's a program that only plays Indian music, and is such a benefit for our station because it allows representation of a culture within our community that would otherwise be overlooked by local broadcasting. Peace Talk Radio on Saturday mornings is a fun and informative show that - as with the aforementioned program - allows for representation of a voice that wouldn't be heard in other local media.
Spinning Indie: Does the Music Director oversee music adds for all types of shows at KNDS? Is there certain music that DJs are required to play? Is there anything that DJs aren't allowed to play?
Randal: The Music Director position is not a very prominent position at KNDS, simply because of the station's entertainment being directed by two groups. As Program Director for KNDS I take on the duty of adding new music to our rotation, essentially "steering the course." The Music Director tracks and charts the adds and does the reporting.
One of the best aspects of KNDS is that we allow the DJs to create their own sets and doesn't require them to play any certain type of music. Although we do ask our DJs to refrain from playing popular music that may be heard on other local stations. That's about our only restriction.
Spinning Indie: How does your MD decide what music to add? What's your philosophy about indie vs. major label? Do you add material by major labels? If yes, why? If no, why?
Randal: The CMJ charts are a big guide for our station but it essentially comes down to "what do the people of our area want to hear." And, yes, we definitely add music from major labels. Because of our region, we are the only station that broadcasts the new Beck or the new Hold Steady or the new Kings of Leon. We feel that it is our duty to fill a cultural gap that exists in local media, so that would require us to play some majors.
Spinning Indie: Do you add and play vinyl? cassettes? MP3s?
Randal: We have the means to play vinyl and MP3s, but I would safely say that 99% of our our adds come from promotional CDs.
Spinning Indie: Do most students know about the station? Do a lot of students listen to the station? Is the staff/DJs mostly students?
Randal: Sadly, I think they may know about it but don't really tune in. Our station is a nice mixture of students and community volunteers but the majority of KNDS' audience is from the community-at-large.
Spinning Indie: When will your new website be up? What can we expect?
Randal: I wish I knew the specifics of that but the Station Manager is more involved with the Web Designer than I am. Soon is all I can hope.
Spinning Indie: How much of the schedule is automated programming? How do you come up with the music for that?
Randal: We try for as little automated programming as possible but it's very beneficial during the late hours/early mornings when there are no DJs. Anything's better than dead air! I think I've explained how I come up with the programming.
Spinning Indie: Do you listen to other college/community radio stations? Who do you admire?
Randal: I wish I could say that I do but I don't have any time! I admire any community radio station that serves to enrich, enlighten and entertain its audience.
Next week the Spinning Indie 50 State Tour will travel to Nevada. Stay tuned!