Welcome to the another installment of the Spinning Indie 50 State Tour. The goal of this project is to do interviews with college radio stations from each of the 50 states in order to highlight fascinating stations (and their tales) from all over the United States.
The first six virtual stops have been to stations in Arkansas, Wisconsin, Kansas, Louisiana, Alaska and North Dakota.
For the 7th stop, today we visit University of Nevada, Reno station Wolf Pack Radio. The student-run station began in 1999, with its first official Internet-only broadcasts beginning in 2002. Later that year, the station began broadcasting over AM as well. The station has a 24/7 Internet stream, but has more limited hours of programming on their terrestrial broadcast. Shows cover a range of genres, including electronic, ambient, ska/reggae, indie rock and pop, and a local music show called "Amplified," which focuses on sounds from Northern Nevada. Public affairs programming includes the news/politics talk show "Voice Box" and a sports talk show.
Thanks to Station Manager Van Pham for talking to me about the AM station Wolf Pack Radio. In his interview he discusses the Reno music scene, the station's connection to a recent Ian MacKaye event, his take on the CMJ Music Marathon, and how he feels about Meatloaf and William Shatner releases in the station library.
Spinning Indie: What motivated you to get involved with college radio?
Van: I've been involved with the music scene in Reno for almost a decade now, it's a really important part of my life and I've been working hard, both as a musician and as a community member to help promote local music and music culture in the city. I had actually encouraged the current WPR music director, Troy, to be a DJ four years ago and while he was doing that I was really excited for him but jealous at the same time, so the next year I applied for a show, got on the air and moved up from there!
Spinning Indie: Wolf Pack Radio is not a 24/7 station. Can you explain when you're on the air over AM and when you broadcast online and how you guys schedule all of that?
Van: WPR is on the air 24/7 in the sense that there is always some sort of programming on (we have a few shows that are talk format), both online and on AM - which only has the wattage to broadcast to the campus. However, two things stand in the way of that being consistent: the encoder for the online broadcast runs into some sort of error, often, and the AM broadcast is interrupted by a San Diego sport show from 7pm-10pm, much to our chagrin. We called and they said that they'd "take a look at it"...and that's where it's at right now. As for on-air DJs, we run them during the office-hour availability of our staff, which tends to be Monday through Thursday early afternoon 'til evening.
Spinning Indie: I noticed on your site that you accept advertising. Are you a commercial station, or is it just underwriting that you accept?
Van: We accept advertising for the Web site. As for the on-air stuff, we accept underwriting and sponsorships.
Spinning Indie: Tell me about the Ian MacKaye Q&A event that you helped put on. Do you have other similar events planned?
Van: The Ian MacKaye event, put simply, was too easy. We called him, he said okay. He showed up. And so did 300 other people from our community (including Kevin Seconds of 7Seconds, who drove over the Sierras to stop by)! They watched/participated in an excellent Q&A with him. The hope is that we can bring in more high-profile names like this, but I think the plan thus far is to continue offering small, cheap/free shows. We had bands like Shearing Pinx from Vancouver stop by, and this next week we're hosting a station benefit with three local bands.
Spinning Indie: Can you describe your local music scene and Wolf Pack Radio's connection to it?
Van: The music scene goes through a lot of booms and busts, particularly in the basement scene which has seen dwindling in some of its more driving rock bands, with a slight revival in the folk vein. There are a few different local community efforts like the Reno Music Project, which mainly hits the singer-songwriters and hosts an open mic, and the Holland Project, an all-ages youth arts and music initiative. Holland helped us with the Ian MacKaye event and is currently fighting the good fight for all-ages art and music in this city, which unfortunately tends to eschew the youth culture in favor of tourism and bars. As far as our involvement, we've been building up our library of local music to help promote bands - painstaking hours spent converting vinyl - and have hosted at least one concert a month with local bands at the helm. We're hoping to start community days next year to welcome in local musicians/artists to co-DJ with us.
Spinning Indie: How does your Music Director decide what to add to the station?
Van: He employs impeccable good taste. He uses a "kick-ass-o-meter" (his ears) and then enters the chosen ones into the "glowing button box/ robot from Hell" (computer) and schedules it into "Dr. Automaton Helper-Guy (NexGen/Selector). In a deeper sense, we get servicing from CMJ/other promo companies, anywhere from 30-40 CDs a week. Troy rifles through with the help of some DJs and our program director Mister Steve Owens, tries to find tracks that stand out and are clean and adds them into the library. DJs also play the new adds and we are starting to have listening parties where we chat, adore, abhor, hypothesize, worry , and complain about albums.
Spinning Indie: Do you add MP3s? vinyl? or cassettes? What format of music gets played the most?
Van: We do digital downloads and convert vinyl for our system in addition to CDs. No tape deck currently exists in our station, unfortunately. As far as the format that gets played the most, I would have to say that mp3 and CD adds are gunning for number one.
Spinning Indie: What's one of the weirdest records in your library?
Van: We have a lot of episodes of a report from a medical school. I don't recall asking for them and I don't think anyone in the past would do so, either. But they keep showing up. Like the two dudes from "High Fidelity". We can't fire them. Anyway...William Shatner's "Has Been" is a favorite.
Spinning Indie: Does your station have a lot of rules? Which rule gets broken the most?
Van: Nothing unreasonable, I'd like to hope. Show up on time, don't no-call-no-show, don't curse/utter obscenities, don't bring food into the on air room, don't play Meatloaf, have fun. Most broken rule, besides the cursing (we lost a DJ recently because of this), is the Meatloaf. Apparently, our Monday night DJ will do anything for love, but he won't do that.
Spinning Indie: Was this your first time at CMJ this year? Did you learn anything that surprised you?
Van: Yes, Troy and I were CMJ virgins. We were a bit taken aback at some of the disparities revealed by some of the panels, some of which had too many industry higher-ups trying to give advice about DIY-indie culture.
Spinning Indie: Do you listen to other college radio stations? Which stations do you love?
Van: Yes! I generally skip around different stations from day to day to check out what everyone else is up to, but I'm definitely a fan of KDVS out of Davis, Calif.
Watch this space in the coming weeks to find out who the next stop on the 50 State Tour will be...