Thursday, April 2, 2009

Radio Station Field Trip 14 - KFJC at Foothill College

Since I've profiled most of the other San Francisco Bay Area college radio stations, I would be remiss in not writing about my home station, Foothill College's KFJC (89.7 FM in Los Altos Hills, California). This is definitely one of those full-disclosure moments, as it's a bit odd (and daunting) to be writing about the station where I volunteer and DJ. Since I've been there so long, and love the station, I worry that I'm 1) going to go on and on about how great the place is and 2) on the flip side, will leave out something really important and upset someone at the station. So, just be forewarned that this is a small glimpse of the KFJC scene that I've been a part of since 1998. There's a lot that I've left out (Louie Louie marathon, punk rock revolution, gory highway cleanup finds, the horror of the KFJC bathroom, etc.) so I'd encourage KFJC staffers past and present to add comments about things that you think are important to know about the station.

KFJC Lobby and Tiki Bar

Thanks to Station Supervisor Doc Pelzel, General Manager Eric Johnson, Publicity Director Leticia Domingo and Co-Music Director Dale Self for taking the time to talk about KFJC with me in order to add some additional perspective to this piece.

Music Department Zone

KFJC began in 1959 as an FM station at what was then known as Foothill Junior College. At the time, Foothill College was located in Mountain View, but subsequently moved to Los Altos Hills. To catch more of the history of KFJC, see the timeline on the website and a great article about the station from 1990. Since KFJC is celebrating its 50th year in 2009, the station is in the midst of gearing up for various celebrations, including a KFJC-inspired art competition.

Artwork above the entrance to the KFJC Pit

According to KFJC Publicity Director Leticia Domingo,

"We will be providing unique 50th Anniversary Events, such as an additional Anniversary Party, Music Festival, and so much more. Programming will be celebrating the years of KFJC's influence with unique live broadcasts and performances and possibly some revival and/or retrospectives of the past years. We are also excited to be building our digital archive of KFJC's history through audio, video, and photo. Our website is now supporting an upload page so that listeners can contribute their stories and artifacts."

Board in "Master" Studio at KFJC

KFJC exists under the auspices of a Radio Broadcasting program at Foothill College. Station Supervisor (and faculty member) Doc Pelzel leads the Radio program and has been at KFJC since 1980. According to Doc,

"I started at KFJC in January, 1980. What brought me here started in 1977, when I was General Manager of KALX and the station hosted the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System West Coast Regional Convention. Several staff from KFJC attended, including the advisor, Jack Hasling, who contacted me later about visiting KALX kind of like you've visited many stations, except digital cameras didn't exist then.

A couple of years later, Hasling called me to say that KFJC was about to go up in power and Foothill's admin wanted someone who understood how college stations operate to develop the resource and potential of the station, and of course someone they could hold accountable in case of catastrophe. Qualifications for the position were a Ph.D, commercial radio experience, and an
FCC First Class license. Since I had none of these, I applied and, after a short delay caused by the then-President of Foothill dying the weekend after my interview, was hired."

Turntables in Master Studio

To join KFJC one must be registered as a student at Foothill College (which is relatively inexpensive since it's a public community college). All DJs in training and with permanent airshifts need to remain registered in radio classes at the college. Most staff members are only registered for radio classes and are not full-time students. In fact, a very small number are of traditional college age.

A portion of "A" Library CDs Just Outside KFJC Master Studio

Everyone who joins the station starts out by taking "Radio 90A" at Foothill College, a quarter long class specific to learning about radio broadcasting at KFJC. Upon completion of that class, prospective DJs can go through on-air DJ training in which they shadow a DJ on their show for about 8 weeks, learning how to master the on-air equipment and getting trained in the specifics of ticket giveaways, EAS tests, etc. After passing DJ training, then one is expected to do at least 13 graveyard shifts (2am-6am or 3am-6am) before being cleared for regular day-time fill-ins.

DJs who have regular airshifts are expected to do at least 8 hours of work for the station every week and attend weekly staff meetings. People make their volunteer hours by doing music reviews, staffing co-presents (recent shows include Nurse with Wound and The Renderers), writing public service announcements, creating production pieces, engineering live performances, etc.

Watching the Record Run-Through at the Weekly KFJC Staff Meeting

It's somewhat unusual for college stations to have all-staff meetings every week and that's been a KFJC tradition for years. Additionally, at each weekly staff meeting there's a "music run-through," in which the music directors read off all of the new releases being added to the station that week (usually 30-40 items), and DJ reviewers give their live reviews of the albums out loud at the meeting. I love hearing about new music every week at the staff meetings, and for me it's part of my show preparation.

KFJC's Genre Libraries Defined
The main library (A-library) has no sticker associated with it

Staying in touch with new (and old undiscovered) music is one of the main reasons that I got involved with KFJC. C0-Music Director Dale Self explains a bit of his philosophy about music at KFJC, saying:

"The music KFJC adds should be sounds that other stations can't or won't play. There are plenty of support systems out there for artists trying to communicate with accessible audiences but not nearly enough for the artists trying new methods and creating more difficult listening material. The nice and beautiful sounds are desirable but it is the experimental efforts in new spaces and edgy treatments of familiar forms that deserve the most attention from us."

7" collection in KFJC Pit

Something that I really appreciate about KFJC is its love and respect for vinyl records. The library contains around 31,000 LPs and nearly 8,000 7-inch records. As a sign of its appreciation for vinyl, KFJC celebrated its 45th anniversary in 2004 by releasing its first vinyl single (Camper Van Beethoven and Calexico) and by devoting an entire day to playing nothing but 45rpm singles. At this week's staff meeting a piece of 5-inch vinyl was added to the library and a discussion ensued about the variety of sizes of vinyl in the library (going all the way down to an unplayable 1-inch). There's an entire section of the library devoted to 10-inch vinyl releases too. When I went through DJ training my trainer made a point of encouraging me to play vinyl on my show. And, I'm playing more of it today than I was when I first started at the station probably because the KFJC Music Directors add so much vinyl to the library every week. According to Dale,

"Vinyl is vital. It represents a system where the quality of sounds and artful presentation matters as much or more than reaching a large audience. Much of the present distribution is moving away from vinyl and that's an undesirable outcome from the viewpoint of artists and listeners. Artists consistently put out their more adventurous material on vinyl so that's where our attention should be focused."

Vinyl 12"s and 10"s in KFJC's "Current" Rotation

In contrast to that, KFJC does not add digital releases. Dale explained that it's "...simply because of the poor sound quality." On the other hand, when I asked about cassettes, Dale said he's happy to add cassettes, saying,

"We are quite excited about adding cassettes. We do transfer the recordings to CD but we proudly keep the cassettes in our library. This is another avenue like vinyl that is less traveled and much preferred to more accessible material. Like vinyl, those who put out cassettes are reaching out to underrated artists and that is the circuit of activity we believe inspires our listeners most."

Dale was also quick to add that his focus is not just on new music, saying,

"It's not all about new music. We have a fantastic staff that is very knowledgeable of the many colors in the music spectrum. KFJC's music department does focus on new music but we also answer to a legacy of sounds that have been played by us over the years...Even those of us who dedicated to serving the new music agenda are constantly learning from the sonic scholars at the station. So whether you are immersed in new music or diving deep into a particular genre, KFJC is always offering a new take and the music department is in tune with that."

The majority of the KFJC program schedule is made up of music shows. A number are "specialty" shows, which currently air every weekday from 10am to 2pm, with a few additional shows scattered throughout the weekend. The lineup right now includes shows focused on blues, jazz, country, international/early American music, soundtracks, comedic and retro sounds on "Hippy's Graveyard," and the long-running reggae show "Jah's Music."

Non-specialty music shows are generally freeform, although at least 35% of each DJ's show must be material from the "current" library of new adds to the station. With around 40 items being added to the library every week and "current" rotation being up for 8 weeks, there's a wide range of material to choose from across many genres of music (rock, jazz, reggae, electronic, experimental, international, hip hop, classical, metal, blues, folk, spoken word, soundtracks, etc.)

Additionally, KFJC airs public affairs programming, including a sports talk show, Dave Emory's long-running political talk show, and the community-oriented talk show "Thoughtline."

Old Mayhem calendar on the wall at KFJC

Another big KFJC tradition is the Month of Mayhem. Every May the schedule is devoted to specials covering a range of topics. DJs put a lot of time and preparation into special programming focused on specific artists, genres, record labels, instruments and scenes. A relatively recent tradition has been 24 hours devoted to a particular artist or style of music. For example, during Mayhem 2009 there will be entire days focused on James Brown (May 3), Sun Ra (May 22), Throbbing Gristle (from 6pm May 23rd to 6pm May 24th) and Frank Zappa (May 31st).

KFJC "Pit" Containing a Portion of the Record Library

Something that really strikes me about KFJC is the station's dedication to live music. Not only does KFJC co-present many shows in the Bay Area, but the station also regularly has musicians perform live from the KFJC "pit" at the station, and frequently orchestrates live remote broadcasts from Bay Areas venues. Additionally, KFJC has traveled to even more remote locations to broadcast live music, including Austin, Texas for South by Southwest in 1994, England for a festival in 1996 (KFJC's first international live remote), Providence, Rhode Island for Terrastock 6, New Zealand in 2000 for 6 nights of broadcasts, and Japan in 2008 for an underground music event that KFJC helped to spearhead and broadcast live (along with a live video stream). CD compilations were also created to document some of the performances from the events in New Zealand and Japan.

The Renderers Playing in the KFJC Pit (view from Production Studio)
March 25, 2009

General Manager Eric Johnson, who has been at KFJC since 1991, has been a big champion of KFJC's international live remotes, of bringing bands to KFJC (he guesses that between 60 and 70 "live mics" happen every year at the station), and has spearheaded KFJC's ongoing CD compilation project which culls live performances from the KFJC pit and from other station-related events. Eric told me that he loves,

"KFJC's commitment to discovering new music and focus on live broadcasting from the pit, locally and all over the planet. The idea that our airwaves are valuable and listeners are encouraged to have a new experience in music, sound, video, or film."

Eric also pointed out that KFJC's dedication to live music has even helped to bring more listeners to the station and has worked to persuade some of those listeners to start volunteering at KFJC. According to Eric,

"The more live broadcasts and live mics we do the more listeners get involved and even join KFJC's staff. I think over time that has brought new people to the station who are enthusiastic about live music."

Door to Master Studio and Section of A-Library

KFJC began webcasting in 1996 and was also early to use on-line playlists (you can view DJ playlists dating as far back as 1995 on the KFJC website). A good number of KFJC DJs also post their music reviews online for material being added to KFJC's library.

In addition to music events, the station regularly hosts at least two film events every year as well (Psychotronix Film Festival and the Ann Arbor Film Festival). Coming up on April 25th is a KFJC Listener Appreciation Party at Redwood Lanes in Redwood City, which will be a chance for KFJC listeners and DJs to mingle, bowl, and catch live music. You can see all the upcoming KFJC events here.

When I asked Eric what inspires him about college radio, he said,

"Discovery. Most college stations allow DJs a lot of freedom. Listeners have an opportunity to hear music they might not hear somewhere else and that isn't heavily rotated as is the case at most commercial stations."

Thanks to everyone at KFJC who helped with this piece! I'm not sure where my next station field trip will take me, so stay tuned...

KFJC Bathroom

Previous Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips:

Field Trip to WECB at Emerson College
College Radio Field Trip 2 - Cal Poly's KCPR
College Radio Field Trip 3 - Notre Dame's WVFI
Radio Station Field Trip 4 - WFMU in Jersey City
Radio Station Field Trip 5 - East Village Radio in NYC
Radio Station Field Trip 6 - WNYU in New York City
Radio Station Field Trip 7 - Northwestern's WNUR
Radio Station Field Trip 8 - Stanford's KZSU
Radio Station Field Trip 9 - University of San Francisco's KUSF
Radio Station Field Trip 10 - Santa Clara University Station KSCU
Radio Station Field Trip 11 - UC Berkeley's KALX
Radio Station Field Trip 12 - KSJS at San Jose State University
Radio Station Field Trip 13 - WBAR at Barnard College


Anonymous said...

no pics of the fist ! Draaaaaaag.

- Outlier

Jennifer Waits said...

I couldn't find pictures of the fist...if someone has one, I'd be happy to add it!