Friday, May 8, 2009

Radio Station Field Trip 15 - UC Santa Cruz Station KZSC

Not only did I get to attend an amazing college radio conference this past weekend, but I also got to check out the digs of University of California, Santa Cruz station KZSC-FM. Thanks to everyone on the KZSC staff for allowing me to hang out at the UC Radio Network (UCRN) conference and for talking to me about the station. The conference began with tours of the station, so it was a great opportunity for me to see the inner workings of the place.

Student radio began at UC Santa Cruz in 1967 with the dorm-basement station KRUZ. In 1974 that station became KZSC and started broadcasting on FM at 10 watts. They moved to their current "cabin" location in 1980 and after a series of power increases are now broadcasting at 20,000 watts. Webcasting began at the station in 2003. To learn more about the history of the station and see a cool collection of press clippings, pictures, program guides, and sticker, see the Archives page of their website.

DJ oy-dog on the air at KZSC

The staff of KZSC is made up of both students and community volunteers. During my tour, I was told that they have a 70/30 goal, striving for 70% students on staff and 30% community members. Every week the station hosts tours for prospective volunteers. After volunteering for a total of 20 hours during one quarter, one is eligible for the DJ training class "Introduction to Radio." According to Station Manager Kristen Mattern,

"The class meets twice a week for about eight weeks, and teaches the students the history of radio, FCC regulations, interviewing techniques, field recording and audio production and editing. During this time the students also complete an on-air mentorship with a seasoned KZSC DJ. When students pass the class they can apply for a show."

Throughout the station you can see collage-style posters created by "Intro to Radio" students in response to one of the class assignments which asks them to research and do a presentation on an artist, style of music, or another radio topic. I spotted posters about Hair Metal, Funk, Jazz, Celtic Music, and Nazi Radio Propaganda. In order to get a show (and keep a show), staff members must do 20 hours of work per quarter, which is logged in a binder and signed off on by governing board members. Those on the governing board don't have to log their hours and I was told that they tend to do much more than the required 20 hours.

Shows at KZSC are awarded by a Program Review Committee every academic quarter. According to Kristen,

"The Program Review Committee compiles the schedule for KZSC. It is comprised of three students and two community members. Every one on the PRC serves a one year term. Staff members submit a program proposal to the PRC with three show ideas. The PRC gets together on one evening, reads all of the proposals and makes a bright and shiny new schedule."

The station airs a range of programming, including music, public affairs, and sports. I was told that part of their mission is to play under-represented music. Music shows encompass a wide range of genres, such as rock (classic, indie, loud and punk), jazz, country, hip hop, blues, reggae, world, show tunes, funk/soul, electronic, folk, and women's music. I found it interesting that they had a number of world music shows, including "Musical Jews," which I caught on my drive down to the station.

The "world" section of the music library is divided by region, something I hadn't seen at a college radio station before (seems super cool, but a lot of work!). In terms of public affairs programs, there are a number of talk shows, "Closet Free Radio" (the longest running queer public affairs shows on radio) plus the nightly airing of KPFA's news program at 6pm.

Kristen told me that there are some long-time shows and DJs at KZSC and acknowleged that having community DJs helps maintain some consistency at the station, saying,

"Some of our programmers have been around for over 20 years. Heaven's Bar and Grill, Bushwackers, Unfiltered Camels and Golden Road are all shows that have been around for a long time. Having community member programmers allows KZSC to carry on a consistent tone for the station. This is important because just as we have long time programmers we also have some very long time listeners."

KZSC DJs don't have too many rules that they have to follow beyond the standard FCC stuff. According to Kristen,

"KZSC DJ's have a lot of freedom when planning their shows. The PRC asks that programmers read public service announcements and KZSC promotions every half hour. KZSC also has limits on amplified sound from live on-air performances. Amplified sound requires pre approval from the PRC. Besides that there are very few rules and regulation that we require our programmers to follow."

Additionally, DJs are asked to play at least 5 "new adds" during their shows. Music Director Scott Karoly told me that the station doesn't get much vinyl anymore, but when they do, he'll add it. He told me that he tends to add music that he really likes. Unlike many stations, new releases must be previewed at the station in their "Processing Room." In the closet-sized room, DJs can listen and review music before it gets added to the library.

Processing Room at KZSC

According to Scott,

"Everyone who processes checks for obscenities and reviews the individual album that they pick out, but I'll add my own reviews to things (and other DJs do as they play them). Things get added to CDs all the time; people are passionate about certain things and make it known. At least I do. I'll also copy down the FCC warnings from promoters when I get their CDs just to make sure things get on there. Reviews are varied, people either have a lot to say or not enough. I'll try and get some essential things on there. RIYLs, connections to other bands, certain song highlights seem to help DJs get an idea."

KZSC's Music Processing Room

KZSC seems like a pretty tech-savvy station. They're on Twitter and Facebook, and allow chats via AIM. Additionally, they use Spinitron for their online playlists and you can search through each DJ's playlists on the KZSC website from the Program Schedule. Additionally, the station just started up a blog, where you can read the latest charts of tops spins, see DJ profiles, and find out about upcoming events. I was also impressed to see that in their on-air studio they had a CD burner, which allows DJs to record their shows (up to 70 minutes) in real time from the board. Additionally, one can use the production studio to archive one's show.

When I asked about live music at KZSC, I was told that the station doesn't really have dedicated space for live in-studio performances and additionally that amplified noise requires special permission. Scott told me, "We love to host live music at KZSC but our setup isn't so welcoming. We do acoustic/semi-full band things right in the air studio. Basically anything that doesn't require a full drum set is good. Small amps. That kind of thing."

In terms of the sense of community at KZSC, there are monthly meetings for the entire staff during the academic year. Station leaders also have the ability to send out all-staff emails if something important comes up. Scott told me how much he appreciates his station colleagues and the college radio experience, saying,

"KZSC is a really nice place. It became my home during college and I feel like it can be the same for other people younger than me, which is why when I graduate, I'm going to let it be that way for others and get out. It's a place where you can sticker and poster the walls as you please, and definitely expand your horizons. I hate using a phrase like that, but it's true. I wouldn't have found out about many a thing without it."

I also asked Scott about the broader college radio community and if he listened to other stations. He said,

"Outside of UCRN [University of California Radio Network] stations, I've got a boatload of respect for WFMU (but who doesn't). They play the coolest stuff and have Yo La Tengo in their pocket. What could be cooler than that. No band will ever be as cool as Yo La Tengo."

Thanks to Scott and Kristen for taking the time to answer my questions about KZSC and also thanks to everyone at the station for so graciously hosting the UCRN conference. It was a treat visiting the station.

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
Radio Station Field Trip 14 - KFJC at Foothill College

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