Tuesday, May 5, 2009

University of California Radio Network Conference at KZSC

KZSC in Santa Cruz, California

Over the past few months I've been hearing bits and pieces about the network of University of California radio stations (aka UCRN) and their twice-yearly conference. Any attempt to bring college radio stations together for bonding and idea-sharing is commendable and the super-organized efforts of the colleges in the UC system is even more impressive. So, I feel really lucky to have been able to attend the most recent UCRN conference on Saturday, May 2nd.

According to KALX General Manager Sandra Wasson, the UC Radio Network has been around in various forms since the 1960s. She told me that initially stations may have shared some programming (thus "network" in the name) across member stations. The current iteration of UCRN has been active since 1980 and according to Sandra serves as "...a state-wide organization for radio stations at the University of California. It provides an opportunity to exchange ideas and resources among members. It provides connections and support for professional staff and conferences for volunteers to meet, learn and see each other's operations."

Hosted by UC Santa Cruz station KZSC, this semester's conference was an all-day affair, bringing together college radio staff and DJs from UC radio stations from all over California. Not every station in the network was able to attend, but I spotted folks from KZSC, KUCI (UC Irvine), KALX (UC Berkeley), KDVS (UC Davis), KCSB (UC Santa Barbara), and UCLARadio.com (UCLA) were in attendance. Other UC stations include Bobcat Radio at UC Merced (still in its early stages), KUCR (UC Riverside), and KSDT (UC San Diego). Although not a UC station, KSPC (Pomona College) is also a part of UCRN as an associate member.

The conference took place on the wooded campus of UC Santa Cruz, with sessions happening at the cabin-like KZSC and in nearby classrooms. The eight sessions (some concurrent) included workshops on voicing and production, "Venue Promotions and Interviewing Techniques," "Student News and Public Affairs Programming," "Volunteer Outreach and Retention," "History of Heavy Metal," "Queer Media Advocacy," and a Music Director round table.

Highlights for me included chatting with people from the various stations in attendance, touring KZSC, and witnessing a lesson on head banging. I learned that KUCI has tons of vinyl and even has a Punk Rock Director and that KDVS even offers special training sessions for DJs on how to handle vinyl records (great idea). In fact, I chatted with a bunch of DJs from KDVS and found out about their upcoming all-day (and all ages) music festival "Operation: Restore Maximum Freedom VII" (with tons of bands including Wooden Shjips, Thee Oh Sees, Strip Mall Seizures, Meth Teeth, etc.). Here's a quick recap of the conference. I'll be doing a separate post about my tour of KZSC.

KCSB Music Director Modeling KCSB T-shirt

Voicing Workshop

After breakfast and a tour of KZSC, attendees had the option of attending one of two workshops (voicing or production) related to radio. The station manager's speech pathologist mom, Ann Mattern, actually led the voice workshop and did a great job of offering tips to DJs about voicing. Her main suggestions related to using one's voice included reminders to: 1) warm it up, 2) take care of it and 3) train it. She said that as a DJ you want to be understood over the air and that your voice should be easy to listen to. She also made the point that people often talk too fast (125 to 150 words a minute), when in fact we typically can't process rapid-fire speech (more than 125 words a minute). Ann recommended various vocal and breathing exercises (tongue twisters, practicing reading passages using different emotions, diaphragmatic breathing) and encouraged everyone to listen to their voices in order to improve one's radio persona.

Mingling at KZSC during UCRN Conference

Music Director Roundtable

After some pizza and cake for lunch, I sat in on the Music Director Roundtable. KZSC Music Director Scott Karoly led the discussion, which touched on a number of music director-related topics. He asked the group how they deal with various issues, including reviewing music in a timely manner, dealing with promoters, working with DJs with varying tastes in music, and the physical to digital music transition.

During the roundtable people from a number of stations chimed in about their frustrations, most notably getting DJs to play non-mainstream material, encouraging more help from volunteers, missing/stolen music, and careless DJs who damage material or leave it unfiled. We talked a bit about how to motivate DJs and Scott mentioned that at KZSC the Program Review Committee recognizes stellar DJs with the honor of "Programmer of the Month."

KZSC Music Director Scott Karoly

From my perspective, building a strong community of station staff and DJs can go a long way in terms of helping to address common frustrations. Someone from KZSC said that they have done some community-bonding, like potlucks. KDVS has a listserv to facilitate staff communication, hosts dance parties, puts on house shows, and, according to one DJ has a laid-back vibe, which encourages DJs to hang out at the station. Others suggested doing listening parties and mix-tape exchanges to help create a sense of community. I mentioned that at my station, KFJC, we have weekly staff meetings during which we do all of our music reviews out loud. Personally, I think that having frequent meetings of the entire staff encourages stronger connections across DJs.

One of the most interesting parts of this session was a discussion about categorizing music that doesn't easily fit into one genre. If a station is reporting to CMJ, for example, they are forced to choose a genre chart for certain material (for example, RPM vs. hip hop). Additionally, if one's record library is divided by genre, then additional decisions need to be made about where to file something. Someone pointed out that often the genre libraries can be places for music to "die" in a radio station. One Music Director said that for this reason, new releases that have folk elements are filed in rock (rather than "folk") so that they won't be overlooked. Some stations get around this entirely by filing everything A to Z, with no genre distinctions.

History of Heavy Metal

I couldn't pass up the opportunity to learn more about heavy metal and the final session of the day did not disappoint. KZSC Loud Rock Coordinator and DJ Kelly Romanolo led an entertaining walk down Heavy Metal's memory lane. Using Powerpoint, You Tube videos, and heavy metal sound clips, she had the most lively presentation of the day. Her goal was to show the diversity of metal, from the early days of blues-inspired heavy rockers, to new wave British metal, to thrash metal, and death metal.

One of the Pupils During Headbanging Lesson

Adding to the excitement, she gave a lesson in head-banging as well as led a re-enactment of the Ozzy Osbourne eating the head off a bat incident (using pink marshmallow peeps!). One thing that struck me was her point about some of the more recent metal bands taking the dark lyrics/imagery more seriously than their predecessors (who were more tongue-in-cheek with the devil references, etc.). This seems quite similar to the trajectory of punk music, where in some cases punk became even more hardcore and hardened than in its earlier iterations.

Thanks to everyone at KZSC for your hospitality and for allowing me to join in the fun of the UCRN conference. It was such fun to spend the day with a bunch of college radio people and hopefully I'll get to see some of you on one of my future college radio station tours.

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