Friday, November 6, 2009

CMJ 2009 College Day Part Three: Making Executive Decisions Panel

"Making Executive Decisions" Panel During CMJ's College Day 2009

The final panel of College Day during the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon was called "Making Executive Decisions" and focused on a discussion about running a station and training DJs. Moderated by Justin Spindler of Mute (and formerly of WDBM), it included Maura Klosterman from KSCR (University of Southern California), Trent Wahfeldt of KCSU (Colorado State University), Ben Williams of The Llano Idea (he was formerly at the KTXT), and Manu Taylor from New Zealand station 95bFM (University of Auckland).

This panel turned out to be an interesting mixture, with two true college radio stations (KSCR and KCSU), a semi-commercial university-owned station from New Zeland (95bFM), and an Internet-only station that was spawned by the death of a college station.

We learned that KSCR began in the late 1970s at USC and that the school also owns an FM classical station. Although KSCR has a weak AM signal, it is mainly an online station these days.

Ben Williams talked about the plight of Lubbock station KTXT, which was shut down by the university without notice last year after being on the air for 50 years. Although there were protests and a movement to save the station, the university stuck to its decision. In February, Ben started the Llano Idea as a "forum for KTXT students to continue what they were doing." The new online station works to "curate events," do shows and basically continue the work of the former station.

Trent talked about how KCSU recently separated from their university and it now a part of the student media organization.

Manu told us a bit about 95b FM, which began in 1969 as a pirate radio station that was initially a student prank in the harbor of Auckland, New Zealand. Eventually it developed into a radio club and began broadcasting over AM. By the 1980s they moved to FM. As Manu spoke more and more about the station, I grew very confused about how they compared with my vision of college radio in the United States. He mentioned the station's news and editorial team and that they create their own commercials and "generate revenue." So, it's a bit of a different kind of station, in that it has some commercial leanings and seems to be run professionally.

Radio History at KALX


Not surprisingly, the first topic of discussion was funding. Ben pointed out that he's found that it's "significantly cheaper" to run an Internet-only station and that in its first year of operation, he's managed to self-fund The Llano Idea. He mentioned that they'd considered having DJs pay a small monthly fee to be on the air, but for now they've "scrapped" that idea.

Maura talked about how some of the original founders of KSCR "started a campaign for an endowment for the station." She said that at USC there's a precedent for this, as their marching band has a similar endowment. Although they won't see the money from the endowment for a long-time, it does help to guarantee their future. In the past, KSCR got money from student fees, but that amount has been dwindling from year to year and was down to $1500 last year. They get some income from a company called "University Communications," which pays them to read public service announcements over the air.

At KCSU, there isn't much funding from the school, although they do manage to have "12 paid managers."

A few KSCR Staff Members (aka the KSCR "Family Band") at the CMJ Artist Lounge

Recruiting Staff and DJs
KCSU recruits staff during various campus events and fairs, where they sent up promotional tents. They have around 50 DJs and are on a campus with 26,000 students to draw from.

Manu talked about the "aggressive environment" at his station (with a sense of pride) and said that an "element of nerve is required to walk in the door." The station is branded as "shelter from the shit," which says it all as far as the vibe he was trying to express. He pointed out that people aspire to be at 95b FM and that the station provides a "pathway" to careers in media. His station has 15 paid staff who are paid commercial rates and 70 volunteers.

Maura said that although USC has a "music industry major," people at KSCR are a mixture of folks with varying degrees of interst in working in the business of music.

Trent said that at KCSU maybe "5 to 10 percent" of the staff might go on to work in radio or music. Regardless, he said that the station provides great experience.

Keeping DJs Motivated and Dealing with Burnout
Trent said that what's really worked at KCSU is having a Director of Training and Retention. It's a paid position on the station's staff. He said that although as many as 100 people might sign up as expressing interest in the station at various events, fewer than 50% come in to train, so they work hard to keep those people.

Ben said that when KTXT shut down it had 70 volunteers, but maybe only 50% of them are still participating in the Llano Idea. He said, "not a lot of people are dedicated" and that there's only "a handful of people who I can count on."

Maura expressed that she's had to step back from some of her station activities. She's a graduate student and when her studies began to suffer she decided to step down from being Music Director.

Manu talked about his staff with a mixture of pride and derision, arguing not only that his "journalists...get jobs easily" but also that he'll drop a DJ "because he's an idiot." He has a mentoring program at the station, where he will pair new DJs with those who are more estalished (including some who've been there for 25 years).

CMJ Exhibitor's Loft

New Roles at Station?
The panelists also talked about non-traditional roles that they have at their stations. Manu has a "Content Manager" who handles digital music adds and he also has a sales team. The Llano Idea has a video production team, a web director, and a Systems Administrator. Maura pointed out that KSCR is completely student-run and only recently did the station even open its doors to alumni DJs.

Social Networking
Trent mentioned that his station started a Facebook page and that because of it they've "gained a lot of new listeners" and that he feels that it's "really important to have that connection with listeners" since they are not listening to the station all of the time. When Maura asked the audience if their stations had Facebook and Twitter accounts, pretty much every hand was raised. It's amazing for me to see stations finally getting serious about social networking; since back in March I had a hard time finding many stations on Twitter and Facebook.

Trent gave some social networking tips, suggesting that "consistency" in updating pages will draw more people. Ben said that they use their blog for interviews and sessions with local bands and argued that radio is moving into being more a "content provider." Trent concurred, pointing out that the web "extends radio" through things like music reviews and DJ profiles.

At Manu's station, staff actually get paid to produce documentaries and other content and everything is archived on the site.

Vinyl at KFJC

What Makes a Good Music Director?
When asked "What makes a good Music Director?," Manu simply replied, "ears." He talked about "picking hits" and said he's been doing it for 22 years. Ben said, "at the end of the day you want to have listeners...there's a line there that you have to tread" and said that he believed that the music director's job was to "know what's hot or what's going to be hot before your listeners do."

According to Manu "people skills" are also important and he wants staff members who are able to manage relationships and reply to emails.

Trent said that it's vital for MDs to know and listen to their stations.

Equipment at WNUR

Managing Volunteers
Manu is pretty blunt about his dealings with problematic volunteers, relaying an anecdote about how he put a restraining order on a volunteer once. On the flipside, he rewards volunteers with "access" in order to motivate them. He may give tickets to events or free phone credit from their Vodafone sponsor.

Maura said that they have no money to pay staff members. Justin pointed out that when he was an MD he was paid a small stipend and that it did help motivate him at times. Overall, though, he said that most weeks he did his job at the station "for the passion."

DJ Training
Trent said that at his station incoming DJs learn the FCC rules, shadow a show with the Training Director, shadow 2 prime time shows, shadow a specialty show, then take both written and on-air tests. Depending on the DJ, this whole process takes between 3 days and 2 weeks.

At KSCR aspring DJs begin with an internship where they are required to do 10 hours of volunteer work before they are allowed to take part in more formal studio training. Training there is self-paced.

Sign at KZSC

Motivating DJs Who Can't Be Fired
An audience member that at his school, participation in the station is offered as a class and that you "can't kick people out." DJs at his station take the class pass/fail and even if they do a horrible show they can't fail as long as they are "trying." He wondered how to motivate DJs to do better in that kind of environment.

Manu suggested coming up with guidelines which DJs could be measured against, whereas Maura simply recommended getting DJs to think "beyond...just their shows." Trent said that it's really helpful to just "hang out" and "develop relationships" with DJs. Manu agreed, saying that DJ meetings or parties can be useful bonding experiences. Justin added that being a DJ can be a "singular, lonely experience," so he encourages people to get "out of the booth" and interact.

Evaluating DJs, Getting Them to Follow Rules
Colin from WMSR asked about how to handle rule-breaking DJs and if folks have suggestions on the protocal for pulling shows off the air. Ben said that at KTXT airchecks were monitored and the Program Director would work with DJs on "Radio 101." He said that it really helped him to go over his airchecks with the Program Director and he saw improvement in his show. He argued that "airchecks should be mandatory" and said that at his station there was a waiting list of people who wanted to get on the air. He added, "Make sure that your PD sounds good on the air" and "Make sure your PD knows how to do an aircheck" since that person is setting the tone for the station's airsound.

Previous Posts about the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon:

CMJ 2009 Band Name Trends Revealed
Radio is Alive and Well at the CMJ Music Marathon (for Radio Survivor)
Radio's Presence at CMJ
CMJ 2009 Music Marathon Recap Part Two (10/20/09)
Social Networking, Metal Radio & Digital Music, and Miles Davis in 1959 (10/21/09)
CMJ 2009 College Day Part One- College Radio and Competition
CMJ 2009 College Day Part Two: Music Directors' Summit

1 comment:

Ali Ru said...

One of my favorite ideas from this panel was having a Retention Director. Once we train people at my station we have a hard time with enforcing attendance to shows, which is really unfortunate when people have prime slots. I think having a person dedicated specifically to check in on DJs and make sure they're happy is a great idea.