Welcome back to the Spinning Indie 50 State Tour, my virtual journey through all 50 states in an effort to bring attention to noteworthy college radio stations in every pocket of the United States.
The 13 college radio stations that I've featured thus far include stations in Arkansas, Wisconsin, Kansas, Louisiana, Alaska, North Dakota, Nevada, West Virginia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, California and Nebraska.
Today we head over to Idaho to learn more about University of Idaho station KUOI in Moscow. Thanks to Station Manager Mike Siemens for taking the time to speak with me by phone about KUOI.
In existence since 1945, KUOI is a freeform college radio station that claims to have the largest music library of any college station in the Pacific Northwest. The staff of DJs is made up of both community volunteers (10 to 20%) and students, with many also involved in bands (including Cougar LS, Stable Comings, Tim Blood & the Gut Panthers, Rhythmmemory, and This Kid's Not Supposed to be in the Family Portrait) and the local music scene.
According to their website:
"KUOI Radio’s story began like so many fairy-tales. From the obscurity of an attic in northern Idaho, several clever amateurs strung transmitting electrical wire through steam tunnels, thereby bringing two daily hours of music and Shakespearean drama to student residences. It’s fitting that the term 'Broadcasting' comes from the farming word for spreading seeds in all directions. KUOI in its early years was not only an outlet for new wireless media but a experimental training ground for journalists and engineers."
Recently KUOI has been hosting a number of experimental music shows, including some events taking place this weekend surrounding the exhibit "WeekSpot: Midi Glock and Soft Synth," running through this Saturday, Feb. 13. Running in tandem with the sound installation are some live events, including one tonight with Shelby Turner & Co. and a show tomorrow night with Steve von Till (doing material from his Harvestman and solo projects).
Although Station Manager Mike Siemens told me that he's more focused on "right now," KUOI has a 65+ year history that is nicely documented on their website with stories and photos. In his phone interview with me, Mike shared some additional historical tidbits, talked about the station's role in the Moscow music scene, and pointed out some of the shows that are unique to KUOI.
Spinning Indie: What's the overall mission/programming philosophy of KUOI?
Mike Siemens: "[It's a] free format radio station…true free format…anything goes.... [shows are] like personal mix tapes and there are no restrictions on DJs besides FCC rules"
Spinning Indie: Your station has a lengthy history. What are your favorite tidbits from your station's past?
Mike: "It’s pretty cool how we started out with a couple of guys in an attic who got a block's worth of telephone cable, [but I'm] more focused on right now…"
Spinning Indie: Any long-time shows? When did they begin?
Mike: "A couple have been on for over 10 years. One is 40 Acres and a Clone Mule (Leigh Robartes has been on the air at KUOI for over 20 years). 'A History of Sound Recordings' host James Donely has done over 350 consecutive shows."
Spinning Indie: Do you have music in your library dating back to the early days of the station? Any favorite examples? Does it get played?
Mike: "Yeah, we do."
[Mike then told me a story about how a former Station Manager hated Frank Zappa and broke some of his records in half. The Music Director really liked Zappa, so he hid the records. To this day, people at KUOI continue to find "little caches" of Zappa records in nooks and crannies around the station.]
"our library is huge…we still have all of our vinyl and we encourage DJs to use the library…most DJs don’t bring computers or iPods and there are a lot of only vinyl DJs"
Spinning Indie: Are there any programs/specialty shows that are unique to KUOI or stand out as being different from anything else on radio?
Mike: "Everybody does different shows… it's eclectic…there's the 'Haiku Heavy Metalist Show' and one guy does a radio play every other Saturday. This guy who used to work at Bloodshot does a show called Audiodrome, playing mostly Australian rock. It's pretty bad ass."
Spinning Indie: Is there certain music that DJs are required to play? Is there anything that DJs aren't allowed to play?
Mike: "Usually if they’re playing bad music a station fan will call. If they’re playing top 40 shit."
Spinning Indie: How does your MD decide what music to add?
Mike: "In general it's an even spread of music across every genre. The current MD has also been bringing in heavier sounds."
Spinning Indie: Do you add and play a lot of vinyl?
Mike: "Yeah…We add vinyl all the time…usually whenever it comes in. And DJs play it. I haven't bought a CD in 3 years, but buy vinyl."
Spinning Indie: Do most students at University of Idaho know about the station? Do a lot of students listen to the station?
Mike: "Yeah. It’s gone through its high points and low points…We’re putting out a lot of good shows…and pull out speakers and amps and set up in broadcasts in the Commons and hand out flyers…I think it’s really important….to get out there."
Spinning Indie: What’s the station’s connection with the local music scene in Moscow?
Mike: "Its awesome. Concerts out here are awesome and often 200 people will show up. A lot of the guys….in prominent bands around here are involved with station. Right now we’re just enjoying the wealth that is Moscow. It’s kind of like a safe place. I just don’t really want to live in a city."
(Photo courtesy KUOI)
Spinning Indie: I'm amazed that you have your record library online for anyone to search. How many items are in your library and is everything searchable?
Mike: "No idea…It's pretty huge."
Spinning Indie: Do you listen to other college radio stations? Who do you admire? What's the college radio scene like in your area?
Mile: "KVRX—I met those guys awhile back. The Austin Community radio station in Spokane is alright, but is hard to get out here. The Pullman station is only 8 miles away and Lewis and Clark's station is an hour away…Local college stations will make promos for each other if doing shows and will hand out flyers for each other. Competition…what’s that? There’s room for everybody."
Spinning Indie: Anything else to share?
Mike: "The station is student owned and operated and is run on dirt and blood and sweat."