KRRC at Reed College (photo: J. Waits)
During my visit to Oregon at the end of April for the What is Radio? conference I visited five non-commercial radio stations in Portland. My most hectic day of station tours was on Thursday, April 25th. After stopping at KBOO and KLC in the morning, I made my way to Reed College to KRRC. I was particularly interested in visiting the station after following its recent license travails. Although the station used to hold a class D FM license, it had been off the air since the end of November, 2011. For many years the station struggled to be heard on campus and that challenge grew even larger after a commercial Clear Channel station made plans to utilize its 97.9 FM signal. By early 2012, Reed opted to donate the KRRC license to Common Frequency.
Entrance to building that houses KRRC at Reed College (photo: J. Waits)
Since I hadn't heard much about the Reed station in the past year, I was curious to learn more about how it was doing following the loss of its FCC license. Station Manager Jon Pape responded to my email request to visit the station and he toured me around KRRC on a particularly warm April afternoon.
Map of the Student Union (photo: J. Waits)
After parking in a campus lot, I stopped by an administrative building in order to get directions to the station. I was handed a map and was pointed in the direction of the Student Union. Along the way I took a wrong turn and ended up at the College Center and had to ask directions yet again. It turns out that Reed has several buildings that could be easily confused based on their names (Student Union, Campus Center, Student Center, and College Center). I didn't really mind getting lost, as the Reed campus was breathtakingly beautiful on the sunny spring day that I visited. The school also made me quite nostalgic for my college years at Haverford College, as the campus had a similar East coast feel to it, with old stone buildings and mature, green landscaping.
Hall that shares building with KRRC (photo: J. Waits)
When I arrived, Pape was hanging out in a nearby space within the building that houses KRRC. He greeted me and unlocked the station's library for our tour. Pape is a junior at Reed and he said that when he joined the station as a DJ when he was a freshman in 2010, the place was pretty "depressing." He told me that the library was full of garbage, including chicken bones. KRRC didn't have many staff or managers, didn't stream online, had no turntables, and could only be heard over its weak FM signal. By fall 2011, KRRC discontinued its FM broadcasts.
Entrance to KRRC Music Library (photo: J. Waits)
This year was Pape's first year as a manager at KRRC and he shared with me some of his accomplishments. He reorganized the LP library, got new speakers, created a new website (which launched the week before my visit), and got the webstream working again. Although he said that it's nice to not "have to worry about censorship issues" with an online-only station, he said that he's working on a project to get an AM carrier current broadcast operating again on campus so that KRRC can be heard over the radio.
CDs in KRRC Record Library (photo: J. Waits)
Since KRRC didn't really have a staff when he arrived, Pape has also worked to rebuild the station's infrastructure. He's added music genre managers, "maintenance officers," engineers, and an "art team" to help promote the station. Now there are approximately 80 shows with around 100 DJs at KRRC, which is the highest number of DJs since Pape has been at the station. Last fall there were only around 50 DJs. Currently the station is 100% students, including both undergraduates and graduate students. Among the around 1500 students at Reed, Pape said that most are aware of KRRC, but he added that not a lot of people tune in yet.
KRRC Record Library (photo: J. Waits)
Some of the shows (view the current schedule here) at the station include a program that plays jazz from the library's collection, another that is focused on interviews, and another that plays a mix of classical and noise (including a collage of opera interspersed with Japanese noise). Pape hosts "WART radio," inspired by the underground station on the classic kids' show "The Adventures of Pete and Pete." When there's no live DJ, KRRC will played archived shows.
Genre Chart at KRRC (photo: J. Waits)
During our conversation, another DJ wandered into the station. Graduate student Lynette Yetter said that she learned about KRRC when she walked by one day and heard music emanating from the station. Soon after, she saw a station flyer on a ketchup dispenser in the campus cafeteria. After becoming aware of the station, she joined up and now hosts "Random Music and Tales of the Andes" on Tuesday afternoons this semester. Her show is a mix of music and public affairs material, including interviews and political commentary. Yetter, who is also a musician and composer, told me that she hopes to create an Andean music section of the library.
Jon Pape shows off one of his favorite records from the library (Photo: J. Waits)
We spent quite a bit of time wandering through the KRRC record library and Pape talked about some of the improvements that he's made. He said that he likes to make things, so he built some CD shelves and some other storage for the library. As a station bonding activity, he held a painting and pizza party and invited other DJs and station staff to paint and decorate the new shelving.
KRRC stamp (photo: J. Waits)
Pape has other social events in the works for KRRC. He'd like to have a stamping party (after a friend makes a new KRRC stamp) in order to deface records with the station's call letters. Pape said that he'd also like to work more on getting records from labels and as part of that goal, he wants to create custom KRRC stationery during a station stationery party. That DIY letterhead could then be used when KRRC requests music from record labels. Additionally, the station hosted a Swans listening party and there are plans to hold a My Bloody Valentine listening party at the studio.
View from Record Library into KRRC Studio (Photo: J. Waits)
Pape said that KRRC is a "recovering radio station" and that it's still a work in progress. He said that he's hoping to do more things with the station and said that he'd like to throw live music events at the beginning and end of each semester. He told me that he's largely at the station because he likes to do live DJing and mixing. Pape also expressed his interest in physical music, telling me, "I'm really into vinyl, cassettes, and CDs." At the same time he said that he wasn't anti-digital music, saying that he didn't want to "prejudice" a particular medium.
Alice Cooper LP in KRRC Library (photo: J. Waits)
Right now Reed's station has a collection of vinyl and CDs but doesn't have a cassette library. There is a tape deck in the on-air studio as well as turntables and a CD player. Pape said that LPs and 45s definitely get played at KRRC and added that the station has "a lot of vinyl heads." He also mentioned that he's done some "record store field trips" with DJs from the station.
View out the window of KRRC Record Library (photo: J. Waits)
Although KRRC has had a rough time of it in recent years, the station has been around for decades. Initially a radio club, the first station KRCB 660 AM, launched in October 1955 as an AM carrier current station. By 1958 radio station KRRC was broadcasting over FM (initially at 89.3 FM). The station moved to 104.1 FM in 1981 after getting bumped by another station and eventually had to relocate yet again for similar reasons.
Lynette Yetter in the KRRC Studio (photo: J. Waits)
For even more details about the storied past of KRRC, take a look at this wonderful history of the station from a 2002 issue of Reed Magazine. Amid this history is reference to one of the most famous radio DJs: Dr. Demento. While at Reed in the 1960s, a pre-Dr. Demento Barret Hansen was not only a DJ at KRRC, hosting a wide-ranging music show called Musical Museum, but also served as the station's Program Director and as its General Manager. He's been back in recent years to teach classes and has even signed the station's wall. Unfortunately his signature is nowhere to be found on the studio walls, as it was likely painted over by the multitude of artists at KRRC.
Wall in KRRC Studio (photo: J. Waits)
Pape is interested in the station's history and has been going through KRRC's old storage space in order to uncover hidden gems. The Reed Archives is paying him to digitize some of the vintage reel-to-reel tapes that he's found. So far he's unearthed some strange music mixes, a "weird" Brian Eno record, a live Ramones show recorded in Seattle in 1978, interviews taped from other stations, and a tape of selections from various Van Morrison albums.
KRRC Fall 2012 Program Schedule (photo: J. Waits)
Pape climbs into studio from Record Library (photo: J. Waits)
As we continued to talk in the record library, the phone rang in the unmanned KRRC studio. A pre-recorded show was playing and Pape seemed thrilled that the phone was ringing. So that he could get to the phone before the caller hung up, he climbed through the small window that separates the record library from the studio. After answering the phone and learning that the psychologist on the line had the wrong number, he unlocked the door to the studio so that I could see the space.
Pape in the KRRC Studio (photo: J. Waits)
The on-air studio walls are covered with graffiti and the space feels like it's been well-loved for decades. There's a computer, tape deck, CD player, turntables, and a mixing board, as well as some beat-up chairs and old couches. A copy of the Trouser Press sits on the station's coffee table. Although they are also scrawled with paint and graffiti, windows in the station give DJs a nice view of the outside world.
KRRC Studio (Photo: J. Waits)
I was happy to see that KRRC has survived the loss of its FM license and hope that it's able to continue to thrive in whatever form it takes in the years to come. Thanks to Jon Pape for taking the time to tour me around KRRC and share it's most recent chapter with me.
I still have more Portland radio station field trips to report on, so stay tuned. Until then, here's a complete list of all of my Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips.