Monday, July 22, 2013

Radio Station Field Trip 48 - KDUP at University of Portland

Another one of those call letter signs crafted by Leo (photo: J. Waits)

When I was in Portland, Oregon in April, I was fixated on visiting all of the college radio stations in town. I was able to get in touch with people at Portland State, Reed, and Lewis and Clark, but had no luck reaching anyone at University of Portland's radio station KDUP. Since I had a little bit of time on my last day in town, I decided to take a chance and just drop by the station on my way to the airport on the morning of Sunday, April 28, 2013. I drove to the small, Catholic university and was able to easily locate the station (it's just past a chapel and behind the student center).

KDUP at University of Portland (photo: J. Waits)

As I approached KDUP's wooden house, I saw a student walking up to the station. I asked if he worked there and he said "yes." I asked if I could stop by and tour the station and he graciously agreed to let me look around. That student DJ, Will Lyons, just happened to be at the station on the Sunday morning of my visit and invited me in to talk. As we chatted, we could hear the loud Sunday church bells from the nearby chapel. Lyons told me that there are lots of bells and that they ring at 9, 12, 3, and 6, and for mass. He said that they stop after 9:30 or 10:00 at night. Considering how loud and how close the bells are, I would imagine that the bells can be heard over KDUP at various times of the day if a DJ happens to be on the microphone at the right time.


KDUP lobby (photo: J. Waits)

The cozy station has a small lobby at the entrance to the house, with a couch and a work area, with a desk and computer. The ceiling of that room is covered with vinyl records, ranging from Georgia Satellites to Snoop Dog to The Messiah. Just past the lobby is the main entry to the station. That room is surrounded by shelves containing library CDs and newer material from current rotation. At the end of the entry way hallway is the studio, which has windows looking out onto campus. There's also an office, which has a window into the studio.

Jack Greenwood on the Air at KDUP (photo: J. Waits)

Lyons has a background in radio and he shared with me that he'd been on the air at Pirate Cat Radio in San Francisco after he graduated from high school (he was probably volunteering at the station around the time that I visited in 2010!). He told me that when he arrived at University of Portland as a freshman (he was a junior when I visited in April), KDUP was online-only. He said that apparently the summer before he arrived on campus, the station's antenna broke, taking the station off AM carrier current (it was formerly on 1580 AM and on 860 AM before that).

KDUP sticker with reference to its AM past (photo: J. Waits)

An account in the student newspaper from 2011 states that, "During the remodel of The Commons last year, KDUP's AM radio tower was cut down and, as a result, the station had to turn to solely online-based streaming." Lyons told me that although it was a weak signal, only traveling for perhaps a mile, there were initially promises that there would be a new antenna in order to restore carrier current. Back in the day, KDUP also used to have an accessible basement space where bands would play. Today that space is off-limits to the station.

CD shelves at KDUP frame doorway to off-limits basement (Photo: J. Waits)

In talking about the station's obscurity on campus, Lyons told me that nobody knows about the station and joked that the only person that listens to his show (he does a Thursday night show called "Track Attack" using the airname DJ Wheat Thin) is his dad. Considering the station's low listenership, I was surprised to find yet another radio station call letter sign at KDUP. Signed by Leo, the large KDUP sign is prominently displayed at the entrance to the studio.

Will Lyons and Jack Greenwood (seated) chat at KDUP (photo: J. Waits)

As Lyons and I were talking, the Sunday DJ arrived for his show. Freshman Jack Greenwood said that he enjoyed being at the station on a quiet Sunday. He said that on his show (which he calls CTFO, for "chill the fuck out") he was playing "ambient, relaxing music for your Sunday afternoon" and told me that it's generally a mix of bands that he's been listening to as well as music that he's recently discovered. He mentioned bands like Point Never, Silver Mt. Zion, and No Joy as being part of his music repertoire.

New music at KDUP (photo: J. Waits)

Greenwood is active at KDUP and managed the station's music archives and wrote music reviews during the semester that I visited. He said that KDUP gets sent music from a number of promotions companies and for the most part is getting sent indie rock and singer-songwriter material. Starting in fall 2013, he will be working in the programming department. Some of his tasks during the semester that I visited were writing music reviews on material being added to the station. He explained to me KDUP's current rotation system, which they call a "play shelf." Various new CDs are placed on the "play shelf" and DJs are supposed to play two items from that shelf during their show.

Alphabetized CDs, but you can also see the former numbering system (photo: J. Waits)

Additionally, there's a library of older CDs which are arranged in alphabetical order on shelves (prior to 2011 they were arranged and numbered in the order in which they were added to the station). Greenwood said that KDUP doesn't really get sent much vinyl anymore. When I spotted a 7", he told me that it was the first one that he'd seen in the station mail all year. I asked if DJs were able to play vinyl in the studio and was told that there was no needle on the turntable.

Van Allen Belt 45rpm 7" in KDUP office (photo: J. Waits)

Lyons and Greenwood told me that there are around 30 DJs at KDUP, with most of the programming happening at night. DJs are pretty much allowed to play whatever they'd like. Lyons said, "the best thing about this place is the DJs." He guessed that for the most part KDUP listeners are DJs at the station. He said that he wished that the station had a terrestrial signal, as he'd like to be able to listen on a radio or in his car. Greenwood also told me that the station's Internet stream is also challenging to get on campus. Lyons concurred and said that it only worked in Google Chrome. In addition to doing radio, KDUP staff members and volunteers have also hosted house shows with local bands. Lyons said that he hoped they'd be able to continue with that tradition in the fall.

LPs on the ceiling of the KDUP lobby (photo: J. Waits)

Although they couldn't tell me much about the history of KDUP, I was told that the station has been around since the 1950s. It was apparently carrier current for the majority of its history. In an interesting side note, the University of Portland campus is also home to Catholic radio station KBVM. Licensed to Catholic Broadcasting Northwest, KBVM launched in 1989 and broadcasts over 88.3 FM. Located adjacent to the school's Physical Plant, KBVM is tucked away next to a satellite dish, some large trucks, old equipment, and pallets.

KBVM at University of Portland (photo: J. Waits)

Thanks to Jack and Will for showing me around KDUP! With this post I'm just one field trip report away from wrapping up my Portland visit. Come back to see a recap of my visit to KBOO. Until then, here's a complete list of all of my Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips.

Sign at KDUP (photo: J. Waits)

3 comments:

Steve Ward said...

Just found this blog, I can share some KDUP history. I helped move the studios to their current home in my role as General Manager in 1986/87. Prior to that it was located in the Student Communications Building, a small, "temporary" structure which no longer exists (it was in the space at the North end of the Quad, currently occupied by Franz Hall). Carrier current transmitters were placed in 5 of the 6 (then existing) dormitories, and operated at either 840, 850 or 860 KHz. When local station KPAM signed on at 860KHz in the 1990s it was necessary to change frequencies. Equipment at the time of the move consisted of a "Gatesway II" console (on-air), with two Technics turntables and a smattering of cart machines (remember those?). A year or two after the move a used Auditronics console was acquired to replace the Gatesway II. A couple of DAT machines were purchased and CD players made their debut in the late '80s. The basement was originally the darkroom for the student newspaper and the ventilation system shook the whole house! Originally the station also was a subscriber to AP news wire services. Formats have varied from top-40 to alternative and lots of others. Some faculty members even took air shifts and played their favorite genres. The station has also launched a few local radio careers over the years.

Jennifer Waits said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks so much for sharing some of KDUP's history! I ran across some University of Portland yearbooks from the 1960s and 1970s this summer and found some tidbits about the station. In those yearbooks I see references to broadcasts over 570 AM carrier current (1961), 660AM (1968), and from B.C. at 860AM(1976). Was B.C. a dorm?

Steve Ward said...

BC == Buckley Center, one of the main academic buildings on campus, has classrooms and faculty offices. It is more or less centrally located on campus making it a good location to start from.

There were five dorms when I attended, and initially they were configured with the two Women's buildings on one end of campus and the three Men's buildings at the opposite end. During my time as a student that was changed so there were adjacent men's and women's buildings. I think the first co-ed dorm was established either very late 80s or early 90s. Now there are many more residential facilities as the campus has nearly doubled in size.