Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Radio Station Field Trip 53 - KPOO in San Francisco

KPOO entrance.  All photos by Jennifer Waits.
I've long wanted to visit community radio station KPOO 89.5 FM, aka Poor People's Radio, in San Francisco and finally received a gracious invitation to visit by DJ McSchmormac, host of the Gramophoney Baloney show. On Monday, I made my way to KPOO in order to witness McSchmormac's show and immerse myself in the world of KPOO (that's K-P-O-O for those reading this aloud).

KPOO lobby.  Photo: Jennifer Waits
When I got to the station, I was greeted by JJ, KPOO's General Manager, and offered a seat on one of the couches in the entryway. A short time later, McSchmormac arrived after walking across town from his day job. McSchmormac gave me a quick recap of his own radio history, which included stints at several other community radio stations in San Francisco, including Radio Valencia (which I visited back in its early days at its former location) and FCCFree Radio (which I visited in 2009, back when it was on FM and prior to the station going online only in 2010). He's been at KPOO since December, 2013.

DJ McSchmormac on the air at KPOO. Photo: Jennifer Waits
McSchmormac told me that became interested in KPOO during a serendipitous trip across the newly-opened Bay Bridge. While crossing the bridge in a friend's car he discovered that his favorite show from back in his Radio Valencia days, "Wake the Town," was now on KPOO. The Jamaican oldies show got its start on college radio station KUSF, back when it was at 90.3 FM in San Francisco. After connecting with the show's host, McSchmormac stopped by the station one day to meet some of the leadership. He made a good impression and was asked to fill in for the Monday afternoon blues host who'd taken a few weeks off. After it became apparent that the DJ wasn't returning, he was told, "it looks like the slot's yours." McSchmormac quickly switched from trying to do blues-oriented show in the beginning, to his current format of vintage music from all over the world.

Main studio at KPOO. Photo: Jennifer Waits
During Monday's show he focused on pre-World War I material, explaining the appeal of announcing that all of the music was 100+ years old. Among the gems played during the show were a 1913 piece by a Russian gypsy singer, some vintage Persian music, an 1889 Mozart piece that was recorded onto cylinder, a 1905 Finnish field recording, a track of a Madras man making random motor car sounds, and pre-WWI Mariachi music.

Guest musicians Craig Ventresco and Meredith Axelrod at KPOO. Photo: Jennifer Waits
Although I was mostly an observer during the show, McSchmormac did call upon me and my Radio Survivor colleague Matthew Lasar (who has become a somewhat regular guest on the show) to hum "America the Beautiful" during the beginning of his show. It was hard to know what visiting musicians Craig Ventresco and Meredith Axelrod thought of our amateur sound effects, but they were undaunted and proceeded to play a beautiful set of old time music on guitar and ukelele. Sticking to the theme, they played pre-1914 material, including the 1905 song "Popularity" and "Oh You Beautiful Doll."

DJ McSchmormac's Handwritten Playlist. Photo: Jennifer Waits
The jam-packed show (you can listen to an archived recording of it on Mixcloud) concluded with a phone interview with fellow vintage music junkie Jonathan Ward, the record collector and historian behind Excavated Shellac.

McSchmormac Talks with Matthew Lasar. Photo: Jennifer Waits
When I asked McSchmormac if he was always into vintage sounds, he revealed that when he was younger he was more into Gary Glitter and Adam Ant. Eventually he discovered old time music and now has quite the collection of vintage 78s as well as hard to find compilations that unearth hidden music gems from all over the world.

Turntables in KPOO Studio. Photo: Jennifer Waits
There's no show quite like Gramophoney Baloney on KPOO, but the station does have a lot of shows delving into vintage music across a wide range of genres.

KPOO. Photo: Jennifer Waits

A pioneering station, KPOO's beginnings stretch back to the early 1970s. According to the KPOO website,

"In 1971, with the help of broadcasters Lorenzo Milam, Jeremy Lansman, and Ron Grele, several community organizations with no prior radio experience applied for an FCC license to begin broadcasting community issues on the premise that any community group with something to say should be able start a low-powered radio station to serve that community. The result of that act was KPOO."

1975 Program Schedule at KPOO. Photo: Jennifer Waits
The station has always had an emphasis on social justice and works to broadcast music and ideas that often don't have a lot of play on other media outlets. According to the KPOO website,

"KPOO gives voice to the concerns of low income communities in San Francisco. Founded by Poor People’s Radio, Inc., KPOO’s ongoing mission has been to open the airwaves to the disenfranchised and underserved.."

CDs at KPOO. Photo Jennifer Waits
Music shows currently airing on KPOO focus on jazz, blues, soul, gospel, reggae, R&B, hip hop, salsa, Latin, oldies, and world music. Additionally, numerous public affairs programs delve into art, politics, computers, LGBT issues, and more. There are also shows that play all vinyl and that focus on local artists.

News Dept. at KPOO. Photo: Jennifer Waits
Although the station was originally located in the tourist zone of San Francisco, on the Bay at Pier 39, it's now located in its own building in a residential neighborhood in the center of the city on Divisadero Street.

Local Media Award for KPOO. Photo: Jennifer Waits
KPOO faces a pretty busy street, however, on the Monday afternoon of my visit it was a pretty quiet afternoon outside, with little foot traffic and occasional street noise from tow trucks and a moving company. A random passerby did ring the studio doorbell, asking about volunteering at the station.

KPOO Kitchen. Photo: Jennifer Waits
When one walks into the building, there's a small seating area serving as a lobby and waiting zone for guests. Beyond the entrance, on the left side there's a large main studio overlooking an extra booth for guests on one side and a production studio on the other. Across from those rooms are a couple of alcoves containing the record library, a news room, and a desk. Towards the back of the space is an extremely tidy kitchen and bathroom. The General Manager's office is upstairs.

Ceiling of Record Library at KPOO. Photo: Jennifer Waits
Lots of historical artifacts and awards grace the walls at KPOO, including a large collection of signed glossy promotional photos of artists from days gone by covering the ceiling of the record library across from the studio. Gold and platinum records and tapes from a wide range of releases are on display atop the stairs leading to the top floor. A platinum record celebrating a sales milestone for "the Humpty Dance" is part of that collection.

Platinum Digital Underground Record at KPOO. Photo: Jennifer Waits
As a radio station signage aficionado, I was also amazed by the variety of hand-made signs explaining various KPOO dos and don'ts. Signs not only gave details on proper station identification (K-P-O-O, not K-POO), but also warned against loud music after 10pm (a "no no" as it bothers the neighbors) and reminded DJs that the station is not a place to "hang out" with your friends. Another familiar looking sign sadly reported on a CD stuck in one of the players.

Main Studio at KPOO. Photo: Jennifer Waits
DJs can play music from a variety of sources, utilizing CD players, a cassette deck, and turntables. The production studio also has reel-to-reel players and cart machines. I really enjoyed a wall display in that room that had an exhaustive array of labelled audio media, including various sizes of vinyl records, a DAT, a cart and an 8-track tape. In keeping with the vintage theme of the show that I was visiting, the line-up of old media was lovely to see.

Labeled Music Media in KPOO Production Room. Photo: Jennifer Waits
Thanks so much to DJ McSchmormac for the inside look at KPOO. During my visit I was charmed not only by the old time sounds on his show (both live and recorded), but also by the station itself.

Sign at KPOO. Photo: Jennifer Waits
Here's a complete list of all of my Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips. Come back soon, as I will hopefully catch up on some of my East Coast station visits as well as a few other San Francisco stations.

No comments: