Wednesday, December 24, 2008

WICB College Radio DJ's Journey into the Music Biz

A couple of pieces in Ithaca College student publication The Fuse, share the story of one college radio DJ and his journey into the music industry. In the article "Adventures in College Radio", recent college graduate and former WICB DJ and Assistant Music Director John-Severin Napolillo talks about his love for radio and how his job in college radio has opened doors for his future career. (Another article gives a run-down of his daily tasks when he was WICB Assistant Music Director). He writes:

"...Impressed by my hard work, the music director offered me the assistant music director’s position...As assistant I hosted a weekly show premiering new music. I picked and monitored the new music that was played and reported it to the College Music Journal as a contributor to their weekly charts. I attended concerts for free and got to interview the bands. I had to pinch myself halfway through sophomore year when I found myself hanging out backstage with the Walkmen, one of my favorite bands. I also talked to radio promoters across the country on a weekly basis, tracking the success of hot new bands not only on WICB but at stations across the country."

He eventually spent a semester in Los Angeles doing an internship at Capitol Records. Following that he was granted a paid summer radio internship in New York at commercial station WLTW. John adds that none of this would have been possible without college radio:

"As a recent graduate I'm currently pursuing a career in radio while performing with my bands. When I look back on the great experiences I’ve had in the entertainment industry I’m reminded of the doors that college radio has opened for me. I’m sure they will continue to open for years to come."

In my experience, a pretty small number of college radio DJs have dreams of working in the industry, either in commercial radio, at a record label, or in music promotions. Personally, I cherish the freedom of college radio, and could not imagine having to play someone else's playlist at a commercial station. I also feared that working in music as a career would destroy my love for it. However, I spent one year working at an Internet music company, and it was actually the best job I've ever had. Working with music every day only enhanced my love for it and I couldn't believe that I was being paid to write about music and interview bands.

How about your station, do many of the DJs and staff members hope to work in the music biz?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Angry College Radio DJ

Has there just been too much college radio love lately? Perhaps....

In a post yesterday on NeoAvant called "Thoughts of An Angry College Radio DJ Pt.1," a college radio DJ rants a bit about the state of the station, writing:

"...I’m a DJ at my university radio station. It’s a shitty and excellent job. First off, most of the people I work with are either together with their job or just… annoying as fuck. Most everyone has this 'hipster' shit down- not only do they wear skinny jeans, but they cream said jeans over Tobacco and Deerhoof. Fuck those people… I’ve made it my main goal to play everything that they’re not playing. Not just for my sanity… but for the listeners out there who’ve heard the latest Sub Pop records album a million times already.

Don’t get me wrong - I like most of the djs and staff… but some people are so predictable that it hurts."

Does this sound like your college radio station? Do most of your DJs like the same bands? Who are the rebels? Are they the folks playing mainstream music or the people playing obscure, underground artists?

The author goes on to critique the station's Music Department:

"It’s crazy… our music directors in the past have given us crap for expanding our listening to include certain artists that AREN’T played otherwise, and for having fun by playing songs by random notable artists that you never hear on other stations. We’re young, we’re on the air, and we SHOULD be rebelling against the system and playing old LL Cool J at 4am."

I'm not sure I get the entire argument (especially in terms of who is rebelling against what), but it seems like the author worries that the station is afraid of taking chances and sticks to a standard college radio sound. That's never a good thing, and there are lots of critiques out there against the standardization and mainstream sounds found on college radio. I agree that all Music Directors should be challenged to have broad, eclectic playlists that are NOT based on music charts or the top hits listed in CMJ.

What's your college radio rant? And, how do you deal with drama, in-fighting, and differences in music taste at your station?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Texas Tech Radio Station KTXT is Shut Down and Protests Begin

Wow. This is a scary story. I just read on the College Broadcasters, Inc. website that nearly 50-year-old college radio station KTXT at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas was abruptly shut down on December 10th by the university. Apparently the school is shifting its priorities as far as student media go, and the station was seen as a financial drain, and perhaps, not "new media" enough for the school. What's shocking is that KTXT is a prominent 35,000 watt FM station that has played an influential role in radio, airing music not otherwise heard in the area. According to a December 10, 2008 piece on the KTXT website:

"...'We agonized over this decision and looked for ways to enhance KTXT-FM's role within the Texas Tech community, but ultimately we had to face the fact that changes needed to be made,' said Susan Peterson, director for Student Media. 'We recognize this is a huge loss to those who are loyal to KTXT-FM - its listeners and its staff - but the department must grow and change in order to best serve the entire student body.'...

'The overwhelming financial demands of operating an FM radio station, coupled with the radical changes in the radio broadcast industry, made it clear that we need to rethink our definition of broadcast media and refocus our commitment to bolstering student learning,' Peterson said. 'As they prepare to find jobs after graduation, our students depend on us to enhance the skills learned in the classroom. To meet that need, Student Media must adapt to the changes dictated by the industry.'"

Can you imagine if this happened to your college radio station? There's a huge push by staff members, listeners, supporters, and alum to encourage the university to reverse this decision. As of today, there are more than 4200 members of a Save KTXT group on Facebook. From that page you can learn more about how to show your support for the station, which I'd encourage any fan of non-commercial radio to do.

I'd hope that the station will resume operations and that those who made this decision will take a moment to read the passionate comments by KTXT listeners which can be found attached to many of the articles about the station shut-down, such as the following comments on a Houston Chronicle story:

"I was born and raised in lubbock Texas, and lived there from 1978 to 1999. KTXT specially the show DJed by the Cat in the Hat played a major role in defining the person I would become.

I distinctly remember hearing punk rock for the first time on the radio, which immediately gravitated to. Not only did this music introduce me to the music that would define my childhood and adult interest, but it also brought me into the crowd and scene in which I met my some of my most life long friends. KXTX is the only things that made Lubbock more than a cow town. Please don't take this away from the kids struggling to live there now. - Anthony Armendariz, Brooklyn NYC"

And another by a more recent DJ at the station:

"Fall '08 I finally got the guts to volunteer for KTXT, a radio station I'd been listening to for approx. 6 years. The experience was amazing. I made new friends, promoted up and coming bands, and got to make some listeners' day by playing music they would be unable to hear on any other Lubbock radio station. I have a lot of friends who would rather listen to dead air than mainstream Lubbock radio. KTXT provided an alternative, and it's a tragedy to have it taken away with absolutely no notice.

KTXT FM brought bands, art, music, and culture which Lubbock desperately needs. It was a valuable asset to the Lubbock community, a community which only receives national coverage when "the powers that be" make another mistake such as not allowing a GSA group for teens at local schools, arresting the Chippendales for dancing provocatively, and now shutting down the only good radio station that Lubbock has... had."

It's incredibly short-sighted and disappointing to me when a university fails to understand the impact of college radio on the broader community. Even if a radio station isn't the most popular station on campus, even if only a handful of students listen, and even if its DJs are a mere subculture of the university, the station is still playing a very powerful role. Many of the most passionate listeners might be community members, so they should also be considered when taking away such a vital community service.

KTXT is clearly a well-loved station and influential station with many listeners, so hopefully those fans and other non-commercial radio supporters will be able to galvanize in order to bring the station back. It might be that the station will need to become more self-sufficient financially, a not-uncommon practice in college radio. In any event, the station should be given a chance to survive....and I'd really like to be able to feature them on my Spinning Indie 50 State Tour. Catch this blurb about their illustrious past from the KTXT Wikipedia page:

"88.1 has, since the early 1980s, offered an eclectic mix of alternative programming ranging from oldies, new wave-80s, Reggae to house/trance, rock, country and indie. The 1980s led the way to the introduction of Reggae music to the South Plains area. Reggae bands were booked in local clubs as a result and Lubbock experienced a boom in world music influence locally.

As with all college radio during the 1980s, KTXT-FM was responsible for expanding the minds and opening the ears to the sounds of up in coming bands like REM, U2 and The Clash. Whilst other stations in Lubbock stuck with the CHR (Chart Hits Radio) format, KTXT-FM drew many listeners away from commercial radio with their alternative programming thus forcing the commercial stations to pay attention to KTXT's playlists and DJs. Many veteran DJs can claim KTXT-FM as their first home on the air and are currently employed throughout the US as a result."

Sounds like a really cool place. So, please, do what you can to show your support for KTXT. If this shut-down is truly a done deal, than this is a very dangerous precedent.

College and Community Radio Tidbits - 1980s College Radio Nostalgia and Community Radio Station Crisis in Colombia

1980s College Radio Nostalgia

The recent NY Times piece on college radio certainly generated some commentary, including a blog post on My Aimz Is True about the writer's connection to college radio in the 1980s and 1990s and how it helped shape her music taste and turned her on to songs by They Might Be Giants, the Smiths and Husker Du. She writes:

"College radio had a huge influence on developing my musical tastes in the 1980s and early 90s. Growing up in small town Wisconsin, I listened to WRST from the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. They even let some of my high school friends DJ, usually at 4a.m. on Thursdays. My only other source of alternative music came from friends who had older siblings in college, and they passed on what they heard at their local college stations to we high school underlings."

Community Radio Station in Colombia Under Siege
Non-commercial radio faces many obstacles in the U.S., mainly over struggles about funding, volunteer involvement, and connecting with an audience. But, imagine, if your station was under siege by outside groups, and was repeatedly vandalized. A post on the MAMA Radio blog talks about a community radio station in Colombia whose transmissions have been compromised due to vandalism and equipment theft. By the way, the author of this blog, Mario Murillo, is a Hofstra professor and radio veteran (WBAI, NPR, WHRU at Hofstra) currently working in Colombia. He's also involved with college radio in Columbia at radio station Javeriana Estereo.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Radio Journal Article and the Origins of Spinning Indie

It was just about a year ago that the idea for Spinning Indie was born. As I completed the edits on a piece that I was writing about college radio for an academic journal (which I submitted in summer 2007), I realized that I had a lot more to say about the subject and needed an outlet for all of those ideas. I'd spent much of last December voraciously reading everything I could find about college and indie radio to add some context to my article. There was very little college radio scholarship out there, so most of the books that I read were about related topics like the history of radio, freeform radio and pirate radio. The college radio scholarship that I did find was fascinating, much of it done for MA theses and PhD dissertations. In fact, some of the most impressive work about college radio was done by graduate students, many of whom seemed to be active radio participants as well as scholars. Holly Kruse's book, Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes, was the stand-out among everything I read. It was also inspiring, as the book deal stemmed from her dissertation.

Since I started Spinning Indie, I've been able to connect with more college radio academics, definitely a small crew of great folks. In the months to come, I plan to summarize more academic articles related to college radio. In the meantime, the fruits of my academic labor are finally available for consumption, as my Radio Journal piece was published a few months back. I was hoping to be able to provide free access to the entire article online, but unfortunately there's only free access to the abstract (you can pay to see the entire article).

My piece, "Does 'indie' mean independence? Freedom and restraint in a late 1990s US college radio community" appears in Volume 5, Numbers 2 & 3 (2007) of The Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media. This is my very first academic article, so needless to say I'm excited to see my name in print.

My article actually goes back in time to discuss a period during the 1990s when college radio was often working to define itself against commercial culture's embrace of "alternative" music. Since "indie" and "alternative" were being gobbled up and repackaged for commercial airplay and commercial sale, many college stations found themselves becoming even more vigilant about supporting independence from corporate control and corporate media.

The station that I write about in my article took a radical stance, only adding artists on independent labels to regular rotation. In addition to that, to be added to the library, releases had to be free of any major label funding or major label distribution. As I write in my article,

"Deciding to include major label releases at any college station is a political statement and deciding to ban major label releases is equally political. Yet many releases do not clearly fall into one space or another, which is confusing and controversial when they are banned from a station. What is indie? Who decides? This becomes both an aesthetic and a power issue."

What was fascinating to me, was that some new people at the station didn't seem to understand or appreciate this policy. I write:

"While staff members at the radio station were supportive and proud of the indie-only policy, I found that people struggled with it and at times felt restricted by it. This article will interrogate that tension between theory and practice, raising the question ‘Does indie mean independence’? at this college station."

In the article I also give nods to some college radio scholarship and talk a bit about the contested and vague definitions of "alternative" and "indie" in the 1990s. I also discuss some disturbing trends in college radio, in which many stations are becoming more and more like commercial stations, with narrow playlists of songs.

I conclude, saying:

"As the radio industry had continued to change in the 1990s and in the early 2000s, the questions raised by this article take on added relevance. Holtermann (1992) and others cite concern about the increasingly homogenous playlists at college radio stations in the 1990s. Low power and ‘pirate’ stations were in some instances established as a reaction against college radio not fulfilling its promise. Sue Carpenter reflects that her pirate station in L.A. was ‘. . . not only a reaction against bad radio but a reaction against authority’ (Carpenter 2004).

If college radio continues to reflect mainstream radio more so than independent radio, than it may lose more and more listeners to low power stations, satellite radio (with hundreds of niche channels, yet corporate-controlled), the Internet (with indie radio stations, big commercial stations, podcasts, band websites and access to mp3s) and iPods (where anyone can make their own playlist of music).

Yet college radio stations with a strong philosophy about independent music can still hold an important place on the radio dial. College radio has been rarely studied and it is a compelling space in which to explore the tensions between mainstream commercial radio and the underground, independent responses to that. As they are often student and volunteer-run organisations, college radio stations have their own institutional structures, although they are still in close contact with the commercial record industry. This station is but one example of a college radio station with a strong philosophy about exposing unheard music to listeners, and future research would benefit from taking a broader look at college radio as a whole and at independent-minded stations in particular."

Long live indie college radio! And long live college radio scholarship. If you're working on something related to college radio, definitely send it my way, as I'd love to review more academic articles for Spinning Indie.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Photograph Your Vinyl for NPR

My collection of 45s from elementary school and junior high fits in the Tote 45

Thanks to Earbender, for cluing me in to a lively discussion about vinyl on the NPR blog "All Songs Considered" (affiliated with their new music show of the same name). The launching pad for this discussion was the piece "Vinyl: The New CD?" Robin Hilton writes:

"A while back on the blog, I mentioned that I had gotten rid of all my CDs because I thought the compact disc was a dying format. It's so much easier to access everything from a hard drive. When I asked listeners what they thought would be the music format to replace CDs, a handful of people said 'vinyl.' I thought it was funny, but I've come to realize that they may be right.

I've read a number of reports that sales of vinyl LPs and turntables are way up. Retailers speculate the obvious: Vinyl turns music into a tangible work of art, allowing a deeper connection between listener and artist. And many vinyl LPs now come with a code to download a free MP3 version of the album, giving listeners both the convenience of digital audio and the beauty of art you can hold in your hand.

Vinyl could save not only music as high art, but also the music industry itself...But vinyl is a perfect excuse for returning to an actual, physical record store, where you can lay down some money and walk out with something real. I'd love to see local record stores come back."

Robin has started buying vinyl again and asked readers to submit photos of their own vinyl collections (you can see one on this update). Ultimately, they set up a Flickr page where you can send in your pictures and view photos from other vinyl addicts' collections. It would be fun to see some radio station photos in there too.

Yes...that my Styx!

It was also pointed out in one of the posts that the NPR folks have been getting more vinyl in the mail lately:

"I've mentioned before that reports show sales of vinyl rising dramatically, but anecdotally I can say that record labels sent us more promo copies of new albums on vinyl this year than any year before (in recent history). I'm certain that we're bound to see more and more vinyl arriving in the mail."

I'm sure this is true. At my radio station we're adding lots of vinyl every week and I'm definitely playing more vinyl this year than a few years ago. What a fantastic trend!

College Radio Ode by WNUR Adviser

As you might imagine, there are always mixed reactions when a trend article in the New York Times declares that college radio is cool. On Mediageek, there's a fantastic article today about just that: NY Times Discovers College Radio Doesn't, no duh (love the title!)

Mediageek (aka Paul Riismandel) is a long-time college and community radio DJ and is currently the adviser for Northwestern University radio station WNUR (which I was lucky enough to visit last month for my ongoing series of radio station field trips). In his piece he gives a more in-depth perspective about why college radio is such a valuable cultural institution. He also reminds us how lucky we are to have thriving indie radio stations, especially in light of the death of so many college stations in recent years due to university greed, student apathy or frequency-hungry religious groups:

"Although it seems the bloodshed has slowed, during the 90s and early 00s there seemed to be quite a slate of student stations being reclaimed by college administrations in order to be repurposed into public radio stations or even sold off to the highest bidder (usually a church or christian broadcaster). It seems that things have now stabilized, and I hope that the remaining student-run stations are able to stay that way, although I fear the economic downturn again will make college-owned stations seem like tasty prospects for quick cash."

Paul also reminds us that college radio stations aren't solely the realm of students, that often non-student DJs are a vital part of a station's programming lineup (certainly the case at my station). This, in part, is one of the reasons that college radio provides an important community service. He states:

"It’s often overlooked that most college stations are also staffed by a percentage of community volunteers who bring in both community representation and a broader range of experience. While not the same as community radio, any community that has a student-run station should be thankful that this beacon of noncommercial integrity often comes as a partial or wholly-funded gift from the college or university that sponsors it.

Yes, it may esoteric, amateurish or occasionally sophomoric, but I also know that without college radio many a community would have no jazz, classical, bluegrass, blues or experimental music on its airwaves, in addition to the more youth-associated genres of indie rock, metal, rap, dance and electronic."

I couldn't agree more!

College Radio Story in New York Times

A few days ago the New York Times published an article, "In a Digital World, College Radio Perseveres," which discusses college radio's current role in the music landscape.

According to the article:

"...campus radio stations...for generations have served as a clubhouse for connoisseurs and a training ground for the music industry."

In discussing Troy, New York radio station WRPI (at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), the article makes an interesting (and surprising) point that student DJs may not even been avid radio listeners. The article states:

"But when WRPI’s student D.J.’s leave the studio, they said, they are unlikely to listen to the radio at all. 'Even when I’m in the car, I’m usually listening to my iPod and not that much to the station,' said Blair Neal, the music director."

The article goes on to argue that with decreased listenership, college radio stations may not have the same role in the music biz that they once did:

"In the age of blogs and MySpace, college radio might seem an anachronism, an analog remnant in a digital world. With young people listening to the radio less, student stations no longer enjoy the influence they had when they gave bands like R.E.M. and Nirvana an early boost to stardom."

Yet, the piece also makes the point that college radio may be more influential than people realize, arguing:

"But instead of clashing with the Internet, the 700 or so college stations around North America have persevered alongside it, settling into a role as the slower but more loyal foil to the fickle blogosphere. And thanks to the continued passion of their personnel, the stations remain surprisingly successful at promotion, according to many in the music industry, playing a bigger part in breaking new acts than is usually acknowledged."

The article goes on to point out that college radio stations are much more likely to have an online presence, stating:

"To reach new audiences, college and other noncommercial stations have taken the lead in Internet broadcasting: 60 percent have Web streams, compared with 36 percent for all stations, according to RadioTime, an online service. KALX at the University of California, Berkeley, one of the most influential college stations, averages about 60 listeners at a time for its stream, and often has more than 100, said Sandra Wasson, its general manager. But most stations have seen only a trickle."

I agree. And would add that college radio stations often do a much better job with technology in general. Their websites are typically more sophisticated than commercial radio websites and they are much more likely to have regularly updated blogs and pages on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Spinning Indie 50 State Tour: Stop 8 - West Virginia's WSHC

It's time for another stop on the Spinning Indie 50 State Tour. The goal of this project is to do interviews with college radio stations from each of the 50 states in order to highlight fascinating stations (and their tales) from all over the U.S.

The first seven virtual stops have been to stations in Arkansas, Wisconsin, Kansas, Louisiana, Alaska, North Dakota and Nevada.

For my 8th stop, today we visit Shepherd University station WSHC-FM. College radio station WSHC is located in Shepherdstown, West Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley. Their first official broadcast was in 1974, but student-produced radio experiments were happening on campus as early as the 1950s. The station has been broadcasting 24 hours a day for about 8 years, and started netcasting in 2005. WSHC emphasizes "alternative" music and DJs are given complete freedom to program their shows.

Thanks to WSHC's Assistant Manager Todd Cotgreave for talking to me about the station. In his interview he discusses the history of the station, WSHC's role in the local music scene (including plans to set up a recording studio), the station's continued use of vinyl and cassettes, and a tale about in-studio levitation during one of their public affairs shows.

Spinning Indie: What motivated you to get involved with college radio?

Todd: I grew up listening to WCDE in Elkins WV, a 100 watt college station. I thought that was the coolest station ever. They played and said whatever they felt like. It sounded so much better than all of the commercial stations.

Spinning Indie: I understand that WSHC has been around since 1974. Can you share with me some interesting bits of trivia from the station's history?

Todd: In the mid 1950's it was run over a wire to the "Rams Den" (the campus lounge). In 1974 we were given 10 watts at 88.5 and no budget at all. The first song broadcast was "Blackwater" by the Doobie Brothers. In the early 80's the FCC told us to boost power or move to the commercial side of the radio. Because there was no budget we were bumped to 93.7. In the late 80's a new College President came to town and wanted to be able to hear the station at his house one mile away. In 1991 we went to our current status of 950 watts at 89.7. We began ...internet broadcasting within the last couple of years.

Spinning Indie: What's the overall music philosophy of the station?

Todd: We focus on being eclectic and well out of the mainstream path. You can listen to other stations for top 40. We want you to hear what a small educated town has to offer.

Spinning Indie: What's the music scene like in Shepherdstown and the surrounding areas and how is your station involved with local music?

Todd: [There is a] strong local music scene with lots of diversity. WSHC has been promoting local artists for years and in the next year will be spotlighting more locals and setting up concerts for them. We are also setting up a recording studio to help up and coming locals make albums. We feel it is very important to be as involved as possible with local music, including the Shepherd University music department.

Spinning Indie: Are DJs required to play anything in particular? Is there anything they aren't allowed to play?

Todd: Try not to play anything with curse words in it. Everything else goes. From Abba and Disney songs to the latest hip hop tracks. Our automated system plays the eclectic mix we are known for. The DJ's have no regulation on their content.

Production Studio Before Remodel
(image from WSHC website)

Spinning Indie: I can see that you add digital and CD releases. How about vinyl? cassettes? What format of music gets played the most?

Todd: Well there has been a strong movement recently towards digital media, but we still have cart machines, reel to reel and turntables. Vinyl has always been a strong source here at WSHC. One of our shows, called "Vinyl Tap" (airs Mondays between 8-10pm), plays nothing but vinyl. We almost had a show called "Tape Worm" for cassette enthusiasts.

Lindsay Guild, host of "Vinyl Tap" on Monday nights 8-10pm
(Image provided by Todd Cotgreave)

Spinning Indie: What's one of the weirdest records in your library?

Todd: Well we don't have just one weird one. We have always asked small labels, independents, and locals to submit music so.... the better question is... "what is the most normal record?" Which is probably something like "King Missile."

Spinning Indie: What's the longest running show at the station?

Todd: Hard to say, we have many shows that have been running for years. I think it could be the "Old School" show DJ'ed by Direct Connection (Airs Thursday night from 8-10). He plays all sorts of stuff, mostly from the 50's to the 80's and features WV's only weekly surf report.

Spinning Indie: Are there any shows that stand out as being unique to WSHC?

Todd: We have so many unique shows. "Inner Views" hosted by Doug Herrick (Fri 5-6 pm) is a talk show that deals with conspiracy theories and government scandals and once had a man in the station that could levitate objects. Radio really doesn't get any better than in-studio levitation.

Spinning Indie: Are the majority of your DJs students? Do you have community DJs at the station?

Todd: We have a good mix of locals and students, about 60% students.

Spinning Indie: Do you listen to other college radio stations? Which stations do you love?

Todd: We can't really pick any up where we are but 89.7 out of Towson, MD [WTMD] does a great job.

Stick week the Spinning Indie 50 State Tour journeys to Kentucky.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

College Radio Tidbits - Socialite DJ, WRTC's Support of Student Musicians, and Student Government Radio in Texas

A few bits of college radio news:

Socialite College Radio DJ
I guess if you're in the public eye, then you can't just go and do a college radio show without someone making note of it. According to a post on Guest of a Guest, NYC socialite Annabelle Dexter-Jones hosts a show called "the Summit" on the Bard College Radio station WXBC.

Trinity College Radio Station Enhances Webcast and Promotes Student Music
An article in the Trinity Tripod discusses enhancements to the Trinity College radio station WRTC-FM in Hartford, Connecticut. According to the piece, the station has added podcasts, improved their webcast and is working more closely with campus music organizations in order to present work by students.

Texas Station will Host Student Senators in 2009
Starting in Spring 2009, Texas State University station KTSW-FM (San Marcos, Texas) will begin airing a show that will feature Q&A sessions with members of student government. According to an article in the University Star, "The show will address student government meeting topics and relevant issues presented by university students."

Montco Radio Profiled on CMJ Staff Blog

Yesterday the CMJ Staff Blog featured an interview with Aaron Henry, Music Director of Montgomery County Community College station Montco Radio (Blue Bell, Pennsylvania). In the interview, Aaron discusses the challenges of attracting student volunteers, how they've managed to get more exposure on campus for the Internet-only station, and their use of outdoor broadcasts. According to the article:

CMJ: As in internet-only station, how are you received by the campus and student body? How do you get their attention?

Aaron Henry: When I first came to Montgomery County Community College, we were the least respected and one of the least visible student clubs on campus. The station was a bit disorganized and undisciplined. But eventually we started promoting among students through the internet via MySpace and Facebook. Then Student Activities allowed us to broadcast in the cafeteria, which was huge! Now they have plans in the near future to expand our broadcast to the communications building and the bookstore. And this semester we printed t-shirts for more visibility on and off campus.

WBGU Profile on CMJ Staff Blog

CMJ has an ongoing series of "industry profiles" in their magazine and on their Staff Blog. One of the most recent interviews was with a few of the music directors of Bowling Green State University radio station WBGU (one of my former haunts). In the interview, specialty MDs Andrew Balcerzak and Brian Scavo talk about their take on the "RPM/IGE" genre, their philosophy about charting, and some of their guidelines for adding new music to the Ohio station. According to the interview:

CMJ: Explain IGE.

Andrew Balcerzak: IGE is a term which stands for “industrial gothic experimental,” and it was an additional music department which I founded back in 2002. But it had no proper CMJ chart, and most of that stuff really just charted to RPM because it was electronic in nature. Some of the gothic rock stuff… it’s more rock. So I was beholden to the RPM director at the time. And at the time the RPM director was not very interested in really working with us. A few years went by and the two departments were formally merged.

They also discuss their extensive "weekly airplay report."

Andrew: ...Now with Brian on board it’s disgustingly fleshed out. I mean we just sent out our weekly airplay report, and it’s twenty pages long!

CMJ: What kind of response have you got to your report?

AB: Two responses: “Jesus Christ, this is so long, I’m never going to read this all” and “Holy crap, I want to bind this is leather, sit by the fireside and read it…” We’re really big on…what’s the word I’m looking for Brian, responsibility? Fairness? Following the rules?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

College Radio Tidbits - KAOS in HD, Prof-Student Team Show, KCRW's New MD, College Radio Novel, Bye Bye Radio Tower

Just catching up on some college radio news from the past week or so:

Evergreen State Station KAOS Gets Grant to go HD
An article today talks about Evergreen State College's community radio station KAOS and its plans to add HD programming due to a $78,000+ grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Kind of cool, but I wonder if there are any strings attached...

Professor, Student Team Radio Show at KSUU
At Southern Utah University radio station KSUU there's a team radio show about movies hosted by a student and a professor. According to an article this week, quoting show host Angie Smith:

"'A lot of the time, as faculty members, the people that work on campus don't get to do some of the fun things like go on the radio,' she said. 'They don't have as many opportunities to do that, so that was a way for me to give a fun outlet for [Professor Kevin](Stein), because he's always wanted to do radio.'"

KCRW's New MD Jason Bentley Profiled
KCRW's Jason Bentley began his new gig as Music Director this week for the Santa Monica College public radio station. An article in the LA Times profiles Bentley and talks about his lengthy history at the station, which began with him as a phone volunteer in 1988. He's been on the air for 16 years, most recently hosting the night-time show "Metropolis." This week he took over as host for "Morning Becomes Eclectic." According to the piece:

"College radio stints at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Loyola Marymount helped give birth to his appreciation for world music and electronica...While all the cool kids who were DJ-ing wanted to play punk and hip-hop, Bentley was laying down Peter Gabriel and Youssou N'Dour, imitating such KCRW predecessor-role models as Tom Schnabel. By 1992, he was on-air himself."

Reflections on a Torn-Down Radio Tower at Boston University
An old radio tower was recently torn down at Boston University, marking the end of an era according to this blog post.

College Radio Novel
In the course of writing this blog I've run across a few writer blogs where there's been mention of a "work-in-progress" related to college radio. Wouldn't it be fun to see one of these projects happen? This time, blogger Amanda writes about her college radio-themed novel No Radio Nothing in Trunk written back in high school.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Spinning Indie 50 State Tour: Stop 7 - Nevada's Wolf Pack Radio

Welcome to the another installment of the Spinning Indie 50 State Tour. The goal of this project is to do interviews with college radio stations from each of the 50 states in order to highlight fascinating stations (and their tales) from all over the United States.

The first six virtual stops have been to stations in Arkansas, Wisconsin, Kansas, Louisiana, Alaska and North Dakota.

For the 7th stop, today we visit University of Nevada, Reno station Wolf Pack Radio. The student-run station began in 1999, with its first official Internet-only broadcasts beginning in 2002. Later that year, the station began broadcasting over AM as well. The station has a 24/7 Internet stream, but has more limited hours of programming on their terrestrial broadcast. Shows cover a range of genres, including electronic, ambient, ska/reggae, indie rock and pop, and a local music show called "Amplified," which focuses on sounds from Northern Nevada. Public affairs programming includes the news/politics talk show "Voice Box" and a sports talk show.

Thanks to Station Manager Van Pham for talking to me about the AM station Wolf Pack Radio. In his interview he discusses the Reno music scene, the station's connection to a recent Ian MacKaye event, his take on the CMJ Music Marathon, and how he feels about Meatloaf and William Shatner releases in the station library.

Spinning Indie: What motivated you to get involved with college radio?

Van: I've been involved with the music scene in Reno for almost a decade now, it's a really important part of my life and I've been working hard, both as a musician and as a community member to help promote local music and music culture in the city. I had actually encouraged the current WPR music director, Troy, to be a DJ four years ago and while he was doing that I was really excited for him but jealous at the same time, so the next year I applied for a show, got on the air and moved up from there!

Spinning Indie: Wolf Pack Radio is not a 24/7 station. Can you explain when you're on the air over AM and when you broadcast online and how you guys schedule all of that?

Van: WPR is on the air 24/7 in the sense that there is always some sort of programming on (we have a few shows that are talk format), both online and on AM - which only has the wattage to broadcast to the campus. However, two things stand in the way of that being consistent: the encoder for the online broadcast runs into some sort of error, often, and the AM broadcast is interrupted by a San Diego sport show from 7pm-10pm, much to our chagrin. We called and they said that they'd "take a look at it"...and that's where it's at right now. As for on-air DJs, we run them during the office-hour availability of our staff, which tends to be Monday through Thursday early afternoon 'til evening.

Spinning Indie: I noticed on your site that you accept advertising. Are you a commercial station, or is it just underwriting that you accept?

Van: We accept advertising for the Web site. As for the on-air stuff, we accept underwriting and sponsorships.

Spinning Indie: Tell me about the Ian MacKaye Q&A event that you helped put on. Do you have other similar events planned?

Van: The Ian MacKaye event, put simply, was too easy. We called him, he said okay. He showed up. And so did 300 other people from our community (including Kevin Seconds of 7Seconds, who drove over the Sierras to stop by)! They watched/participated in an excellent Q&A with him. The hope is that we can bring in more high-profile names like this, but I think the plan thus far is to continue offering small, cheap/free shows. We had bands like Shearing Pinx from Vancouver stop by, and this next week we're hosting a station benefit with three local bands.

Image from Wolf Pack Radio

Spinning Indie: Can you describe your local music scene and Wolf Pack Radio's connection to it?

Van: The music scene goes through a lot of booms and busts, particularly in the basement scene which has seen dwindling in some of its more driving rock bands, with a slight revival in the folk vein. There are a few different local community efforts like the Reno Music Project, which mainly hits the singer-songwriters and hosts an open mic, and the Holland Project, an all-ages youth arts and music initiative. Holland helped us with the Ian MacKaye event and is currently fighting the good fight for all-ages art and music in this city, which unfortunately tends to eschew the youth culture in favor of tourism and bars. As far as our involvement, we've been building up our library of local music to help promote bands - painstaking hours spent converting vinyl - and have hosted at least one concert a month with local bands at the helm. We're hoping to start community days next year to welcome in local musicians/artists to co-DJ with us.

Spinning Indie: How does your Music Director decide what to add to the station?

Van: He employs impeccable good taste. He uses a "kick-ass-o-meter" (his ears) and then enters the chosen ones into the "glowing button box/ robot from Hell" (computer) and schedules it into "Dr. Automaton Helper-Guy (NexGen/Selector). In a deeper sense, we get servicing from CMJ/other promo companies, anywhere from 30-40 CDs a week. Troy rifles through with the help of some DJs and our program director Mister Steve Owens, tries to find tracks that stand out and are clean and adds them into the library. DJs also play the new adds and we are starting to have listening parties where we chat, adore, abhor, hypothesize, worry , and complain about albums.

Spinning Indie: Do you add MP3s? vinyl? or cassettes? What format of music gets played the most?

Van: We do digital downloads and convert vinyl for our system in addition to CDs. No tape deck currently exists in our station, unfortunately. As far as the format that gets played the most, I would have to say that mp3 and CD adds are gunning for number one.

Spinning Indie: What's one of the weirdest records in your library?

Van: We have a lot of episodes of a report from a medical school. I don't recall asking for them and I don't think anyone in the past would do so, either. But they keep showing up. Like the two dudes from "High Fidelity". We can't fire them. Anyway...William Shatner's "Has Been" is a favorite.

Spinning Indie: Does your station have a lot of rules? Which rule gets broken the most?

Van: Nothing unreasonable, I'd like to hope. Show up on time, don't no-call-no-show, don't curse/utter obscenities, don't bring food into the on air room, don't play Meatloaf, have fun. Most broken rule, besides the cursing (we lost a DJ recently because of this), is the Meatloaf. Apparently, our Monday night DJ will do anything for love, but he won't do that.

Spinning Indie: Was this your first time at CMJ this year? Did you learn anything that surprised you?

Van: Yes, Troy and I were CMJ virgins. We were a bit taken aback at some of the disparities revealed by some of the panels, some of which had too many industry higher-ups trying to give advice about DIY-indie culture.

Spinning Indie: Do you listen to other college radio stations? Which stations do you love?

Van: Yes! I generally skip around different stations from day to day to check out what everyone else is up to, but I'm definitely a fan of KDVS out of Davis, Calif.

Watch this space in the coming weeks to find out who the next stop on the 50 State Tour will be...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 9 - North Carolina Station WNCW

This is the 9th (and final) installment of my weekly series of excerpts from the excellent Music Director interviews conducted by Brian John Mitchell for his 'zine QRD. For his "Radio Special" issue he tracked down MDs from a variety of U.S. and Canadian college and community radio stations. To learn more about the publication and Brian's connection with college radio, see my interview with him in which he details the project and some of the big insights that he gained from his discussions with radio MDs.

This week, I'm presenting excerpts from Brian's interview with Joe Kendrick, Music Director of Isothermal Community College station WNCW (Spindale, North Carolina). WNCW is an NPR-affiliated station, but the overnight hours are devoted to alternative music programming. The programming block, Alternative Radio Coalition, is overseen by Joe Kendrick. According to the WNCW website, "A variety of hosts. A variety of music. WNCW's Alternative Radio Coalition (ARC) - made up of dedicated volunteers and students from Isothermal Community College - reaches out to the night owl in us all, exploring the familiar, the unfamiliar and the unexpected...guiding the third-shifters, up-all-nighters and insomniacs though the wee hours."

In the interview he talks about how he got the Music Director gig, discusses his take on digital releases and DJ automation, expresses his displeasure about theft from the music library, and his feelings about the future of the music biz.

Thanks again to Brian John Mitchell for his fantastic interviews AND for allowing me to repurpose them for Spinning Indie!

QRD – Why did you want the position of music director & why do you think you got it over all the other applicants?

Joe – In 1997, I had time on my hands & was on the air at WNCW many overnights. Previous music director Emerson Dameron (who went on to work at WUOG & write for Dusted) stepped down & I was the only obvious choice, having six years of radio under my belt.

QRD – How much do you let your personal taste in music effect your station’s music?

Joe – It has to be front & center when selecting new music, without excluding obvious choices that have broad appeal. For example, I care little for Thom Yorke or Radiohead, but would never keep them from the control room. Same goes for latter day Moby, Bob Mould, Mike Doughty, & Stephen Malkmus. If I were to be programming a format that was distasteful, then there would have to be many times more the salary involved!

QRD – How have streaming online radio stations affected the purpose & competition for your station?

Joe – We stream as well, but so far haven’t offered an archive of our broadcasts. The future is here as far as the internet taking the lead from terrestrial radio. Many people now don’t even listen to radio in their car, one of the last bastions of FM. We still meet our goals during fundraising time, however, so our appeal remains quite strong even though our overall listenership is down just as all of radio’s listenership is down.

QRD – Do you read the charts of other stations & if so how do they affect your charts?

Joe – I keep tabs on stations like WXYC & WPVM periodically to get an idea of what we may have missed, either from not getting a copy or having passed it over. It is good to know a little bit about what is popular here versus the outside world.

QRD – How much control do you let individual DJs have over what they play & how do they deal with requests?

Joe – We ask that they play four cuts per hour of heavy rotation discs. Being volunteers on an overnight broadcast, they pretty much do what they want. The best hosts challenge themselves & the listeners with unfamiliar material both new & old while keeping an eclectic but entertaining mix going.

QRD – What’s the importance of specialty shows at your station?

Joe – Weekends on WNCW feature some of our highest rated shows with the most loyalty: Jazz & Beyond, Going Across the Mountain, Saturday Night House Party, Celtic Winds, Dubatomic Particles, Local Color, & This Old Porch.

QRD – With your experience in radio, are you jaded or hopeful for the music industry?

Joe – Music will always be with us & my hope is that the industry remains viable. While many harbor hard feelings toward the major labels, the possibility of ISPs & tech companies inheriting their role is disquieting.

QRD – How do you feel about automation for overnight or unfilled DJ slots? What program do you use for automation & how does it decide what to play?

Joe – Getting live bodies to volunteer in such an out-of-the-way place as Spindale has always been a challenge. At least nowadays we don’t have to shut off our transmitter when no one is here. We use Audiovault to automate those nights & for syndicated programs like The World Cafe.

QRD – I know that some labels & promotional teams are pushing towards digital download links over physical copies. How do you feel about this?

Joe – I pay little attention to them as I still have 50 discs a week to deal with, however I make them available to our hosts, who often use them in their shows. When something like St. Vincent rises to the top, I get a copy or make one & put it into rotation.

QRD – When I worked in radio, there was a big problem with theft at the station. Since so many people these days just use MP3 players, do they just steal the music rather than the physical disc & do you feel as a DJ they have a right to personally access any music from the station library at any time?

Joe – Last year the Led Zeppelin Mothership comp & Joy Division live double disc went missing within a week of being put in the control room, even with “WNCW” plainly Sharpied all over them. I don’t mind people ripping a disc or three, but theft is still as much of a headache as ever. Honestly, it makes me think twice about pointing out music to people. In the past two weeks I lead a trainee towards Masters of Reality’s Sunrise On The Sufferbus & although he says he re-filed it, I’ve not seen it since.

Previous QRD MD Interviews:

Interview with Brian of Silber Records about QRD Radio MD Issue

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 1 - Wesleyan's WESU

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 2 - McGill's CKUT

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 3 - UMass Dartmouth's WUMD

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 4 - University of Georgia's WUOG

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 5 - Stony Brook's WUSB

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 6 - University of Victoria's CFUV

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 7 - Foothill College Station KFJC

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 8 - Thompson Rivers University Station CFBX

Monday, November 24, 2008

Radio Station Field Trip 7 - Northwestern's WNUR

Projected Sign at the Entrance to WNUR

On Monday, November 17th I was able to visit another college radio station as a part of my ongoing series of radio station field trips around the country. On a very chilly day I met up with Taylor Dearr, the General Manager of WNUR at Northwestern University to chat about radio and tour their digs. The Evanston, Illinois station has been around for nearly 60 years and has won numerous accolades ("Best College Radio Station" from Spin magazine in 2003, as well as other awards for their news programming, radio journalism, radio drama and for specialty programming). They are a 7200 watt FM station and have a huge listening range, broadcasting throughout the Chicago area and also online through podcasts (for public affairs shows) and streaming.

WNUR General Manager Taylor Dearr in the Station's Record Library

Taylor has been involved with WNUR since he was a freshman and has worked on a variety of shows at the station as both a DJ and producer. The night before our visit, I happened to hear him chatting about an epic meal he had at Chicago restaurant Alinea on his foodie talk show "At the Table." I have to say it was pretty cool to hear a discussion of molecular gastronomy on college radio. The presence of a food talk show on their schedule is evidence of the diversity of their programming, which includes underground music of all genres, the long-running political talk show "This is Hell," Northwestern University Radio Drama (aka NURD), news, and sports. He told me that the station is "completely student run," with the exception of a Graduate Student Advisor and a Faculty Advisor. The Executive Staff is all students, although DJs come from the university and the surrounding community.

Board in On-Air Studio at WNUR

According to Taylor, WNUR is devoted to presenting "diverse and challenging programming." He told me that he was particularly proud of their public affairs programming and mentioned that the news and radio drama NURD have won awards for their efforts. Music programming is very diverse and includes a wide range of specialty shows, including a popular industrial music show called "Hidden Forms" and the long-time reggae show "Reggae Vibrations" that is rumored to have online listeners in Jamaica.

Poster for WNUR Political Talk Show "This is Hell"

WNUR breaks down their schedule into broad categories of programming blocks. On weekdays from 2:30am to 5am it's Freeform (sort of a late-night training ground for new DJs), 5am to 12:30pm Jazz, 12:30-2pm features international sounds on Continental Drift, from 2-9pm Rock, from 9pm-10pm is a new block called Handpicked, featuring specialty and public affairs shows that range from the "Media Geek" talk show to genre shows focused on funk and Appalachian folk music, and from 10pm-2:30am is the long-running electronic/hip hop mix show Streetbeat.

"The Coffin" at WNUR (used for live DJ sets during "Streetbeat" shows). It used to have a lid and a lock in order to prevent cartridge theft, making it look like a closed-up coffin.

Each of these programming blocks has a Producer who oversees the DJs for that "genre." Specialty shows and public affairs programming fill out the remaining hours in the schedule (particularly on weekends). Even though a show might be categorized as a "Rock Show," individual DJs have the power to program as they wish. As an example, Taylor talked about the Tuesday night show "Expansion Experiment," which plays a variety of experimental sounds, including noise and field recordings. It's been around for more than 4 years, with a rotating set of DJs.

Jazz Show DJ at WNUR

When I stopped by the station a jazz show was on the air. According to Taylor, many of the jazz DJs are members of the community (as opposed to students) and he cited the fact that jazz shows start at 5am as a big reason there are fewer student DJs. One of the jazz DJs, Flavian, has had a show at WNUR since 1987 and because of his longevity at the station, he had the honor of playing the final track in their old studio before the station moved to its new digs 2 years ago. His website has some reminiscences about the station move and his role in the transition.

Tidbits from WNUR History

I asked Taylor how the station handled regular staff meetings. He told me that the WNUR staff is "enormous," with perhaps 200 people working as DJs, producers, apprentice DJs, newscasters, etc. Because of this, they only hold 2 staff meetings a year: one at the beginning of the year and another before their fundraising "phone-a-thon."

However, various departments have more regular meetings. Taylor described how the "Rock Show" does staff meetings that serve as educational sessions about various aspects of music in order to help DJs "broaden their horizons." I was really impressed that WNUR helps their DJs learn more about music. Taylor shared with me copies of a few flyers that are handed out at "Rock Show" meetings in order to teach DJs about various genres and music scenes. He gave me sheets that had an overview of "Providence Noise Rock" and "No Wave: Or The New York Mess, Part 1." You can actually see a collection of these flyers on the WNUR website.

Educational Flyer for "Rock Show" DJs

The WNUR website also has an archive of DJ training materials from the 1980s and 1990s, including a piece from 1994 called "WNUR Rock Show Philosophy" that outlines some guiding principles for DJs to follow when doing a rock show. It includes programming suggestions, including tips about striving for diversity in the music that's played by paying attention to gender, genre, geography, generation, and race of the artists and bands. Much of what's on the flyer I'd been told by Taylor, including a rule that DJs should try to not play the same artist more than once a quarter, so it seems that the philosophy is still in effect at the station. Taylor also told me that DJs cannot do a show that solely plays new music, meaning that they have to branch out beyond the bin of new releases. It's clear that a lot of care has been taken over the years to help DJs do great shows that reflect the overall station philosophy.

The Rare Culturcide Album

When I asked about vinyl, Taylor said that DJs are asked to play vinyl, but that the amount played varies by DJ. He then told me about some of his favorite pieces of vinyl in their library, including hard-to-find releases by Culturcide (which he proudly dug out for me) and an obscure "Battle of the Bands" album full of surf music from bands at a Hawaiian high school. WNUR cherishes their vinyl collection and still has a ton of it in their archives, from frowned-upon bands like Journey, to an original pressing of "Tainted Love."

Some really classic vinyl in the WNUR Archives

He told me that a lot of vinyl gets played and that they are regularly adding vinyl to the library, although there tend to be more jazz adds than rock. One portion of the programming day where old vinyl is often played is during the "8:00 Break" on rock shows. It's an hour-long special at 8pm on weekdays focused on a particular artist or genre. Some of these specials have included spotlights on Mission of Burma, John Zorn, Orange Juice and the psych and garage compilation Nuggets, Volume One.

New Vinyl for "The Rock Show" at WNUR

WNUR does not add digital releases and DJs are not allowed to play music on the air from their iPods during rock shows. Taylor pointed out their philosophy, saying, "If it's not in the stacks, it shouldn't be played." He added that each show (rock, jazz, freeform, streetbeat, etc.) has their own sets of rules, so he couldn't necessarily extrapolate beyond the rock show rules and he acknowledged that in some cases MP3s may be allowed, particularly on public affairs shows.

Airplay poster with band autographs

As we toured the station, Taylor talked about some of the features of their new, expanded studios. They used to be in a different building, in tighter quarters. The new WNUR, however, has more room for studios and live performances. As he showed me the massive new performance space, he marveled that there's actually enough room for an orchestra to play. They're understandable thrilled about the upgrade, since WNUR prides itself on the large number of in-studio guests that they've had over the years. They have a long-standing tradition of broadcasting live performances on their Saturday afternoon show "Airplay." Taylor showed me a poster that listed some of the bands who've played on the show. Whenever a musician/band comes in to play, they have them sign a copy of the poster. Another incredible thing they do is make available MP3s from these performances in their Airplay Performances Database (currently with 1159 tracks!).

Thanks to Taylor and everyone at WNUR for opening your studios to me. As with every station visit, I left knowing a whole lot more about another great outpost of college radio. I also came away with some great ideas, tips, and inspiration. I can hardly wait for my next station visit...

Previous Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips:

Field Trip to WECB at Emerson College
College Radio Field Trip 2 - Cal Poly's KCPR
College Radio Field Trip 3 - Notre Dame's WVFI
Radio Station Field Trip #4 - WFMU in Jersey City
Radio Station Field Trip 5 - East Village Radio in NYC
Radio Station Field Trip 6 - WNYU in New York City

Friday, November 21, 2008

Spinning Indie 50 State Tour: Stop 6 - North Dakota Station KNDS

It's time for the another stop on the Spinning Indie 50 State Tour. The goal of this project is to do interviews with folks from college radio stations from each of the 50 states in order to highlight fascinating stations (and their tales) from all over the United States.

So far I've traveled (virtually) to Arkansas, Wisconsin, Kansas, Louisiana, and Alaska.

For the 6th stop, today we visit Fargo, North Dakota to learn more about KNDS, which is an interesting hybrid of a college and community station. Students from North Dakota State University and members of the community fill the DJ shifts at the 4-year-old FM station. Prior to that time, North Dakota State University students had their own radio station called "Thunder Radio", which was an Internet-only station from 1999 until 2004. Community organization "Radio Free Fargo" joined up with "Thunder Radio" in order to apply for an FM license. Now, both groups work together as a cooperative to program KNDS.

Thanks to Program Director Randal Black (aka "the 30-Year-Old Freshman") for taking the time to speak with me about KNDS. In his interview he explains the ins and outs of the partnership between the community and the college, talks about the challenges of getting the word out about the station, discusses the dearth of indie radio in North Dakota, and chats about some of the shows that are unique to his station.

Spinning Indie: In searching for a college radio station to profile in North Dakota, I was struck by the small number of true college radio stations. The left end of the dial seems to be filled with NPR affiliates and religious stations. Is it tough to be one of the few outposts of independent radio?

Randal: The toughest part is gaining a sizable audience. It would be fair to say that - because of the regional disposition - most people aren't use to the type of entertainment that KNDS provides, but it is a point we revel in. We pride ourselves on being an alternative to local radio fare. The funny thing is I don't feel we're doing anything truly revolutionary in broadcasting; for example, most of the music we play is essentially the same music that you would hear on similar stations in larger markets. But in a community the size of Fargo, ND, it's perceived as something of an anomaly.

Spinning Indie: KNDS is a unique station in that it's a collaboration between a student (Thunder Radio) and a community (Radio Free Fargo) organization. What brought the two groups together into a partnership?

Randal: Bills. The people that spearheaded Radio Free Fargo believed that their idea of broadcasting would be beneficial to the community so they tried to figure out ways to bring it to fruition; partnering with the local university was a great way to accomplish their goal.

Spinning Indie: Do you consider the station to be a college station or a community station?

Randal: It is a community station. The primary owner/operators are not part of the university system. Our partnership with NDSU (Thunder Radio) is just an extension of our presence in the community.

Spinning Indie: It's my understanding that you're a low-power FM station. What made you apply for this type of license? What frequency do you operate on and how far does your signal travel?

Randal: I had nothing to do with the acquisition of the license or why they chose to go LP. I believe it was mainly because of practicality. As far as the frequency, KNDS broadcasts on 96.3 FM. Before July of 2008, we did broadcast on 105.9 FM but were granted a change in frequency by the FCC. In a twist of fate, the FCC really did a lot to bolster LPFM in 07-08.

Spinning Indie: How do the 2 groups (Thunder Radio and Radio Free Fargo) specifically work together. Does each group program their own portions of the schedule? How do you divide it up?

Randal: Essentially, it's an every-other-day schedule. RFF gets Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays; the student side takes the other days. Each group has its own Program/Music directors and, yes, each group also designs its only schedule. But we obviously have the same Station Manager and have a common purpose so it's not a "your side, my side" mentality.

Spinning Indie: Do you have any specific programs/specialty shows that are unique to KNDS or stand out as being different from anything else on radio?

Randal: One of my favorite shows on KNDS is broadcast on Sundays called "Radio Rangoli". It's a program that only plays Indian music, and is such a benefit for our station because it allows representation of a culture within our community that would otherwise be overlooked by local broadcasting. Peace Talk Radio on Saturday mornings is a fun and informative show that - as with the aforementioned program - allows for representation of a voice that wouldn't be heard in other local media.

Spinning Indie: Does the Music Director oversee music adds for all types of shows at KNDS? Is there certain music that DJs are required to play? Is there anything that DJs aren't allowed to play?

Randal: The Music Director position is not a very prominent position at KNDS, simply because of the station's entertainment being directed by two groups. As Program Director for KNDS I take on the duty of adding new music to our rotation, essentially "steering the course." The Music Director tracks and charts the adds and does the reporting.

One of the best aspects of KNDS is that we allow the DJs to create their own sets and doesn't require them to play any certain type of music. Although we do ask our DJs to refrain from playing popular music that may be heard on other local stations. That's about our only restriction.

Spinning Indie: How does your MD decide what music to add? What's your philosophy about indie vs. major label? Do you add material by major labels? If yes, why? If no, why?

Randal: The CMJ charts are a big guide for our station but it essentially comes down to "what do the people of our area want to hear." And, yes, we definitely add music from major labels. Because of our region, we are the only station that broadcasts the new Beck or the new Hold Steady or the new Kings of Leon. We feel that it is our duty to fill a cultural gap that exists in local media, so that would require us to play some majors.

Spinning Indie: Do you add and play vinyl? cassettes? MP3s?

Randal: We have the means to play vinyl and MP3s, but I would safely say that 99% of our our adds come from promotional CDs.

Spinning Indie: Do most students know about the station? Do a lot of students listen to the station? Is the staff/DJs mostly students?

Randal: Sadly, I think they may know about it but don't really tune in. Our station is a nice mixture of students and community volunteers but the majority of KNDS' audience is from the community-at-large.

Spinning Indie: When will your new website be up? What can we expect?

Randal: I wish I knew the specifics of that but the Station Manager is more involved with the Web Designer than I am. Soon is all I can hope.

Spinning Indie: How much of the schedule is automated programming? How do you come up with the music for that?

Randal: We try for as little automated programming as possible but it's very beneficial during the late hours/early mornings when there are no DJs. Anything's better than dead air! I think I've explained how I come up with the programming.

Spinning Indie: Do you listen to other college/community radio stations? Who do you admire?

Randal: I wish I could say that I do but I don't have any time! I admire any community radio station that serves to enrich, enlighten and entertain its audience.

Next week the Spinning Indie 50 State Tour will travel to Nevada. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 8 - Thompson Rivers University Station CFBX

This is the 8th installment of my weekly series of excerpts from Brian John Mitchell's radio-themed edition of his QRD 'zine. Brian conducted interviews with Music Directors from a number of college radio stations in the U.S. and Canada for his "Radio Special" issue. To learn more about the publication and Brian's connection with college radio, see my interview with him in which he details the project and some of the big insights that he gained from his discussions with radio MDs.

This week, I'm highlighting tidbits from Brian's interview with Steve Marlow, Music Director of Canadian station CFBX ("the X") out of Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in British Columbia.

CFBX is a campus/community radio station in Kamloops, British Columbia. The station began broadcasting over campus cable networks in 2000 and hit the FM airwaves in 2001.

According to their website, "CFBX is an alternative radio station that specializes in local programming and offers music and spoken-word shows that are normally not heard on private stations. We offer programming that ranges from classical to industrial, with plenty of international and unique shows added to the mix."

In the interview Steve talks about the best and worst parts of the MD job, why digital releases can be "dispassionate," his take on DJ automation, his devotion to indie music, and why he hates small talk with record promoters. Here's a bit of the interview:

QRD – Why did you want the position of music director & why do you think you got it over all the other applicants?

Steve – I was the only person interested in the position at my current station. CFBX was just starting up in 2000 & didn’t have any organized library or music system at all. I was coming in to the school here with five years experience as a DJ/MD/all around radio person from CKUL in Lethbridge & offered to set up the library, which I did, over the next year or so. I took on the music director position as a volunteer & eventually became indispensable; they had to hire me.

QRD – What did you initially think you could accomplish as music director that having obtained the position became obviously impossible?

Steve – Championing independent music. Getting rid of the fratboy mentality of “I have a radio show! Cool! Let’s play Dave Matthews every single hour!” Letting our audiences know that there is intelligent, non-repetitive radio that doesn’t insult your intelligence.

QRD – How have streaming online radio stations affected the purpose & competition for your station?

Steve – We do stream, but it doesn’t really affect us. Only a handful of listeners use it. Our main audience is in town, not on the internet.

QRD – How much control do you let individual DJ’s have over what they play & how do they deal with requests?

Steve – They have pretty much total control over that. Naturally, we have Cancon (Canadian content. In Canada a certain percentage of airtime must be Canadian artists.) & rotation requirements; but there’s a vast selection for both of those, so it’s never a burden. We rarely get requests, but they have discretion to play them if they want.

QRD – What are the best & worst parts of your job?

Steve – Best, getting paid to listen to music all day. Discovering a band that makes me say, “Wow!” Working with enthusiastic & knowledgeable volunteers willing to explore & letting me give them the tools to do so. Worst: Pushy record label & distro types.

QRD – I imagine a lot of the younger generation of DJs pretty much exclusively use MP3s over CDs (much less vinyl). How do you feel about the situation?

Steve – I have mixed feelings. I think that the electronic distribution of music gives more people an opportunity to hear music, but it’s over shined by both the low quality of electronically distributed music & the lack of music being a tactile thing. If you have a burn or an MP3 version of an album, you lack the tactile “artifact” quality an album has. With a CD or a piece of vinyl, you can hold it in your hand, you can look at the artwork, you can read the liner notes. You can feel the effort & love that went into creating the album. You don’t get that with an electronically distributed, it’s anonymous & dispassionate.

QRD – Do you try to get your entire catalog digitally encoded on a hard drive for radio play?

Steve – Why bother? I just bring in the CDs. I have my collection on my iPod, but it’s for personal use. Compressed music sounds like crap anyway, I’d never put it on the air.

QRD – How do you feel about automation for overnight or unfilled DJ slots?

Steve – Totally against it. It’s live or nothing. We go off the air if there’s no one in the booth doing live programming. If it’s during the day, we have pre-recorded shows to fill in unfilled spots.

Coming up next week, in the final edition of this series, I'll provide excerpts from Brian John Mitchell's interview with the Music Director of North Carolina station WNCW.

Previous QRD MD Interviews:

Interview with Brian of Silber Records about QRD Radio MD Issue

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 1 - Wesleyan's WESU

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 2 - McGill's CKUT

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 3 - UMass Dartmouth's WUMD

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 4 - University of Georgia's WUOG

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 5 - Stony Brook's WUSB

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 6 - University of Victoria's CFUV

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 7 - Foothill College Station KFJC