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

Friday, November 14, 2008

Spinning Indie 50 State Tour: Stop 5 - Alaska Station KSUA

Welcome to the 5th installment of 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, and Louisiana.

Today we visit Alaska to talk to Matthew Schroder, the General Manager of University of Alaska, Fairbanks station KSUA-FM.

The first non-commercial radio station in Alaska (KUAC-FM) was actually located in the current KSUA studios. Public radio station KUAC-FM went on the air in 1962 and is still in existence in a different location. In 1972, carrier-current station KMPS-AM became the first student station on campus. This "progressive rock" station could only be heard in the dorms and on campus.

Radio KSUA first began broadcasting in 1984 as a commercial station playing album-oriented rock, and later indie rock. Due to financial difficulties they shut down in March 1993. In December 1993, KSUA was re-born as a non-commercial "edgy alternative rock" station.

Thanks so much to Matthew Schroder to taking the time to chat with me about KSUA. In his interview, he talks about his personal history in college radio as well as his other favorite college and community radio stations, shares the programming requirements at the station, and provides details about a few of the long-time shows at KSUA.

Spinning Indie: How did you get involved with college radio? Do you have a show?

Matthew: My first experience in college radio was with KDOX (X-58). X-58 was a part of the radio broadcasting program at Mt. Hood Community College in Oregon, and it was there that I received my associates degree in radio broadcasting. The station didn't broadcast over the air, but it was received over the local cable system in the area on Channel 58 and over the internet. It has since been renamed KMHC and has a sister public jazz station named KMHD. It was there that I learned the basics of radio and had a blast doing so.

I came to KSUA in '06 and did a show called Riker's Full Spectrum. I was looking for a station to get involved in while I was in school, and KSUA is the student station, so it fit my schedule and tastes perfectly. I became program director during the summer of '07 and general manager of the station this last summer. My show is now called "Soundtrack" and I play music from movies, musicals and television shows.

Spinning Indie: What's the overall mission/programming philosophy of KSUA?

Matthew: Everything about KSUA revolves around these three goals. To provide programming and music that is desired by the students of UAF, to provide programming and music that is otherwise unavailable to the Fairbanks community, and to provide training and radio experience to UAF students interested in a career in the broadcast industry.

Spinning Indie: I haven't heard of many college radio stations that transitioned from being commercial stations to non-commercial. Is there station lore about why KSUA was initially a commercial station?

Matthew: KSUA is fortunate to have a lot of its history still present at the station in the form of documents, pictures and first person accounts. There are quite a few people who are still involved at the station who were a part of it during the transition. The relationship between students and the university is difficult to quantify (even today), and KSUA starting as a commercial station was a way of students asserting their independence from the university while still being a part of it. Although, the commercial KSUA failed, the current KSUA which is funded by the student government, still maintains quite a bit of independence.

Spinning Indie: Did you inherit music/equipment from any of the earlier stations at University of Alaska? Anything interesting?

Matthew: A small sum of money and a transmitter were given to KSUA when the station switched from it's old commercial 103.9 FM spot on the dial to it's current non-commercial spot. The transmitter has since been upgraded.

Spinning Indie: What's the longest running show/DJ at KSUA?

Matthew: The two longest shows on the station are both on Sunday afternoons. "The Dead Session" a Grateful Dead show and "Eat @ Joe's" which is a folk-bluegrass show, have both been on the station over 10 years. The shows are hosted by UAF staff, so that helps preserve the longevity of the shows.

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

Matthew: As far as the Fairbanks market goes, I like to consider a lot of our programming as unique. It's one of our main goals to offer different programming. Almost every show format on KSUA can not be found anywhere else in this part of Alaska. We have many DJs who add their own flavor to their shows, and many DJs who might not fit the conventional role of a radio DJ, fit in well here.

One that stands out in my mind is the show "Family Ties" on Mondays. Murray Richmond, the main host, does a show with his children. Initially it started off with his daughter and has moved on to his older son. He frequently brings his younger son in to do the show as well. While the format of the show may not be entirely unique, the on-air presence of the family is.

Spinning Indie: Is there certain music that DJs are required to play? What type of music comprises your "play list" for daytime alternative format shows?

Matthew: Day shift DJs (8am-6pm) are required to play 6 songs from our play list each hour. If there is no DJ during the hour, the automation is scheduled to play 6 songs as well. The play list is made up of whole disks by artists and not just individual songs. We realize that the tastes of DJs vary greatly, so the play list usually offers a lot of flexibility in the genres and songs the DJ can play. If a DJ is really in to metal or some other genre, there are usually a few disks for them to play.

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?

Matthew: A lot of the music you hear on KSUA comes from the recommendations of the DJs. The music director will give a DJ music to review, and many times our play list is updated from their reviews. Every disk in our library has been reviewed by someone at the station. Quite often a label will be looking for us to add a CD to our play list that is just horrible, so the opinion of our DJs really matter. We will still stick the terrible CD in our library, but we will not add it to our play list.

KSUA isn't an indie station per-se. One of our main goals is to provide programming that can not otherwise be found in the market. Quite often, we'll receive a disk from a major label and play it until we notice it in rotation on another station. This shifts between music directors, because some are hardcore indie only type people and others are a little more lenient. We're a place of learning, so a concrete rule is not enforced when it comes to mainstream vs. indie. As long as the main goals are followed.

Spinning Indie: Do you add and play a lot of vinyl?

Matthew: Not anymore. DJs that want to play vinyl can, but it's been a few years since KSUA has actively used it.

Spinning Indie: Do most students at University of Alaska know about the station? Do a lot of students listen to the station?

Matthew: I would say that most University of Alaska students do not know about KSUA just because the university system here encompasses the whole state. This means the three big cities in Alaska and all of the rural campuses. The Anchorage campus has its own station, and KSUA does not broadcast to those other campuses (besides the Internet stream).

I do believe a lot of Fairbanks students and people in the community listen to KSUA. We don't subscribe to Arbitron or any other monitoring service, but we do receive a lot of feedback on our programming. We get a lot of positive feedback on the non-commercial feel of the station.

Spinning Indie: What's the application process like for prospective DJs? Do a lot of people apply for shifts? Is it mostly students on the air?

Matthew: Every DJ on KSUA has to go through the process of filling out a show application each semester. Even the long running shows have to fill out a show application. We use the application as a contract between the station and the DJs to ensure that they understand what is expected of them.

The program director then takes the applications and designs the semester's schedule based off of past participation and need. If there are applications in for 4 metal shows, obviously not all of them will receive shows. If a genre or time are full, DJs who have proven their ability to host a show will receive shows before new DJs who haven't.

There are a lot of applications each semester for shows. We encourage DJs to get their applications in early, so they have an easier time getting the slot they want. It is mostly students who apply for shows, and the station emphasizes that students make up the bulk of it's DJs. We do allow faculty and staff members to host shows, but we limit their numbers, because it is a student station and paid for and staffed by students.

Spinning Indie: I love the DJ etiquette PowerPoint on your site. What station rules do DJs seem to have the most difficulty with?

Matthew: We have hand written operator's logs, and DJs not filling out the logs completely seems to be the biggest rule that gets broken time and again. We understand that volunteers can be forgetful sometimes, so it's a rule we really try to hammer in to to people's heads.

Keeping overly mainstream music off of people's shows seems to be frequent as well. I'm talking stuff that's played on top-40 radio stations. A lot of new DJs have never had any experience in playing non-mainstream music, so a lot of the choices they make music wise are what's familiar to them. So in our reviews of people's shows, we really try to encourage branching out and trying new things.

Spinning Indie: What sort of training do new DJs go through at the station?

Matthew: The first semester as a new DJ is one long training period. Each new DJ (and some old ones) go through one-on-one training with the station's program director. The PD schedules a time to meet with the host and they'll go over every piece of equipment in the studio and everything in the DJ handbook. We believe a lot of the learning is done by doing, so we really encourage new DJs to just get in there and do their show. They're encouraged to take things slow, and not rush in to anything. New DJs are required to host a day shift show for their first semester. It gives the PD a whole semester to evaluate what type of DJ they are and if they're up to hosting in a later time slot. It also allows the PD to work with the new DJ over the course of the semester on anything that needs attention.

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

Matthew: I do still listen to KMHC whenever I have a chance. It was my first station, so I still like tuning in now and again. I like to listen to KBOO and KPSU in Portland, OR a lot as well. KBOO isn't a college station, but it's format is a lot like KSUA, so listening to them is great for motivation. KPSU is another great college radio station that I really enjoy for no other reason than I listened to it growing up and their format is similar to KSUA as well. KRUA, our sister station in Anchorage is a frequent stop for me as well. When I'm bored, it's fun just searching for college radio stations around the country and listening to what they're doing.

Spinning Indie: Any exciting plans for KSUA this year that you'd like to share?

Matthew: KSUA does have a lot of things on the horizon this year. We're hoping to improve a few things in house, and start doing some fresh things with the Internet and our website that are unavailable at other Alaskan stations. We're also rolling out new promotional campaigns that I think will help draw attention to the station. We're also looking in to broadcasting upcoming local events that have pretty much been ignore by other stations in town.

Next week, the Spinning Indie 50 State Tour will journey to North Dakota!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

College Radio in Detroit

There's the most amazing article about college radio today in Metromode called "Metro Detroit's Real Radio." Full of great quotes and photographs from Detroit-area college radio stations, the piece by Dennis Archambault displays an immense amount of love and respect for freethinking college radio stations.

According to the article:

"The more things sound different, the more they seem the same on college radio. A longstanding alternative to commercial formats, 'free-form' student-run radio is a variety show for adventurous listeners with eccentric audio tastes, including occasional dead air, local references, irreverent comments and unpolished delivery to remind you that this is, indeed, amateur radio.

In an era when the airwaves are ruled by distant conglomerates that shift programming formats according to ratings and jam as much advertising in as listeners will tolerate while 'public' radio adopts a largely talk, syndicated format, Metro Detroit's college radio stations (including CJAM, broadcasting from the University of Windsor) offer a fresh sound."

The piece features interviews with members of a number of Detroit-area stations, including:

WHFR-FM (Henry Ford Community College)
Dennis writes: "The station programs contemporary music, from indie rock to blues, jazz and classical, as well as experimental and 'noise.'"

WUMD (University of Michigan-Dearborn)
WUMD is a freeform station that streams online and on campus.

WCBM-FM (University of Michigan-Ann Arbor)
WCBM is a freeform station at University of Michigan. Campus radio has a lengthy history in Ann Arbor, stretching back to the very early days of radio.

The article concludes by quoting the General Manager of WCBM, Brent Rioux, talking about the culture of college radio. Dennis writes:

"According to Rioux, college radio is like assembling 'all of the weirdos, people with debilitating social problems and crazy record collections…and you put them in a poorly ventilated basement and they fight over everything, but they have a common goal of doing something different, something strange, to get it out there if only to relieve themselves. Are they doing it for themselves or for the public? It's both. You're purging these weird record geek demons while, hopefully, interesting someone along the way.'"

I couldn't agree more!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

KRUX Music Director Interview on CMJ

Another radio station profile is up on the CMJ Staff Blog. This time around, the Music Director of KRUX-FM (Las Cruces, New Mexico) was interviewed about the New Mexico State University station. MD Oscar Zubia discusses the station's proximity to Mexico, their annual local band event KRUXFest, and the station's formerly cliquish nature. According to the interview:

"CMJ: KRUX is so close to the US/Mexican border. Are you influenced by the music coming out Mexico?

Oscar: Definitely. Our signal reaches out to El Paso… well, the outskirts but we’re working on getting it all the way out there, even to Juarez [Mexico]. That’s what we want to do with KRUXfest—get some out of towners in. It’s free for NMSU students and a minimal charge for non-students. And we also get Spanish music too, the scene is very [eclectic] here. We’ve even charted Kinky, Amigo Invisibles, Plastilina Mosh. The electronic scene is also great down there [Juarez], but what with the violence no one really goes anymore."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Nic Harcourt Leaving KCRW Music Director Role

In the L.A. Times today there's word that KCRW Music Director Nic Harcourt is stepping down November 30th. He'll continue to DJ at the L.A. public radio station, doing a 3-hour show on Sundays.

Nic is quoted in a press release on the KCRW blog:

"'As a parent of two young children, I believe it’s time for me to explore new career opportunities and expand upon my other activities in movie, television, voice over work, advertising and the Internet.'

'My heartfelt thanks and gratitude go to KCRW, the staff and volunteers who have supported my work through the years, but most of all to the listeners. I’ve always said that I couldn’t do what I do without them and I hope they will join me on Sunday nights,' said Harcourt.

KCRW’s General Manager Ruth Seymour said 'Nic has enhanced KCRW’s reputation for introducing new artists to listeners in Southern California and beyond on radio and the Internet. His singular gifts as a radio deejay and his ability to spot new talent attracted major media attention from both national and international press.'"

Nic's definitely got a presence outside of the station in the music and entertainment biz. In fact, I just saw a TV promo for him during 90210, for which he's the music supervisor. You can hear Nic talk about the music on 90210 on the CW's website for the show.

QRD Music Director Interviews Part 7 - Foothill College Station KFJC

This is part 7 of my weekly series of excerpts from a special radio-themed edition of the QRD 'zine, published by Silber Records chief Brian John Mitchell. In his "Radio Special" issue, which came out earlier this year, Brian conducted interviews with Music Directors from a number of college radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. 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.

I first learned about the "Radio Special" edition of QRD when I ran across Brian's interview with the former Music Director of my home radio station: Foothill College's KFJC.

KFJC, a nearly 50-year-old college radio station in Los Altos Hills, California, is an eclectic station that is devoted to unearthing underexposed music, but is also home to a large number of long-time DJs and specialty shows. KFJC got some buzz a few months back (including a write-up in CMJ) when the station organized an underground music festival in Japan and broadcast it live over FM and over the Internet (along with a video feed).

In his QRD interview, former KFJC Music Director Thurston Hunger talks about both the joys and stresses of being MD. He also discusses the station's love for music from all over the world and the lengths they've taken to present that music, his varying takes on technology (from digitial releases to show archives to DJ automation), KFJC's relationship with other like-minded stations, and his feeling that a music library is museum worthy of respect. The following are some choice tidbits:

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

Thurston – Before, during, & after my tenure as KFJC’s MD, I’ve enjoyed an excellent friendship with Brian Turner at WFMU. I always welcomed input from him, & in turn would be pleased if I turned him on to a band or project that he had not come across yet. WFMU gets a lot of deserving accolades, but KFJC ain’t too shabby. WFMU was honestly the only other station that I would watch the tops of... & loosely so.
CMJ has gotten to the point that a hit there almost works against a band at KFJC.

There are some fine stations in the Bay Area, KZSU, KALX, KUSF, & others. Don’t get to check them out
too often personally, but have enjoyed them over the years. I’d also put a plug in for Aquarius Records, Andee & his team run their store with the passion of a radio station! Should be more like them.… [Jennifer writes: See QRD's interview with Andee from Aquarius in their most recent "Record Store Special" issue]

QRD – What’s the longest time you felt comfortable keeping a record in rotation?

Thurston – KFJC had a long-standing policy of 8 weeks in rotation, we were adding about 45 items a week, which led us to consider 6 weeks ins, but there is something about having a record get a splash, & then work its way back into the sound stream that 8 weeks was conducive towards.

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

Thurston – At KFJC DJs call the shots. There is a 35% “rotation” requirement for most shows; but with roughly 360 items to choose from, I don’t think anyone had any problems with putting their own sonic signature on their own show. As for requests... connecting with the audience is a fantastic thing, but the mighty majority don’t pick up the phone; they don’t want to miss the trip you are taking them on. Requests again are ultimately at the DJ’s discretion.

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

Thurston – Very important, often these are listener favorites. I loved (& miss) KFJC’s Spiderman for being a hip-hop show that could also drop the Flying Luttenbachers or Jimmy
Castor into the mix. Any time a noted specialty DJ at KFJC, like Robert Emmett or Jo Ed showcases an idiosyncrasy into their show, it can really open a window for listeners.

QRD – How is your station involved in the local music scene?

Thurston – I think at one point, there was a stigma of playing local music at KFJC, I’m talking over a decade ago. But the creativity of the Bay Area is an unstoppable force, & KFJC has certainly helped to champion a lot of local artists. I’ll forever fawn over Faun Fables! Again it’s one of those things you wish you could do more... Mills College is the great resource that KFJC sort of bats earlashes with.

On the flip side, many at KFJC consider the world our music scene. We love having bands from remote places come & play live in our pit. & if they cannot make it, we’ve journeyed abroad to send back live performances from New Zealand, the UK, as well as domestically a Terrastock or two! I’d like to see us do more distant remotes... there’s talk of a jaunt to Japan. Noise summit
from China, punk rock explosion from Mexico, folk freak out in Finland, Bhutanese pop... contact us!

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

Thurston – By & large I loved being KFJC’s MD, but doing it on top of a paying job & raising kids was a study in sleep deprivation. Still, at 3am hearing something amazing that you cannot wait to share with your fellow DJs & listeners is the best. Also hearing people take stuff you’ve added & fit it into a musical mosaic that blows you away, that too is quite a reward. Encouraging artists, labels, & DJs is something I enjoyed, & strived to do. Being inundated with inadequate stuff, & trying to listen to it all, that wears the soul & ears down. & the obscured tragedy is that underneath the bad packaging, sonic clich├ęs, & hackneyed lyrics lies a true love of music, that kind of got to me. For the people who sent KFJC music that did not make it: the hell with us, keep on doing what you love. It is its own reward... right?

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?

Thurston – Music wants to be free, & not just jazz. Musicians, however, are not nourished by the starving artist syndrome. If it can work out that musicians get their due, & less raw materials are consumed with packaging & stuff; MP3s work for me. That being said, I do enjoy the totem... sprawling out with a gatefold record will be missed. I sometimes dream of wearable music, earrings that pop into an MP3 player, or a necklace of nanodiscs?? People identify so much with music; let them wear it on their sleeves?

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

Thurston – We’ve done some encoding, went with MP3 just as a diving-in point. Rarely do we play from that archive live to air at this point. Having the catalog online helps with show prep & discovery by DJs; it also serves as insurance against !@#!@$ theft...Honestly, I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t followed the varying formats that well & frequently flirt with sonic infidelity, blame it on Guided by Voices??

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

Thurston – We are 24x7 with human beings (or reasonable facsimiles) manning the controls at all times. I’ll take a KFJC graveyard over an autobot any time. I’d actually like to see KFJC grow to have 100 active staffers & two shows on at any time... one to the air (& web) & one to the web alone.…

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

Thurston – This was just happening at the end of my tenure, & at that point they realized that us dinosaurs do treasure our totems. Again, I guess it makes sense from the point of view of environmental impact, & 47 years of age make the KFJC library bust at the seams of storage, still... I like KFJC’s library as a museum, with artifacts!! What happens to Christian Marclay’s Record with No Cover in such a world??

Coming up next week will be excerpts from Brian John Mitchell's interview with the Music Director of Canadian station CFBX.

Previous QRD MD Interviews:

Interview with Brian of Silber Records about QRD Radio Music Director 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 University's WUSB

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

College Radio Tidbits - CFMH and "Wolf Pack Radio" Profiled, Ball State's WCRD Gets New Antenna, International Show at University of Oregon station

A few stories related to college radio this week include:

Canadian Station CFMH Profiled

UNB Saint John station CFMH was the subject of a profile in the Telegraph Journal. The campus-community radio station is located in New Brunswick, Canada and has a programming staff of more than 80 volunteers. According to the article:

"The diverse student population at UNBSJ means broadcasts might be in various languages, eight different ones in fact: English, French, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Persian and Spanish. Programming includes a wide range of campus- and community-based productions that include the musical genres of jazz, blues, hip-hop, electronica, world/international, folk, punk and metal. There is also spoken-word programming on local issues such as the environment, information technology, religion, politics and media."

Ball State Radio Station Expands Listening Range

An article in The Ball State Daily News Online, talks about the expanded listening range for Ball State University radio station WCRD-FM. According to the article, a new antenna now allows for students on campus to actually hear the Muncie, Indiana radio station, which previously had a very limited range. The article quotes assistant professor of telecommunications Nancy Carlson who states:

"'Even though a lot of people know there's a college radio station, not a lot of people could actually listen to it because they were outside of the coverage area,' she said. 'Now, any of them can hear it and it will become the voice of the Ball State students on campus.'"

Nevada's Wolf Pack Radio Profiled

An article in Reno News & Review profiles University of Nevada, Reno's AM station "Wolf Pack Radio." The station hopes to gain an FM license at some point in the future and is working really hard to build ties to the local community. According to the piece:

"An irregular stream of students and DJs come and go from the station—it’s a gathering place for the campus community. All in all, the station has 30 hours of airtime with live DJs—all volunteers—encompassing a large range of subject matter and music. “NFL Hour,” for example, is a sports show that focuses on UNR and professional football. On Wednesday evenings, there is a three-hour block of political talk shows. The first, “It’s All Gravy,” hosted by a political science graduate student, focuses on current events and attempts to be objective. It is followed by “The Voicebox,” a debate-style show where hosts Dan and Donnell discuss both sides of the issues..."

"Music from Around the World" at University of Oregon station

An article in the Oregon Daily Emerald profiles an International student from Germany who hosts a show on the campus station KWVA-FM called "Music from Around the World."According to the piece:

"...Haenelt received specialized DJ training and now has her own show on the air Thursdays from 11 a.m. to noon. Each week, Haenelt invites a different international student from ICSP onto her show to discuss life back home in his or her culture. Guests also play instruments live on the air.

'Last week we had a girl from Vietnam and she sang on the air,' Haenelt said. 'Her voice was beautiful and we even had someone call in after the show, wanting to try her out.'"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ithaca College Station WICB Wins MTVu "Woodie" Award

Apparently the votes are in and, according to the All Things Park blog, Ithaca College (New York) radio station WICB has won the first mtvU "Woodie" award for "Best College Radio Station."

The voting for this award took place over a number of weeks, during which time regional winners were selected from an initial list of 20 college radio stations. The final list of nominees were the 4 radio stations that earned the most votes during separate weeks of regional voting:

KSSU (Sacramento State)
WICB-FM (Ithaca College)
WEGL-FM (Auburn University)
WGRE-FM (DePauw University)

See my earlier post about the original list of 20 nominated stations.

mtvU will be airing their official Woodie Awards 2008 ceremony on November 19th. According to a post on MTVu on October 23:

"Acting as vanguards of emerging music, four college stations including KSSU, Sacramento State University; WICB, Ithaca College; WEGL, Auburn University; and WGRE, DePauw University; moved on to the final round of competition in hopes of bringing home the inaugural Best Campus Radio Station Woodie Award. Lauded for championing artists before they achieve mainstream success, these student-run radio stations were first chosen based off accolades from CMJ College Radio Awards, Princeton Review Nominations, and independent questionnaires completed by a cross-section of record labels. After four weeks of voting, college students have hoisted these musical pioneers into the final round of battle, with final voting beginning today."

Friday, November 7, 2008

Spinning Indie 50 State Tour: Stop 4 - Louisiana Station WTUL

After a brief delay (blame my CMJ back-log of posts), the Spinning Indie 50 State Tour is back. Most weeks I will be sharing an interview with a college radio station from one of the 50 states in order to expose more people to the interesting things happening at college radio stations in every corner of the country. So far I've talked to stations in Arkansas, Wisconsin, and Kansas.

This week my virtual tour takes us to Louisiana to chat with Tulane University station WTUL in New Orleans. WTUL was actually the very first station that I contacted about this "50 State" project, but a few hurricanes and my trip to CMJ delayed the publication of the interview.

WTUL is a freeform FM station and will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2009. Like many college radio stations, in its early years it was an AM campus-only carrier current station. Today, they focus on playing music that "can't be heard on other radio stations in the New Orleans area." Their schedule is mostly comprised of the following WTUL defined categories: classical, jazz, progressive, and specialty programs (including punk, experimental, loud rock, opera, folk, blues, country and hip hop).

Thanks so much to WTUL's Promotions Coordinator Lisa Mirman for taking the time to chat with me about the station. In turn, Lisa talked to many station staff and alum, including: Rob Rioux, John Maraist, Mark Tobler, Conner Richardson, Rachel Wenzel, Duncan Edwards and Tel Bailliet for fact-checking and critical details about the station's history. Lisa also provides some direct quotes from Music Director Rob Rioux (including a Beck review that also serves to encapsulate aspects of the station's music philosophy).

In her interview Lisa shares with me some interesting moments from WTUL's history, including an incident involving the song "Hotel California," Jerry Springer's connection to the station, and how a condom-covered microphone wielding DJ in a dorm shower inspired 24-hour DJ shifts during their fundraiser marathons. She also relays an inspiring story of how the station pulled through after Hurricane Katrina, thanks to help from near (a local coffee shop) and far (technology assistance from Stanford) and also talks about big plans for the station's 50th anniversary.

WTUL Studio
Image from WTUL

Spinning Indie: What's the overall mission/programming philosophy of WTUL?

Lisa: Giving exposure to independent artists that wouldn’t be heard otherwise is our main mission. We also strongly support local artists. The basic rule of thumb is, if you hear it on another station, you won’t hear it on WTUL (and vice versa!) We are one of the few free-form stations in the country. WTUL is the anti-Clear Channel.

Spinning Indie: I hear that the station will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2009. What do you have planned for that?

Lisa: We are really excited about our 50th! We are going to combine our birthday celebration with some of the events for our annual fundraiser, the Rock on Survival Marathon. Plans are in the making for a 50th Birthday Bash block party involving multiple venues and local bands that have been featured on our annual Songs from the Basement compilation CDs (our 7th will be coming out in the spring). We'll also have limited edition merchandise and other goodies.

"The history of WTUL as told by Robert L. Dunn" (which can be found in its entirety in the history section of our website) tells of the beginnings of WTUL’s annual fundraiser: “It was in the Spring of '72 that the first "Rock On Survival Marathon" took to the airwaves. Contrary to what people claim--this was the first station fund-raiser of its kind. Years earlier in the carrier-current AM days, a jock had done a 24-hour broadcast from a dorm shower with a condom-covered microphone…"

Inspired by that DJ, we have a 24-hour DJ weekend during Marathon. Being a 24-hour DJ is quite an honor. The air-staff votes on candidates and the three highest vote-getters share that privilege. Each does a 24-hour on-air shift to solicit donations from our listeners. This year our goal is to raise $50,000 for our 50th birthday.

Spinning Indie: I know you were off the air for awhile after the flooding from Hurricane Katrina. Did the station suffer significant damage? Did you lose historical artifacts?

Lisa: We were lucky to have been on the second floor, so while the building we were in was eventually demolished, none of our music library or equipment was damaged. Packing and moving out of there was quite an experience – the minimal lighting we had was running on a generator and kept going out every few minutes.

All but one or two of the student DJs were out of town for the semester, but our engineer, Robert Carroll, and advisor, Tel Bailliet, were back, and the station's local staff and alumni turned out to get us back on the air and staff the station until the students came back the next semester. Those of us in that small group possess coveted “Resurrection Staff” t-shirts, designed by John Maraist, one of the alum whose organizational skills were pivotal in getting the station packed up (we had less than a week’s notice before the building was demolished!).

WTUL staff and alum were scattered everywhere by Katrina. Two of those, Carr Wilkerson and Conner Richardson teamed up and connected with Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) and the center’s engineer, Fernando Lopez-Lezcano. Together, they set up a system that enabled WTUL to broadcast during the times that we could not have live DJs (particularly overnight in the land of post Katrina curfews that were in place at the time). Acting as a relay station, the CCRMA server used audio streaming to link listeners by computer to pre-recorded radio programs made by Tulane students, New Orleans locals, faculty and staff DJs. We are grateful to Stanford and CCRMA for donating this assistance to WTUL.

We got back on the air in December 2005 and broadcast out of the mezzanine of the Rue de la Course coffee shop for a while, which was also a unique experience. During every air-break listeners got to hear the clanging and banging of the espresso machine in the background. The coffee shop was only open until 7pm (nothing was back to normal business hours at the time) but we were permitted to stay until midnight. It got a little creepy sometimes. There was one incident when a would be thief ran into one of our DJs, Jon Ulz, around midnight. The intruder tried to pass himself off as a coffee shop staffer (5 hours after closing) and asked to borrow Jon’s key to get out – not the brightest criminal ever.

Spinning Indie: What's the longest running show/DJ at the station? When did the show/DJ first go on the air?

Lisa: Our Reggae show started in 1976 and is the longest running Reggae show in the country. Shepard Samuels, who has been on air-staff since the early 1970s, originated and still DJs the Reggae show. Shepard discovered Reggae while working at the Mushroom, a local record store and has had a lot of unique opportunities over the years. Shepard went to Bob Marley’s studio in Jamaica, where he also met Augustus Pablo. In 1979, Shepard interviewed Peter Tosh - he was rolling around on the floor for part of it (Peter Tosh – not Shepard!)

Spinning Indie: Do you have music in your library dating back to the early days of the station? Does it get played?

Lisa: We’ve got vinyl going back to the beginning. WTUL started out as an AM station and the early stuff doesn’t really fit our current format. During our annual Marathon fundraiser, listeners pledge money to “be the DJ” and select music –that’s when you will hear a lot of music that isn’t usually played on WTUL.

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

Lisa: WTUL has a wide variety of programming in addition to our core of progressive, jazz and classical shows. Brian Denzer, our classical music director, spearheaded a Saturday morning Community Gumbo show. While the show was designed to address important local issues from the beginning, it has taken on even more significance in the years after Hurricane Katrina. The Cheez Music Programme, which is sort of new agey music, has a very dedicated listenership. The weekend focuses on specialty shows – opera, stage & screen, folk, blues, Americana, country, kid’s show, electronic, alternative oldies, to name (more than) a few.

Weekday evenings we’ve got Latin, reggae and world shows. Our weekly local program showcases the diversity of New Orleans music. 20th Century Classics is also a very unique program. Most classical radio in the U.S. focuses entirely on pre-WWI composition, maybe with the occasional short Glass or Shostakovich piece every few weeks. WTUL's classical programming in general, and the 20th Century Classics Show in particular, is one of the few forums in this country for new formal works.While other stations may have similarly named programming, WTUL puts its own spin on it all.

Spinning Indie: Is there certain music that DJs are required to play? Is there anything that DJs aren't allowed to play?

Lisa: WTUL is totally free-form, so DJs decide what to play. We do have minimal requirements for our progressive shows, such as playing a certain number of new tracks, local tracks, variety genres and alt oldies per show – but DJs determine how they meet those requirements. We have an extensive library and a constant influx of new music. Of course, in fitting with our purpose, the emphasis is on giving exposure to artists that aren’t heard elsewhere and to shy away from artists heard on commercial stations. There was an “incident” a few years back when a DJ played “Hotel California” by the Eagles…

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?

Music Director Rob Rioux: Every piece of music that gets sent to WTUL gets heard by an MD. Each disc is decided 'yes/no' on an individual basis. Sometimes, major label releases do make the grade, but on average we're adding far more independent labels (and self released projects) than major label acts.

Lisa: In addition to the above info from WTUL’s Music Director, Rob Rioux, I would also like to submit his review of the latest Beck CD, because I think it answers this question in detail (and allows other people to see the quality of reviews our MD puts out - he adds 60+ CDs per week - each with a detailed, thoughtful review):

"One day I've promised myself to write a few essays to add to the station's folder of such things. One will be my thoughts on what makes a good progressive show, and one will be my thoughts on what WTUL's programming mission should be. In a way, this disc offers me a chance to encapsulate my feelings on these matters, specifically the latter point. WTUL's purpose should be to offer crucial exposure of new artists to our listeners; back when I started at WTUL (pre electricity days) we were literally the only game in town; no internet. Doesn't that last statement give you shivers? All I did back then was be depressed that I could not check my Facebook because I didn't have a Facebook because I didn't have an email address because there was no Internet.

Anyway, while new artist exposure is critical and should be the main focal point of this station, it should not be at the expense of all the other music that gets released (from the artists/releases that are not so new). Now Beck doesn't need the help; pretty much everyone knows who he is. The thing is though, despite his level of notoriety he is still making records that fit in with the bigger picture programming sound of the station, and as such he finds himself yet again in our merit section...This is a pretty good record, though the only Beck album I own and will probably ever own is the stunningly gorgeous and languid 'Sea Change'. If this is worked in sparingly and carefully into the right progressive set, there is not a thing wrong with WTUL playing Beck – but that is only one opinion and nothing more, no matter how many of these little review thingys I crank out. Note: Danger Mouse plays and produces and Chan Marshal guest vocals as well. RR 7/9/08"

Spinning Indie: Do you add and play a lot of vinyl?

Lisa: Vinyl... we have over 20,000 pieces of vinyl, however the amount of new vinyl that is sent in to the station has decreased drastically. But if the content makes the grade then it will be added. There are some of us that have a love of vinyl and incorporate it into our shows. We have an Alternative Oldies show every Saturday night and most of what is played during that show is vinyl.

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

Lisa: WTUL isn’t as well known on campus as we would like to be, which has been an age old problem that we are working to improve. While the majority of our all volunteer staff does consist of students, we also have a core group of “lifers” made up of alumni, university staff and community members. WTUL has a strong, dedicated listenership in the local community. We also have national and worldwide listeners via our webcast.

Image from WTUL website

Spinning Indie: Tell me about the Jerry Springer connection. Any other famous alums?

Lisa: Jerry Springer was actually the one to announce the news of JFK's assassination to WTUL listeners. Ivan Bodley, bass player and musical director for a long list of performers, was a noted WTUL Punk Show DJ in the 80s. Ernie K-Doe, best known for his colorful personality and his 1961 hit song "Mother-In-Law,"was a DJ at WTUL in the 90s. There is a clip from a documentary about Ernie K-Doe in the media section of our website that gives a taste of his WTUL show. There are also a number of record company execs that are former WTUL DJs.

Documentary about Ernie K-Doe

Spinning Indie: Any other interesting tidbits about the station that you'd like to share?

Lisa: I would just invite everyone to check us out for themselves. Our website is – go there to listen to our webcast, see what we are playing right now, donate to WTUL (you can help us reach our 50th birthday $50,000 goal!!) and view our past play lists on-line through Any questions can be directed to

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