Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ups and Downs of Haverford College Radio

WABQ in the 1920s
Photo courtesy of
Haverford College Archives, HCHC photographs

My college reunion is next month, so of course I'm starting to get excited about visiting my former radio station WHRC at Haverford College. I've been working with WHRC staff and the alumni office to organize a get-together so that alums and staff can swap stories about WHRC past and present and learn about the "state of the station." I just got word that this gathering will be happening on Saturday, May 30th (10-11am) at Haverford. I can hardly wait!

The last time I visited (2004), I really enjoyed meeting some of the station staff and getting a tour of the place. But I was also super freaked out about some of the things that had transpired over the years. It seemed like they were in a good place in 2004. They were broadcasting online and trying to build up their music library. But they also told me about years of decline, periods when the station had been off the air, and some dark days when the vinyl collection was sold off to fund a concert.

Well, WHRC seems to be transitioning yet again. Last year they suffered a series of setbacks, including a hacker attack that led to them shutting down the station in April 2008. The current plan is for the station to take an entirely new form, made up of podcasts submitted by volunteer DJs. They may not even use the old WHRC space.

1920s Chess Match at WABQ
Photo Courtesy of Haverford College Archives, HCHC photographs

It seems like every 5-10 years radio is reborn at Haverford and it may surprise people to realize that Haverford College was actually home to some of the earliest college radio experiments, including inter-continental chess matches and quizzes in the 1920s and 1940s. The initial station, WABQ, dates back to the 1920s and is rumored to be the first college radio station on the east coast. In December 1924, Haverford College and Oxford University had the first international chess match by amateur radio. In 1926, they again held a chess match by radio, this time with students from the University of Paris.

Haverford College was also an early member of the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS), a network of college radio stations from all over the country. According to an article in the New York Times, in 1945 the Haverford College station (the article gives the call letters as WHAV) joined up with the Bryn Mawr College radio station (I didn't realize they had one! Its call letters were WBMC according to the article) and Swarthmore College station (WSRN) to create "the first intercollegiate network in the history of radio." Another article in the New York Times adds that University of Pennsylvania was also involved in this network, which was designed to share programming among the stations, including lectures, debates, music and sports.

Over the years the station has been a licensed AM station (at once point covering a 50-mile radius), campus-only AM carrier current station, Internet-only station, and will soon be moving to podcast shows.

WHRC March 20, 1947
Inter-oceanic Quiz
Photo Courtesy of
Haverford College Archives, HCHC photographs

I obviously love college radio and WHRC has a special place in my heart since that's where it all began for me. I joined as a freshman in 1985 and absolutely loved doing a radio show. Within a year or two, my pal Alex and I were recruited to be the Music Directors and we took on the job with gusto. We talked up the station, downplaying our AM carrier current status in the hopes of getting cool records for our DJs to play. Eventually records starting coming in the mail and I was there when we added the first CDs to the station (the first add was a CMJ "Certain Damage" compilation).

WHRC Studio in 1987

But, I also remember how difficult it was to get people to volunteer at the station and do extra work beyond their shows. I did a team show and my partner eventually stopped showing up. That was kind of indicative of the trouble we often had in getting people to take time from studying and social activities to keep the station afloat. Since the station was solely made up of Haverford and Bryn Mawr students, the staff changed from year to year. With a lack of consistency in staff and very little institutional history, I guess it's incredible that the station has survived from year to year.

WHRC Record Library in 1987
(Yes, that's me!)

I'm on a bit of a mission now to try to find and document the history of radio at Haverford. It was amazing to find these photos from the 1920s and 1940s from the Haverford College Library. Thanks so much to Diana Peterson from the library's "Special Collections" for allowing me to reproduce these images on Spinning Indie.

WHRC Studio in 2004

I've also tracked down WHRC alums from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and am starting to capture their stories. It will be great to meet up with some of the current WHRC staff and connect with WHRC alums during my Alumni Weekend to continue this project.

WHRC Studio in 2004

A September 2008 article in the Bi-College News discusses the state of WHRC as of last semester. According to the piece:

"After the release of the preliminary budget, WHRC was given less than half the sum they requested...The Board discussed the possibility of perhaps raising money based on sales of unused equipment and the CD collection...

'The main goal this semester is to move the station. In order to achieve this and other goals, we have decided to cancel broadcasting for the semester,' said [Duncan] Cooper, member of FUCS [Fords' United Concert Series]. This way, the board can 'devote one-hundred-perfect of [their] energies to retooling the station.'

The retooling process involves two main steps: moving WHRC from the basement of the Dining Center to a more visible spot and redesigning the method of broadcast..."

I will have much more to report next month after my visit to Haverford. If you're an alum of the station, please get in touch to share your stories or join us at the reunion on Saturday, May 30th.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

KSCR Facing Potential Budget Cuts from Student Government

I just heard that USC's student radio station KSCR is in danger of losing funding from their student government ($5,000, which is a portion of their overall budget) and that there's a Student Senate vote about this issue TONIGHT. According to an article in the Daily Trojan:

"The student-run independent radio station KSCR will lose all of its allocated funding ($5,000 in the 2008-09 year) as it becomes financially independent from USG, although it can still request money from the discretionary funding board.

'From the beginning our agreement with KSCR was that it would be an independent organization, not dependent on USG,' [incoming Treasurer Ashwin] Appiah said.

Over the last few years, USG has been cutting its funding of the station by nearly 50 percent each year, and when KSCR did not respond to budget inquiries from USG this year, the committee decided to cut its funding altogether."

From what I've heard, this attempt to completely cut off funding for the student radio station came without warning. Even though KSCR does mostly survive based on donations and underwriting, every little bit of cash is crucial for non-commercial stations. It's also a nice gesture for schools to show their support for student media by kicking in some funding for college radio.

If you're a student at USC or a KSCR listener and this issue is important to you, the Student Senate meeting is tonight at 7 pm in Doheney Library in Intellectual Commons at University of Southern California (USC).

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Radio Tidbits: Student Media Overhaul, Bill Ayers on BC station, High School Radio, and 25th Anniversary of Boston College Radio DJ

Here's a round-up of some college radio-related stories in the news this week:

University of Utah Student Media Overhaul

An article in the Salt Lake City Tribune discusses a proposal to converge all student media at University of Utah (including campus radio station KUTE) and the campus newspaper's concerns about how this could limit their freedom.

"Proponents say reforming the way the university supports, funds and oversees student media will benefit the campus radio station, which has operated for years on a diminishing budget that has shrunk to $15,000, as well as some 20 other media outlets.

'We're going to have a consistent source of funding until we become financially viable, then money will be spread to other publications that need it,' said KUTE station manager Sean Halls. 'This will give us more freedom to get the word out and improve the quality of our service.'"

Bill Ayers on Student Radio, But Not on Campus

There was some controversy at Boston College last month after a planned lecture by Bill Ayers was canceled by the university. Ayers ended up chatting over the air on the campus radio station (WVBC, the cable and online-only sister station of WZBC-FM) this week, according to an article in the Boston Phoenix. That's pretty awesome that the station billed as a "training ground" for WZBC ended up with the interview. Nice job!

New High School Radio Station in Ft. Worth

According to an article on, high school students in Ft. Worth, Texas now have the opportunity to participate in student radio via a new radio training program. The "station" is currently on cable and will soon be heard online. The article states: "The district unveiled its student-run radio studio, the final piece of their Advanced Media Program (AMP), Tuesday at the district's Professional Development Center in Fort Worth."

It's always nice to hear about new radio stations starting up, especially at high schools!

Festivities for 25th Anniversary of DJ at WMBR

It's amazing how long some DJs have been doing college radio. In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are definitely some DJs who've been on the air since the 1980s at KUSF, KFJC, KSCU and KZSU. And, now, a DJ (Jon Bernhardt, who also plays theremin in the Lothars) at MIT's station WMBR is throwing a big bash to celebrate his 25 years on the air. According to a press release:

"WMBR disc jockey Jon Bernhardt will celebrate his 25th anniversary with the morning Breakfast of Champions radio program on Friday, June 26, from 8 - 10 a.m. To mark this auspicious occasion, he has convinced the bands that have been played the most on his program to perform at a pair of benefit concerts at two Boston area clubs. UK legend Bevis Frond will play in his only U.S. appearance on Sunday, June 21 at TT the Bear’s along with the Condo Fucks and Sleepyhead. Versus reunites to play Church with Rebecca Gates (The Spinanes) and more guests TBA, on Saturday, June 27. Proceeds will benefit WMBR. Tickets for both shows are on sale now.

On his June 26, 2009 anniversary program, Bernhardt plans to count down the 33 songs he's played the most over his 25 year career...Bernhardt spent 18 months typing all 25 years worth of playlists into a database, so that he could figure out which bands and songs he played the most. Many of those bands will be heard on the June 26 program, and some will probably be as much of a surprise to listeners as they were to Bernhardt himself."

I love the idea of tallying playlists to come up with the most-played songs. And it's quite the impressive lineup of bands who are playing for these anniversary shows.

Commercial Rock Station does Format Publicity Stunt as Kung Pao FM

This sounds more like an April Fool's joke to me, but word is that Virginia commercial rock station WXMM has changed format (as of 5pm Thursday) and is now playing Chinese music under the moniker Kung Pao FM. According to their website:

As we continue to ride the economic roller coaster, radio finds itself in an interesting, yet exciting period. In its existence. Radio has been a viable medium for over 80 years because of its ability to change to reflect the times and the ever-changing tastes and lifestyles of it’s audience. A new era has dawned for the industry and once again we must evaluate where we are and where we are going. With iPods and other music delivery services now available, Radio must continue to change to meet the times.

Earlier this year, Max Media undertook the most ambitious project that this industry has ever seen. With the help of Harris Research, the company launched an intensive research project. Hundreds of focus groups were hosted. Ten of thousands of phone interviews were conducted. A direct mail questionnaire was sent nationally to over 1.8 million radio listeners like you. And then the arduous project of looking at the numbers and seeing what they mean and where they point us began. And today, with Hampton Roads as its first market, 100.5 is poised to begin the next generation of terrestrial Radio formats. The research is in and the numbers are irrefutable. The large gaping formatic hole that has been all but ignored? Classic Chinese Hits. This is a very exciting time and we are both humbled and honored to be at the forefront of this new wave of music programming. So please welcome to 100.5, the first of what will soon be a worldwide musical revolution. The Classic Chinese Hits sound of Kung Pao 100.5. Let the music begin!

An article on said that the station played nothing but traditional instrumental Chinese music on Friday. Sounds pretty awesome to me and I know that my 3-year-old daughter would love it. She's a huge fan of Chinese music (there's a ton of it at our public library), so this station would be her dream come true.

But, I'm less than optimistic about the real motives of the station based on their offensive branding (Kung Pao. really?). On the surface it's not a respectful approach to Chinese culture, so it is probably a stunt. Rumor has it that the station will become classic rock station "Beer 100.5." Yikes.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

College Radio and Indie Music at BEA and IASPM Conferences

The BEA Convention is happening right now in Las Vegas, bringing together broadcast educators from all over the world. It looks like a mix of "how-to" sessions, a range of panels, academic paper presentations, and confabs with staff from various stations.

In scanning through the program, I see that there are a number of of college-radio specific topics and awards being presented. Candace Walton (University of South Dakota) is slated to present a paper called, "Integrating Ethics Into the Campus Radio Station." Another panel focuses on starting up and running an Internet radio station. A session with student media advisors included David Nelson (University of Central Oklahoma) presenting on "HD radio: College radio's influence on the adoption of HD radio" and Marjorie Yambor (Western Kentucky University) giving the paper "Nurturing the Nexus: Aligning Administrators, Professors, Managers, Staff Members...and College Radio."

Other sessions focus on radio broadly, including the panel "Radio's Demise Has Been Greatly Exaggerated," in which various panelists will discuss the current state of radio. One of the panelists, Madeline Bills (San Francisco State) will present "The Role of Community Radio." Tomorrow Eric C. Covil (Northwest Missouri State) will present, "Using Guerilla Radio to Teach Ethics at a Student Radio Station." On Saturday, Barbara Calabrese (Columbia College) is presenting "Ethics and Diversity: Practical Applications in College Radio." There's also an entire panel on leadership and college radio on Saturday.

Coming up in a few weeks, the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) Conference will take place in San Diego. I'm not seeing any college radio-specific papers on the agenda, but there are some papers dealing with indie music, music formats, punk, hip hop, and a myriad of other genres. Wendy Fonarow will present "Arguing about the Boundaries: The Contesting Definitions of Indie Music." Additionally, there will be a paper on vinyl, "'Never Mind What's Been Selling, It's What You're Buying': Capital Exchange in Buying, Collecting, and Selling Vinyl Records." There are a bunch of really interesting-sounding papers related to technology (You Tube), Internet music criticism, and how subcultures like punk are facilitated online. Sounds like fun!

I can't make it to either of these conferences, so if you are, I'd love to hear some feedback about how things went and how radio and indie culture were represented.

College Radio in the Wall Street Journal

It's a rare day when college radio gets mentioned on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (thanks to my husband's eagle eyes this morning for catching it), and as you might guess, it's in the context of money. Today's article, "New Unrest on Campus as Donors Rebel," begins:

"Financially strapped colleges are angering their benefactors by selling school radio stations, auctioning Georgia O'Keeffe paintings and dipping into their endowments for purposes their donors may not have intended."

As the piece points out, in the current economic climate, many campuses are looking to cut things that many alums and donors hold near and dear, including radio stations. I really really hope this doesn't become a growing trend, as it saddens me when colleges give up student-run stations.

As recently seen when Texas Tech's student radio station KTXT was shut down without warning, when alums and fans get angry, they will come together and protest.

The Wall Street Journal article touches on the plight of St. Olaf College radio station WCAL (see my post from last year covering this), stating that the school, "...continues to fight a legal challenge by angry donors to WCAL, the college radio station the school sold five years ago." The former WCAL is now The Current, an "indie"-rock oriented public radio station in Minnesota.

To see the latest on the WCAL protests, visit the SaveWCAL website. And, to learn about what some of the former KTXT staffers are up to, visit The Llano Idea.

And, if you have a second, take some time to tell your college campus why you value student radio. I'd rather praise now than have to protest later.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

College Radio Tidbits: Musical Gems from the Promo Pile, Ratings, and Public Radio Takeover of Jazz Station?

Here's a little recap of some random college radio-related tidbits from the web this week.

Forgotten College Radio Promo is Floor Pie's New Obsession

I love this story. While watching an episode of the Simpsons with a reference to a cheesy music demo tape, the author's husband dug through some old college radio promo tapes and found a gem from Ken DeFeudis called "Run for Cover Lover." Floor Pie writes:

"Mr. Black had been music director of his college radio station back in the day, a job whose benefits apparently included first dibs on midlife-crisis-guys’ demo tapes. We popped it into the tape player and . . . oh, how to describe it? Playful Casio keyboard chords, all two of them, bounced back and forth. And then, about a beat or two behind the electric drum from the get-go, in sailed the low, nasal, heavily Boston-accented goodness of Ken’s incomparable voice..."

Definitely keep reading Floor Pie's post to learn more about this forgotten musical genius and how he had a bit of a resurgence on the old WFMU show "Incorrect Music."

College Radio (KALX, KOHL) Gets Ratings Nod in Radio Waves Yesterday

I dug the fact that in Sunday's Radio Waves column, Ben Fong-Torres mentioned some college station ratings in his recap of the latest Arbitron scores. He writes,

"Now, what about a bunch of popular stations that just haven't been popular enough to reach the upper ranks and get written up? Like, say, the other NPR station, KALW? It's at 0.8, in 33rd place, along with KKGN (Green 960) and KKIQ. How about KPIG? Its local AM (1510) outlet emits a weak squeak, at 0.1, in the same pen as KRSH (the Crush in Santa Rosa), KALX (at Cal), KOHL (from Ohlone College in Fremont), and KTRB, the talk station (and, now, home of the Oakland A's)."

After reading this, I poked around and found that some other SF Bay Area college, high school, and community radio stations also appear in these ratings, including KKUP, KVHS, and KSJS.

Mt. Hood Community College Jazz Station May Come Under Control of Oregon Public Broadcasting

Mt. Hood Community College issued a press release stating that for budgetary reasons, they may switch control of their jazz station (and public radio affiliate) KMHD to Oregon Public Broadcasting. According to the press release:

"Under the proposal, MHCC would continue to own the station, while OPB would take over programming, operational and fundraising responsibilities. MHCC President John J. 'Ski' Sygielski said the board of education will give serious consideration at its April 8 meeting to this proposed partnership with OPB. A decision is expected at the May 13 board meeting."

Mt. Hood Community College also owns student radio station The Quarry and an article in The Advocate Online mentions that the student station may gain access to an HD channel if the proposal goes through.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fusion HD3, KUSF, KFJC and WGRE Celebrate Anniversaries

Spring seems to be the time for celebration, as several college radio stations are hosting events this week to kick off their anniversary festivities.

Fusion HD 3 Celebrates 1 Year on the Air

According to a piece in the Herald Journal, Utah State University had the first president of NPR on hand to help celebrate student station Fusion HD 3's first year on the air. The online (and HD via Utah Public Radio's KUSR) station is staffed entirely by student volunteers.

KUSF's 32nd Birthday Party

KUSF, out of University of San Francisco is celebrating its 32nd birthday on Saturday, April 25th with live bands (Kelley Stoltz, Ty Segall, and I Love my Label) and KUSF DJs spinning at the Peacock Lounge in San Francisco. It's also a benefit for the station, with a suggested donation of $10 to $20 at the door.

KFJC Listener Appreciation Party (and 50th Anniversary)

My beloved station KFJC turns 50 this year and on Saturday, April 25th there will be a free "Listener Appreciation Party," featuring free bowling, live bands Death Sentence: PANDA! and The Slow Poisoner and KFJC DJs spinning. It happens this Saturday starting at 8pm at Redwood Lanes in Redwood City.

60th Birthday Party for DePauw's WGRE on April 29th

An article in the Greencastle Banner Graphic talks about DePauw University's (Indiana) award-winning college radio station WGRE-FM, which first began broadcasting 60 years ago and was the first 10-watt FM educational station in the nation. There will be a campus celebration on April 29th, with live music and birthday cake. According to the piece,

"The FCC granted...the university a license for a 10-watt FM educational station, the first in the nation. On April 28, 1949 WGRE began broadcasting across the airwaves. They were also the first radio station in Putnam County."

Record Store Day Ruled

Record Store Day at Aquarius Records on Valencia Street in San Francisco

It sounds like Saturday's 2nd annual Record Store Day was a big success. I was happy to get out and buy some new music on a glorious San Francisco Day.

Closed-down Streetlight Records on 24th Street in San Francisco

Before I hit my destination of Aquarius Records, however, I happened to stop by the shuttered Streetlight Records on 24th Street (don't worry, their other locations in SF, San Jose and Santa Cruz are alive and well). It was a sad reminder of why support for indie music shops is so vital.

For the first time in a long time I bought some vinyl (it seemed fitting), picking up the new Bill Callahan release. I also got two CDs: Vashti Bunyan and Damon & Naomi with Ghost. My husband purchased Beck's "One Foot in the Grave: Expanded Edition" and an Okkervil River CD. Even our 3-year-old daughter selected some music. Her picks: Thee Oh Sees, Bottom, and Black Time. She was drawn to Thee Oh Sees by the bat on the cover and the other two jumped out at her as she scanned through a $3.99 bin.

Our Record Store Haul

After I got home, it was cool to see status updates on Facebook and Twitter from friends all over the country who participated in Record Store Day. There are so many ways to bond over music, and devoting an entire day to record stores became an awesome rallying cry for "music that you can hold in your hand."

I hope you got a chance to drop some coins at a record store on Saturday. If you didn't, then go today or tomorrow or this week...but just go!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tomorrow's Record Store Day Promises Limited Vinyl Releases and Live Bands

I feel like Record Store Day (happening at more than 1000 record shops tomorrow) deserves another post from me, especially after seeing Pitchfork's extensive run-down of events happening all over the world AND their accompanying list of all the Record Store Day special releases that will be available at indie record shops.

And, man, am I jealous of you Midwesterners and East-Coasters who get to partake in Bill Callahan's week-long tour of record stores (as mentioned in a Philadelphia Inquirer piece about Philly events). My desire to pick up his brand-new album will definitely get me to my local indie music store tomorrow (Saturday, April 18th).

In his article for Pitchfork, Douglas Wolk reviews a number of the mostly-vinyl (7"s, 10"s and LPs) very limited releases (including Bad Religion, Black Kids, Camera Obscura, MC5, Smiths, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, and many others) that were created for Record Store Day.

There's been a lot of press this year (do a Google Search for "Record Store Day 2009" and you get over 36 million results), so here's a short list of articles covering some of the regional happenings:

Maine events (where Record Store Day began!) in Bangor Daily News
South Florida happenings covered in Miami Herald article
Philadelphia-area events outlined in Philadelphia Daily News
Ventura, California record shop events in Ventura County Star
Dublin-Ireland RSD activities in The Irish Independent
Boise, Idaho events at local record shop in The Idaho Statesman

Some of the event highlights for every region (a sampling from the Pitchfork piece...see their article for many more) include:

Jay Reatard at Goner Records in Memphis.
Bill Callahan performing at New York's Other Music.
The Black Lips at Tucson's Zia Records.
Kim and Kelly Deal at Cincinatti's Shake It Records.
Aesop Rock and Kelley Stoltz at Amoeba Music in San Francisco.
Ra Ra Riot at East Lansing's Flat, Black & Circular.
Silversun Pickups at Rasputin Music, Berkeley
Eagles of Death Metal at Rhino Records in Claremont, CA.
Youth Group and Good Old War at Philly's Main Street Music.
Azita at Laurie's Planet of Sound in Chicago.
Evangelicals, the Uglysuit, Other Lives at Norman, OK's Guestroom Records.
Lair of the Minotaur at Chicago's Reckless Records.
Ladyfinger at Homer's Music and Gift in Omaha.

In related news, KCRW points out that one of the 7"s available on Record Store Day is from a live Grizzly Bear performance over their airwaves.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ypulse Mashup in June for Youth Culture Geeks Like Me

In addition to my passion for music and college radio, I'm also hugely obsessed with pop culture (it's even what I got my graduate degree in). In particular I love teen media and would happily spend an entire weekend watching teen movies and high school-themed TV shows.

So, it's no surprise that when youth culture blog Ypulse started up in 2004, I was smitten. I remember running across the blog one day at work and immediately shooting off an email to editor Anastasia Goodstein, telling her how much I loved the blog and how similar our interests were. We'd both worked at some teen-related start ups and nearly crossed paths at the much heralded teen girl site Kibu back in the Internet boom years. I ended up doing some guest posts and conference reports for Ypulse and for awhile was one of their contributing editors. Writing for Ypulse was a blast because sometimes you really really need to review the latest crop of teen/college-themed TV shows or reminisce about the power of high school journalism.

Even in the early years, Anastasia loved the idea of connecting people who shared her passion for the intersection of youth culture, teen media, and technology. She started out hosting small mixers and eventually grew her idea into a conference that she calls the Ypulse Mashup, since it brings together folks with wide ranging interests in youth media (tween, teen, and college), from school librarians and youth ministers to non-profits like 826 Valencia and Youth Radio to major media companies like MTV, Disney, MySpace and ABC.

I attended the Mashup the last two years in San Francisco (got to hear about teen tech trends, some Go-Go's related teen music trends and about some amazing hip hop-related projects last year and in 2007 both danah boyd and Henry Jenkins graced the stage, chatting about technology) and am excited to be going again this year (June 1st and 2nd in SF).

Spinning Indie readers can get 10% off the conference cost by using the code SI during registration. Some early-bird discounts are available until tomorrow and there are also lower fees if you're a student or at a non-profit.

If you're planning to go, let me know. It should be a blast.

Hectic Music Week: EMP Pop Conference, Music & the Brain, Record Store Day, Coachella, NAB Show, WBAR-B-Q, and KFJC Bowling Party

The next 10 days are jam-packed with music and radio-related events, including conferences, festivals, and parties being hosted by college radio stations. Who said music wasn't alive and well??

EMP Pop Conference (April 16-19, 2009)

First of all, the annual Experience Music Project (EMP) Pop Conference starts in Seattle today (through Sunday, April 19th). Sadly, I won't be there this year, but I attended in 2008 (and posted a bunch of summaries) and it was an insane who's who of rock-star journalists (and musicians and academics). I love getting all intellectual about music and have given papers at similar events put on by the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (their annual conference is in San Diego in May).

This year I was particularly excited to hear that two of my idols: David Grubbs (amazing musician from Gastr del Sol, Squirrel Bait, etc. AND an academic) and Holly Kruse (wrote a great book Site and Sound: Understanding Independent Music Scenes, which is one of the few pieces of academic research that covers college radio and indie music) will be on a panel together. Super bummed to be missing that. But, I am looking forward to watching the blog-space for full reports from you lucky folks soaking in the conference.

For the college radio angle on the conference, check out some of the blog posts by affiliated station KEXP, including some interviews with this year's participants.

Symposium on Music and the Brain: Spontaneity and Improvisation (April 17-18, 2009)

I just heard about this fascinating free conference at Stanford University, all focused on the neuroscience of music and improvisation.

Record Store Day (Saturday, April 18, 2009)

This Saturday, April 18th is Record Store Day, a chance to show your support for your local record shop. See the website for all the details, including testimonials from various artists. The global celebration will include special events at record stores, ranging from live performances, to deals on limited edition releases. Major labels, like Warner Brothers are even involved, hyping some of their special vinyl releases. You can search for local participating stores here. Among the many events, Amoeba Records will be having live performances and giveaways at their stores in San Francisco, Berkeley and Hollywood.

Coachella (April 17-19, 2009)

Oh, and, um, there's this massive music festival, Coachella, out in the desert of Southern California this weekend too. Lots of indie-ish bands (and big ones too) over the course of 3 days (April 17-19), from Paul McCartney to Vivian Girls and everything in-between. I'm not sure if any college radio stations will be broadcasting from there, but there will be a live webcast on the AT&T site. Public/college radio station KCRW will be there and they are promoting the fest on their website with links to in-studio performances by Coachella artists.

NAB Show (April 18-23)

This weekend there is also the massive National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, which includes a bunch of different conferences within the conference (Broadcast Management, Broadcast Engineering, etc.) and NAB Show. Sounds like it covers all kinds of content, including radio, TV, video games, Internet, and technology in general.

BEA 2009 Convention (April 22-25, 2009)

Following NAB, the Broadcast Education Association hosts their 2009 convention in Las Vegas, where broadcast researchers and educators convene to chat about radio and broadcasting in general. This year's conference theme is related to ethics.

KFJC Listener Appreciation Party (April 25, 2009)

The station where I DJ, KFJC, is starting its 50th anniversary celebration with a Listener Appreciation Party at Redwood Lanes in Redwood City on Saturday, April 25th starting at 8pm. It's free and there will be bowling, bands and DJs spinning live. Death Sentence: PANDA! and Slow Poisoner are on the bill, as well as KFJC DJs Cy Thoth, Cadillac Margarita, Captain Jack, and Belladonna. We're also hoping that lots of alumni DJs will come to the party.

WBAR-B-Q (April 26, 2009)

WBAR (the Barnard College radio station that I visited last month) hosts their annual WBAR-B-Q on the Barnard campus in New York City. It's a free event with a great lineup of live bands including Gang Gang Dance and Metalux. Read all about it on Brooklyn Vegan.

How many of these events will you be partaking in?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

CMJ Staff Blog Profiles UC Santa Cruz Radio Station KZSC

Last month the CMJ Staff Blog posted three new interviews with staff from various college radio stations.

First up was an interview with the Music Director from KZSC-FM (University of California, Santa Cruz), Scott Karoly. In the piece he talks about the upcoming radio conference for radio stations within the University of California system. According to Scott,

"The University Of California Radio Network Conference (UCRN) is an event that happens twice a year, once at a station in Northern California and once down south. We’re a big state. It’s a Saturday where people from all the stations in the UC system gather to hang out, meet each other, go to discussion panels, share ideas, eat some food and have a good time. It’s kind of like a super-specialized version of CMJ’s College Day, for a group of people who see each other more frequently. I’ve made a lot of good friends through UCRN, and it’s one of my favorite parts of college radio."

I heard about the UCRN conference when I visited KALX recently, and it sounds like an amazing way to build a broader college radio community.

Additionally, Scott discusses KZSC's love for vinyl records, saying:

"People are really getting stoked on vinyl at KZSC. We have lots of community members who’ve never stopped using LPs, and we have thousands upon thousands, several walls worth at the station. We know digital releases are here and growing, but we’ve got a soft spot for tangible things, at least I do. Whenever I get a real record, 12 or 7-inches, it says something—a lot more than a paper case and a glossy photograph. Colored vinyl? Count me in. People are into it, and that makes me real happy."

I just found out that I'll get the chance to visit KZSC during the UCRN conference and am really looking forward to seeing the station (any station that values vinyl is a friend of mine) and meeting a bunch of college radio folks from all over California. So, stay tuned for my full report, and, of course, pictures of their station in the woods.

Monday, April 13, 2009

College Radio and Twitter

I signed up with Twitter (@SpinningIndie) nearly a year ago, but am only just starting to do any sort of posting on it. Clearly it's becoming mainstream (the recent multi-page feature in Star magazine about celebrities on Twitter was kind of a clue) and is no doubt the next Facebook.

I'm curious how radio stations are using Twitter, so I've started to follow a bunch of them. Now, I'm not savvy enough to figure out how to filter all the posts, but one of my first reactions is that I'm not super interested in getting updates on every single song played on a particular station. I think if that's a station's sole purpose in using Twitter, it's kind of a missed opportunity.

Several stations that I follow have separate accounts for station updates (contests, events, promotions, random thoughts, etc.) and for playlists (KEXP Playlist, XPN Playlist). That seems like a great way to do it. If you're desperate for real-time playlist information, then Twitter can be a nice tool for that. In fact, some of these stations may not have any other methods for reporting that information. For example, satellite station Sirius XMU sends out tweets for the songs they play, which is useful since their website doesn't offer archived playlists.

However, if you're someone like me who is interested in updates from lots and lots of stations, then bits of news get hopelessly lost amid the pages and pages of real-time playlist tweets.

I'm sure there's a way for me to filter through all of this in a better way (any suggestions?), but I'm probably not alone in this frustration as a relative newcomer to the whole Twitter scene.

So, as I venture into my investigation of college radio stations on Twitter, I'm curious about a few things:

1) Does your station use Twitter?
2) How often does your station post and who does the posting?
3) Do you follow stations on Twitter?
4) Do you want to see tweets relaying real-time playlists?
5) Which college radio stations are worth following on Twitter

Here are some college radio tweets that express the range of uses of Twitter:

@KZSC: Looks like our site and phones are down due to hooligans in San Jose. We're still broadcasting on 88.1fm though! Listen in!

@WREK: Our programming formula: integral(0, 'Merzbow', ((sqrt(good)/'non-FCC conent')*NOISE), dWRAS/dDaveFM)

@WTUL: - Sunday rises as DJ Bear enters her 18th hour on the air during Hour 42 of the 2009 WTUL Rock On Survival Mara ...

@WXUT: next big thing in music (a college radio prediction):

@KJHK: Get at @thegirlgray for requests for her 8-10 p.m. show. What do you want to hear?!

@WRFL: so very excited for Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti / Vivian Girls tonight @ Al's Bar (corner of 6th & Limestone). All Ages. $5. Doors @ 8:30.

SF Chronicle's Flurry of Radio Coverage: KPFA Story today plus Recent Stories on San Jose Radio History, Pirate Station, and College Radio

Obviously it thrills me that the San Francisco Chronicle continues to report on radio, particularly via Ben Fong-Torres' "Radio Waves" column every other week in the Sunday Datebook section (he covered college radio and Spinning Indie last week).

But other radio stories have been making a regular appearance in other parts of the paper, including in recent months a profile of pirate radio station Pirate Cat Radio (be sure to read the comment-string for some eloquent words about college radio, particularly from some KZSU staffers) and a page 2 story last week about the early history of Bay Area radio (did you know that the first radio broadcasts of the human voice happened in San Jose at "Doc" Herrold's College of Wireless and Engineering in 1909?).

Today there's a front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle, "New Programs, Old Squabbles as Left-of-Dial KPFA turns 60," that reports on the dramatic history and upcoming anniversary of public radio station KPFA. According to the article:

"KPFA-FM will celebrate its 60th birthday this week, and the Berkeley public radio station that was the nation's first listener-supported outlet is still the proudly lefter-than-left Bay Area institution that thinks National Public Radio is too conservative and isn't shy about calling itself 'radical.'"

The piece also discusses the station's new 6pm newcast and "KPFA Interactive," in which listeners can upload questions, audio, and video.

The San Francisco Bay Area clearly has a rich and diverse batch of radio stations, so it's nice to see the wide range of recent radio stories. Does your local paper write about radio?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

WAMU-FM in the News: VA Incident, Bluegrass App, and Social Network

American University's public radio station WAMU-FM was in the news this week for an incident that happened at a VA Hospital.

According to a piece on CNN:

"A college radio station reporter was expected to get his memory card back Friday after it was seized by the Veteran Affairs Department when he tried to interview a veteran. David Schultz of American University's WAMU-FM told CNN he attended a VA town hall meeting Tuesday for minority veterans held at a Washington VA hospital. Schultz said that he heard a veteran speak during the meeting and asked him to talk in the hallway. Once there, he said, a VA public affairs officer, whom he would not name, interrupted, saying the interview was illegal."
By the way, D.C. station WAMU also has some interesting stuff going on tech-wise. They started up their own social network called "The Conversation" on their website and also have an iPhone application focused on their bluegrass programming.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Ben Fong-Torres Profiles College Radio and Spinning Indie

Ben Fong-Torres

I'm an avid reader of Ben Fong-Torres' column "Radio Waves" in the San Francisco Chronicle. His column primarily focuses on the radio scene in the San Francisco Bay Area, but he rarely writes about non-commercial radio. So, I'm so thrilled that in yesterday's column, "College Radio Doesn't Do it By the Book," he shared my fanaticism for college radio with his readers. I'm often struck by the fact that college radio is completely off most peoples' radar, so I'm hoping that perhaps a few more people might check it out after reading his piece.

He doesn't mention it in his article, but Ben was a college radio DJ at the San Francisco State radio station (then known as KRTG) in the 1960s. He told me that it was a carrier-current station that could only be heard in the dorms if one had a special radio receiver. Ben said that he had an early morning show on Wednesdays and since the show was so early he'd sleep in a men's dorm weight room on the nights before his show so that he could get there in time (he lived at home and it would have been quite a trek). He talked about sneaking out of the dorm to do his Top 40 show before class. He said that over the years he's come back to San Francisco State station KSFS (and other college and non-commercial radio stations) to do various radio projects, including co-hosting a show with DJ Irene McGee (of Real World Seattle fame).

When Ben and I met up for the interview last month, I talked extensively about all of the San Francisco Bay Area college radio stations that I had visited at that point (KZSU, KUSF, KSCU, and KALX). Of course I also talked up my own station KFJC too. What I really wanted to get across was that there's an incredible amount of diversity on the college radio airwaves and that many of these stations have shows that you can't hear anywhere else. We also talked a bit about college radio stations as training grounds for careers in radio and how that may be less and less of a motivation for people these days as careers in radio are dwindling. Unfortunately San Jose State station KSJS didn't get mentioned in the piece, but that is an example of a station that is very much linked to a radio program on campus, where every member must be a registered student.

I was also pleased to hear that Ben listens a bit to non-commercial radio these days. He mentioned that he'd heard some amazing stuff on a Latin show on public radio station KCSM (College of San Mateo) recently and added that for many radio listeners who are growing weary of commercial radio, NPR can be a "bridge" to college radio. I like that idea. After our interview he actually listened to my show (telling me in advance, which added a little bit of stress to the show prep) and I was really worried that he'd tune in when the music was the least accessible. Well, he sort of did, but ended up being intrigued about bands that I played like Magic Carpathians, asking me later to describe the music genre.

So, thanks Ben for giving a listen (and a nod) to college radio. Hopefully you've helped create a few more fans or at least opened a few more ears.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Radio Station Field Trip 14 - KFJC at Foothill College

Since I've profiled most of the other San Francisco Bay Area college radio stations, I would be remiss in not writing about my home station, Foothill College's KFJC (89.7 FM in Los Altos Hills, California). This is definitely one of those full-disclosure moments, as it's a bit odd (and daunting) to be writing about the station where I volunteer and DJ. Since I've been there so long, and love the station, I worry that I'm 1) going to go on and on about how great the place is and 2) on the flip side, will leave out something really important and upset someone at the station. So, just be forewarned that this is a small glimpse of the KFJC scene that I've been a part of since 1998. There's a lot that I've left out (Louie Louie marathon, punk rock revolution, gory highway cleanup finds, the horror of the KFJC bathroom, etc.) so I'd encourage KFJC staffers past and present to add comments about things that you think are important to know about the station.

KFJC Lobby and Tiki Bar

Thanks to Station Supervisor Doc Pelzel, General Manager Eric Johnson, Publicity Director Leticia Domingo and Co-Music Director Dale Self for taking the time to talk about KFJC with me in order to add some additional perspective to this piece.

Music Department Zone

KFJC began in 1959 as an FM station at what was then known as Foothill Junior College. At the time, Foothill College was located in Mountain View, but subsequently moved to Los Altos Hills. To catch more of the history of KFJC, see the timeline on the website and a great article about the station from 1990. Since KFJC is celebrating its 50th year in 2009, the station is in the midst of gearing up for various celebrations, including a KFJC-inspired art competition.

Artwork above the entrance to the KFJC Pit

According to KFJC Publicity Director Leticia Domingo,

"We will be providing unique 50th Anniversary Events, such as an additional Anniversary Party, Music Festival, and so much more. Programming will be celebrating the years of KFJC's influence with unique live broadcasts and performances and possibly some revival and/or retrospectives of the past years. We are also excited to be building our digital archive of KFJC's history through audio, video, and photo. Our website is now supporting an upload page so that listeners can contribute their stories and artifacts."

Board in "Master" Studio at KFJC

KFJC exists under the auspices of a Radio Broadcasting program at Foothill College. Station Supervisor (and faculty member) Doc Pelzel leads the Radio program and has been at KFJC since 1980. According to Doc,

"I started at KFJC in January, 1980. What brought me here started in 1977, when I was General Manager of KALX and the station hosted the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System West Coast Regional Convention. Several staff from KFJC attended, including the advisor, Jack Hasling, who contacted me later about visiting KALX kind of like you've visited many stations, except digital cameras didn't exist then.

A couple of years later, Hasling called me to say that KFJC was about to go up in power and Foothill's admin wanted someone who understood how college stations operate to develop the resource and potential of the station, and of course someone they could hold accountable in case of catastrophe. Qualifications for the position were a Ph.D, commercial radio experience, and an
FCC First Class license. Since I had none of these, I applied and, after a short delay caused by the then-President of Foothill dying the weekend after my interview, was hired."

Turntables in Master Studio

To join KFJC one must be registered as a student at Foothill College (which is relatively inexpensive since it's a public community college). All DJs in training and with permanent airshifts need to remain registered in radio classes at the college. Most staff members are only registered for radio classes and are not full-time students. In fact, a very small number are of traditional college age.

A portion of "A" Library CDs Just Outside KFJC Master Studio

Everyone who joins the station starts out by taking "Radio 90A" at Foothill College, a quarter long class specific to learning about radio broadcasting at KFJC. Upon completion of that class, prospective DJs can go through on-air DJ training in which they shadow a DJ on their show for about 8 weeks, learning how to master the on-air equipment and getting trained in the specifics of ticket giveaways, EAS tests, etc. After passing DJ training, then one is expected to do at least 13 graveyard shifts (2am-6am or 3am-6am) before being cleared for regular day-time fill-ins.

DJs who have regular airshifts are expected to do at least 8 hours of work for the station every week and attend weekly staff meetings. People make their volunteer hours by doing music reviews, staffing co-presents (recent shows include Nurse with Wound and The Renderers), writing public service announcements, creating production pieces, engineering live performances, etc.

Watching the Record Run-Through at the Weekly KFJC Staff Meeting

It's somewhat unusual for college stations to have all-staff meetings every week and that's been a KFJC tradition for years. Additionally, at each weekly staff meeting there's a "music run-through," in which the music directors read off all of the new releases being added to the station that week (usually 30-40 items), and DJ reviewers give their live reviews of the albums out loud at the meeting. I love hearing about new music every week at the staff meetings, and for me it's part of my show preparation.

KFJC's Genre Libraries Defined
The main library (A-library) has no sticker associated with it

Staying in touch with new (and old undiscovered) music is one of the main reasons that I got involved with KFJC. C0-Music Director Dale Self explains a bit of his philosophy about music at KFJC, saying:

"The music KFJC adds should be sounds that other stations can't or won't play. There are plenty of support systems out there for artists trying to communicate with accessible audiences but not nearly enough for the artists trying new methods and creating more difficult listening material. The nice and beautiful sounds are desirable but it is the experimental efforts in new spaces and edgy treatments of familiar forms that deserve the most attention from us."

7" collection in KFJC Pit

Something that I really appreciate about KFJC is its love and respect for vinyl records. The library contains around 31,000 LPs and nearly 8,000 7-inch records. As a sign of its appreciation for vinyl, KFJC celebrated its 45th anniversary in 2004 by releasing its first vinyl single (Camper Van Beethoven and Calexico) and by devoting an entire day to playing nothing but 45rpm singles. At this week's staff meeting a piece of 5-inch vinyl was added to the library and a discussion ensued about the variety of sizes of vinyl in the library (going all the way down to an unplayable 1-inch). There's an entire section of the library devoted to 10-inch vinyl releases too. When I went through DJ training my trainer made a point of encouraging me to play vinyl on my show. And, I'm playing more of it today than I was when I first started at the station probably because the KFJC Music Directors add so much vinyl to the library every week. According to Dale,

"Vinyl is vital. It represents a system where the quality of sounds and artful presentation matters as much or more than reaching a large audience. Much of the present distribution is moving away from vinyl and that's an undesirable outcome from the viewpoint of artists and listeners. Artists consistently put out their more adventurous material on vinyl so that's where our attention should be focused."

Vinyl 12"s and 10"s in KFJC's "Current" Rotation

In contrast to that, KFJC does not add digital releases. Dale explained that it's "...simply because of the poor sound quality." On the other hand, when I asked about cassettes, Dale said he's happy to add cassettes, saying,

"We are quite excited about adding cassettes. We do transfer the recordings to CD but we proudly keep the cassettes in our library. This is another avenue like vinyl that is less traveled and much preferred to more accessible material. Like vinyl, those who put out cassettes are reaching out to underrated artists and that is the circuit of activity we believe inspires our listeners most."

Dale was also quick to add that his focus is not just on new music, saying,

"It's not all about new music. We have a fantastic staff that is very knowledgeable of the many colors in the music spectrum. KFJC's music department does focus on new music but we also answer to a legacy of sounds that have been played by us over the years...Even those of us who dedicated to serving the new music agenda are constantly learning from the sonic scholars at the station. So whether you are immersed in new music or diving deep into a particular genre, KFJC is always offering a new take and the music department is in tune with that."

The majority of the KFJC program schedule is made up of music shows. A number are "specialty" shows, which currently air every weekday from 10am to 2pm, with a few additional shows scattered throughout the weekend. The lineup right now includes shows focused on blues, jazz, country, international/early American music, soundtracks, comedic and retro sounds on "Hippy's Graveyard," and the long-running reggae show "Jah's Music."

Non-specialty music shows are generally freeform, although at least 35% of each DJ's show must be material from the "current" library of new adds to the station. With around 40 items being added to the library every week and "current" rotation being up for 8 weeks, there's a wide range of material to choose from across many genres of music (rock, jazz, reggae, electronic, experimental, international, hip hop, classical, metal, blues, folk, spoken word, soundtracks, etc.)

Additionally, KFJC airs public affairs programming, including a sports talk show, Dave Emory's long-running political talk show, and the community-oriented talk show "Thoughtline."

Old Mayhem calendar on the wall at KFJC

Another big KFJC tradition is the Month of Mayhem. Every May the schedule is devoted to specials covering a range of topics. DJs put a lot of time and preparation into special programming focused on specific artists, genres, record labels, instruments and scenes. A relatively recent tradition has been 24 hours devoted to a particular artist or style of music. For example, during Mayhem 2009 there will be entire days focused on James Brown (May 3), Sun Ra (May 22), Throbbing Gristle (from 6pm May 23rd to 6pm May 24th) and Frank Zappa (May 31st).

KFJC "Pit" Containing a Portion of the Record Library

Something that really strikes me about KFJC is the station's dedication to live music. Not only does KFJC co-present many shows in the Bay Area, but the station also regularly has musicians perform live from the KFJC "pit" at the station, and frequently orchestrates live remote broadcasts from Bay Areas venues. Additionally, KFJC has traveled to even more remote locations to broadcast live music, including Austin, Texas for South by Southwest in 1994, England for a festival in 1996 (KFJC's first international live remote), Providence, Rhode Island for Terrastock 6, New Zealand in 2000 for 6 nights of broadcasts, and Japan in 2008 for an underground music event that KFJC helped to spearhead and broadcast live (along with a live video stream). CD compilations were also created to document some of the performances from the events in New Zealand and Japan.

The Renderers Playing in the KFJC Pit (view from Production Studio)
March 25, 2009

General Manager Eric Johnson, who has been at KFJC since 1991, has been a big champion of KFJC's international live remotes, of bringing bands to KFJC (he guesses that between 60 and 70 "live mics" happen every year at the station), and has spearheaded KFJC's ongoing CD compilation project which culls live performances from the KFJC pit and from other station-related events. Eric told me that he loves,

"KFJC's commitment to discovering new music and focus on live broadcasting from the pit, locally and all over the planet. The idea that our airwaves are valuable and listeners are encouraged to have a new experience in music, sound, video, or film."

Eric also pointed out that KFJC's dedication to live music has even helped to bring more listeners to the station and has worked to persuade some of those listeners to start volunteering at KFJC. According to Eric,

"The more live broadcasts and live mics we do the more listeners get involved and even join KFJC's staff. I think over time that has brought new people to the station who are enthusiastic about live music."

Door to Master Studio and Section of A-Library

KFJC began webcasting in 1996 and was also early to use on-line playlists (you can view DJ playlists dating as far back as 1995 on the KFJC website). A good number of KFJC DJs also post their music reviews online for material being added to KFJC's library.

In addition to music events, the station regularly hosts at least two film events every year as well (Psychotronix Film Festival and the Ann Arbor Film Festival). Coming up on April 25th is a KFJC Listener Appreciation Party at Redwood Lanes in Redwood City, which will be a chance for KFJC listeners and DJs to mingle, bowl, and catch live music. You can see all the upcoming KFJC events here.

When I asked Eric what inspires him about college radio, he said,

"Discovery. Most college stations allow DJs a lot of freedom. Listeners have an opportunity to hear music they might not hear somewhere else and that isn't heavily rotated as is the case at most commercial stations."

Thanks to everyone at KFJC who helped with this piece! I'm not sure where my next station field trip will take me, so stay tuned...

KFJC Bathroom

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
Radio Station Field Trip 7 - Northwestern's WNUR
Radio Station Field Trip 8 - Stanford's KZSU
Radio Station Field Trip 9 - University of San Francisco's KUSF
Radio Station Field Trip 10 - Santa Clara University Station KSCU
Radio Station Field Trip 11 - UC Berkeley's KALX
Radio Station Field Trip 12 - KSJS at San Jose State University
Radio Station Field Trip 13 - WBAR at Barnard College