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.

1 comment:

jhogle said...

That was an excellent article. I hope you put your research into a book. I mostly listen to college radio (plus NPR, classical, Pandora, and bhangra-to-darkwave-to .... on the Web). At 64 I still have no interest in retro, MOR, top-40, or other, non-innovative music. I want to hear creative new music, whether it is rock, jazz, classical, world, or whatever. Today, college radio is only challenged by the Web in expanding our personal musical vocabularies.