Friday, July 16, 2010

Radio Station Field Trip 10.5 - KSCU's New Digs at Santa Clara University

KSCU's New Location in Benson Hall
All photos by J. Waits

Earlier this summer when I heard that KSCU at Santa Clara University was unloading thousands of records because of a station move, I was concerned about what that meant for the decades-old station. I knew that the former station location wasn't ideal, but any time there's talk of selling off records, I get worried. So, in the interest of getting the real scoop, I stopped by one of their record sales and made a plan to visit the new station.

Back when I visited KSCU for the first time in February, 2009, they were housed in a dorm basement, in an off-the-beaten path location which they had called home for around 25 years. During that visit there was some discussion about how the station's location may have been one of the reasons why they had difficulty attracting student DJs, so I wasn't necessarily surprised to hear that the station was moving.

KSCU DJ Innalect Cueing up Vinyl on His Own Gear

On June 17th, I headed over to see KSCU's new studios and to chat with outgoing General Manager (and incoming Program Director) Sam Duarte and outgoing Music Director (and incoming General Manager) Lauren Duffy. In our conversation they shared details about the move and explained why it was necessarily to purge so much music.

Although the idea of the move had been floating around for at least 5 years, Sam told me that the decision to move came only 2 months before KSCU departed its old location in the basement of Swig Hall. The move took place in early March and the station was off the air for a little over a month during the transition. The station's former home is in the center of a construction zone, with its basement digs being gutted in order to make way for a rumored rec room.

When they realized that the new radio station location would be smaller, it became clear to KSCU management that they needed to clear out a lot of the music, as there wouldn't be room for it. Sam told me that ultimately they probably got rid of about half of the music library (they took 5,000 CDs and 6,000 pieces of vinyl to a local store and offered them to customers for 25 cents a piece).

Sam said that initially it was "really hard to see that as beneficial," but that after carefully looking through the record library they found out that "there was a lot of stuff that we really needed to get rid of." The Music Director and specialty music directors all went through the library to determine what should be purged from various genres. Some of the criteria that they employed included retaining local music and asking themselves, "would this actually get played today?" Collectively, the staff going through the music had diverse music backgrounds, deep music knowledge, and several had been Music Directors in the past.

KSCU General Manager Lauren Duffy in front of a Portion of the KSCU Record Library

Lauren told me that at first the staff seemed "frustrated and disheartened" by the process, but that ultimately everyone seemed to understand the reasoning behind it. Sam said that she was "really surprised" that people weren't angrier and added that "a lot of them saw the benefits of it." Part of this was likely due to the fact that the KSCU managers were open about the process and held meetings in which DJs had the opportunity to look through CDs and vinyl in order to decide if they wanted to take anything. Lauren said that it was really important that the purge was a "group effort" and said that they made sure it was "open to all of the DJs."

As they went through the library they ultimately found a lot of items that perhaps should have been taken out of the library years ago (or should never have been added). Sam said that typically the library was supposed to have been gone through every 5 years, but that at KSCU it had been 20 years since anyone had filtered through the collection. In addition to music that didn't stand the test of time, they also got rid of CDs that skipped and singles (in cases where the station already owned the album).

 KSCU Music Sale in May 2010

I attended one of the KSCU "garage sales" back in May and although it was chilling to see piles and piles of music with radio station reviews affixed to the packaging up for sale, once I dug into some of the stacks I relaxed a bit. Many of the CDs were from mainstream acts and quite a few of the releases actually had negative reviews written on them. I did pick up a few potential gems for myself (Tarnation, Ramsted, Julee Cruise and Flossie & the Unicorns) and suggested to a station manager that a few other CDs that I spotted be retained for the station.

Sam pointed out that only about 50% of the DJs actually use the KSCU record library, with many bringing in their own music and laptops full of digital files. However, she emphasized that the DJs who do use the library often dig deep, playing both vinyl and sub-genres.

Beyond the music library, DJs are also increasingly turning to You Tube, often playing videos over the air because, as Lauren pointed out, "It's easier to find video on You Tube" than to find a track on an album or CD. Lauren quickly added that she still prefers playing CDs, especially since material at the station always includes a profanity guide. Sam concurred and pointed out that the sound quality of You Tube videos is inferior and said, "computers will always fail." She said that she thinks that DJs should know how to play CDs and that they also need to be trained to check for swears on any material that they play over the radio.

Local '80s Vinyl in KSCU's Studio Library 
(Note the scrawled reference to rival college radio station KFJC!)

KSCU does add digital music and Sam said that it's particularly important when people at the station are itching to play brand new material that hasn't arrived at the station on CD yet. Sam said, "You wanna get bands out there."

Part of the goal of KSCU is to expose listeners to new music and DJs are supposed to play 5 new adds (called "clocks" at KSCU) each hour. Sam said that if DJs are just bringing in their own music to play, then they are "bound to have the same show from week to week" and said that that isn't "helping your listeners."

Sam and Lauren told me that they are really excited about the station's new location for a number of reasons. First of all, they are in the basement of The Benson Center on campus (in the former Housing Office for Santa Clara University), adjacent to the offices of other student organizations and the campus bookstore. Upstairs from the station is the main eating area for campus dorm-dwellers, so there's a lot of foot traffic in and out of the building.

The KSCU Studio (formerly a Law Library study area) has a large window facing a hallway, so people walking by can actually see DJs doing their shows. Sam said that this makes the station seem "way more friendly" for both DJs and prospective DJs. Lauren said that when she was a new DJ it was an "adventure" trying to get into the old station and that often she had to sneak in because access was so regulated. Being in the Student Center, KSCU is a lot more visible to students and this new location may be part of the reason why they received more applications from potential managers for Fall 2010.

 Mailboxes Retained from Old Station Add a Bit of Funk to the New KSCU

The large office for all of the station managers is also a plus to them because it makes for a more collaborative environment. Lauren said, "it provides a sense of community" and is a "bigger space for music meetings." When I asked them what they missed about the old location, Sam said, "The Studio door" and "the posters" and Lauren mentioned all of the "stickers...the history." They actually hung onto the old sticker-covered Studio door and are hoping to use it at the new station, perhaps crafting it into a table.

Old KSCU Studio Door, February 2009

KSCU's Music Library is now housed in a hallway outside of the station offices (jazz and blues) and in the Studio itself. The collection contains CDs, vinyl LPs, and 7" vinyl and includes separate libraries for blues, jazz, soundtracks, compilations, and reggae. The main CD library includes rock, electronic, hip hop, blues, and heavy metal.

KSCU's New Couch

One downside of the new station location is that they have to abide by the operating hours of the Benson Center. During the summer, they can be in the studio from 7am to 7pm on weekdays and from 9am to 6pm on weekends. This means that KSCU can't have live DJs at night and can't physically be in the building for meetings during those hours. In the fall those hours get extended, so they will be able to be in the building until 1 or 2am. So, for late night programming they will be either be using automation (which they did during overnight shifts in the past), KSCU-crafted compilation CDs containing legal IDs, or pre-recorded shows.

Vinyl at KSCU

When I stopped by on a Thursday afternoon, DJ Innalect was in the studio doing his very first show at KSCU. I would have never guessed that he was a brand new DJ, as he seemed quite at home on the air. I was also pleased to see his comfort with vinyl, as he pulled music from several crates of LPs that he brought with him. Hopefully he (and his fellow DJs) will continue to dive deep into the KSCU record library, as it is still an amazing resource for the station.

Thanks so much to Lauren and Sam for touring me around the new KSCU. I hope the new location does them well!

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
Radio Station Field Trip 14 - KFJC at Foothill College
Radio Station Field Trip 15 - UC Santa Cruz Station KZSC
Radio Station Field Trip 16 - Haverford College Station WHRC
Radio Station Field Trip 17 - FCCFree Radio in San Francisco
Radio Station Field Trip 18 - Flirt FM in Galway, Ireland
Radio Station Field Trip 19 - RXP 101.9 FM in New York City
Radio Station Field Trip 20- WGBK at Glenbrook South High School
Radio Station Field Trip 21 - KPDO in Pescadero, California 
Radio Station Field Trip 22 - KZYX in Philo, California 
Radio Station Field Trip 23 - San Francisco's Pirate Cat Radio 

No comments: