Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Radio Station Field Trip 37 - KCSF at City College of San Francisco

KCSF at City College of San Francisco (Photo: J. Waits)

I pride myself on my vast knowledge of college radio and thought that I was particularly schooled in all of the local college radio options in my home town of San Francisco. I even went so far as to proclaim that there were only two college radio stations in the city of San Francisco (KUSF and KSFS). Well, a few weeks ago I found out that I was wrong.

Broadcasting at City College of San Francisco (Photo: J. Waits)

An email came through my inbox that mentioned KCSF at City College of San Francisco. Instantly intrigued, I quickly got in touch with the station's Program Director Matias Godinez in order to arrange a visit. On September 14, I walked over to City College in order to learn more about this mysterious online radio station. Godinez acknowledged that the station is growing, but that "most people have never heard of us."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Radio Station Field Trip 36 - WIBN in Oxford, Indiana

WIBN sign (Photo: J. Waits)

During the family vacation portion of my trip to the midwest this summer, we took a drive from Chicago to Turkey Run State Park in Indiana. Along the way back to Chicago on the afternoon of Thursday, August 2, we traversed through small towns off the main highway.

Ode to Dan Patch on Oxford, Indiana water tower (Photo: J. Waits)

In the town of Oxford, Indiana, I was mesmerized by the mysterious "Dan Patch 1:55" sign atop a roof. As we drove through the town square, my husband spotted a sign for a radio station. We continued on our way and stopped to take a look at a Dan Patch tribute along the side of the road (it turns out that he was a horse made famous for a record-breaking 1:55 minute mile). After we'd solved the Dan Patch mystery, my mind turned back to the radio station that we'd just passed. Promising my family that it would be a quick trip, I asked them if it would be OK if we stopped by the radio station to see if anyone was there. They surprisingly agreed.    

Radio Station Field Trip 35 - Radio DePaul

Radio DePaul signage (Photo: J. Waits)

I spent part of my summer vacation in Chicago and was able to see a few radio stations there leading up to and following my trip to Urbana-Champaign for the Grassroots Radio Conference. On Monday, July 30, 2012, I visited DePaul University's online-only student radio station Radio DePaul. Since it was summer vacation, the dorm (University Hall) that houses Radio DePaul was technically closed to the public. General Manager Scott Vyverman met me at the front door of the building and took me down to the station's home in the basement.

University Hall, the home of Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits)

Vyverman couldn't tell me much about the history of Radio DePaul, but he guessed that radio had been a feature of campus life for maybe 25 years. He said, "the early history is a little murky." Apparently there's never been a licensed station on campus and prior to Radio DePaul going internet-only, radio was broadcast through carrier current (using the call letters WRDP on 640 AM) or local cable at the Catholic university. When Vyverman arrived at the station in fall 2001, the station was already using the name Radio DePaul and he said that at that time nobody knew where the old carrier current transmitters were.

Radio DePaul is part of the university's College of Communication, which means that the station is intertwined with course work as well. The station is 100% students, although faculty can also be on the air.

Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits)

The station moved to its current location on Clifton Avenue in summer 2005 from McGaw Hall. Vyverman told me that Radio DePaul inhabits a space that formerly housed an old dorm lunch room. When they remodeled the space to suit the needs of the station, they opted to keep the old lunch counter and rolling metal gate. The music and promotions departments have their offices behind the counter and the gate is now emblazoned with a painting of a boom box.

Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits)

Although it was summer vacation, a number of Radio DePaul volunteers were hanging out at the station. It's a neat and organized space and Vyverman even joked a bit about his high standards for order at the station. A mural ("Timeless Vibrations") painted in 2007 lines one full wall and pillars throughout the lobby are painted with blackboard paint. Musicians and station guests are invited to use chalk to sign the pillars.

Awards at Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits)

A trophy case in the hallway of the station contains various awards earned by Radio DePaul and other awards line the nearby walls. Vyverman said that one award in particular, the 2010 Best Station in the Nation award from Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS) "changed everything." He said that their standing on campus shifted and they've been able to get more funding for the station after receiving that recognition.

CD Library in Main Studio at Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits) 

In terms of programming, Radio DePaul plays a blend of music that includes indie, hip hop, and metal. They also have live news shows, arts programming (including a poetry show and a program run by the writing center), live sports, and live remote broadcasts.

Recently Radio DePaul was one of the first college radio stations added to Clear Channel's iHeartRadio app. Although some college stations shied away from partnering with Clear Channel, Vyverman said that it's allowed them to increase the number of listeners. He said, "We're now heard on the most popular radio app in the world." He told me that with more than 100 people volunteering at Radio DePaul, it's important for him to ensure that there is a good listener base. Vyverman recounted his own college radio days, telling me that he remembered heading to his station at 3am in order to be on the air. He said that for many student DJs, the time they spend on the air is "the best two hours of their week."

Main studio at Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits) 

Nathan Brue, Radio DePaul's outgoing Program Director said that it's important to attract DJs who are "passionate" and admitted that one of his mantras at the station is to "keep it weird." Vyverman agreed, saying that they are "committed to diversity." Brue told me that he had hosted a progressive rock show on Radio DePaul in which he "tried to balance...classics...with modern counterparts." He explained that doing the show was an education for him, even though he'd had a head start since he grew up hearing his dad play songs and records from that genre, including "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Tubular Bells."

Events Listings at Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits)

At Radio DePaul they strive to be on the air at the minimum from 10am to 10pm. By the end of spring semester 2012, the schedule was filled with shows from 8am to 2am Mondays through Thursdays and from 8am to midnight on Fridays. Weekend shows tended to end by midnight. During the school year the building is open all night, so the station is not restricted in terms of broadcast hours. They shut Radio DePaul down over winter break and put the station on automation. In the past they had to do that over the summer as well, but they've been able to work out an arrangement with the school so that they can continue operating during summer break. I was told that DePaul is mostly a commuter school, so there are plenty of students around to fill shifts over the summer.

Equipment in Radio DePaul's main studio (Photo: J. Waits)

Brue said that for the most part DJs are playing music off of their computers. Radio DePaul has a digital library full of 13,241 tracks (the first track digitized was the Beastie Boys "Triple Trouble"), and about half of the music that comes into the station today is digital. They will also rip CDs to add to the library. Although Radio DePaul does get sent some vinyl, the station has no turntables on which to play vinyl. I was told that they rarely get sent cassettes, although they do have a double cassette deck in their studio (as well as 2 CD players and a mini disc player).

Many of the shows on Radio DePaul are archived and the Radio DePaul website hosts podcasts of live performances. Vyverman told me that he'd like to add some original podcast programming and said that he was planning to hire someone who would be dedicated to overseeing the station's podcast programming. Additionally, Radio DePaul is utilizing multimedia features and has videos and photos posted on their website. A webcam also captures all the action in the studio.

Thanks so much to everyone at Radio DePaul for the lovely tour of the station.

Radio DePaul (Photo: J. Waits)

See a complete list of all of my Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Radio Station Field Trip 34 - WRFU in Urbana, Illinois

Sign at WRFU (Photo: J. Waits)

This summer I was able to visit six radio stations in the midwest during my travels out there in July for the Grassroots Radio Conference. The easiest field trip to orchestrate was to community radio station WRFU-LP 104.5 FM. Located at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, the site of this year's Grassroots Radio Conference, WRFU is a sliver of a station nestled within a historic post office.

Entrance to WRFU (Photo: J. Waits)

WRFU first went on the air November 13, 2005. According to Station Manager Raymond Morales,

"Anyone can have a show on the air as long as they are trained, paid members, FCC compliant and not promoting hate speech. Otherwise, whatever the community wants to put on the air, we try to facilitate. It doesn't matter whether it is left or right, music or talk, atheist or religious. We are merely a channel (get it?). We are the easiest radio station to join and we represent a diverse group of voices across the community."

WRFU Studio (Photo: J. Waits)

The station airs a range of music, public affairs (in English and Spanish), and sports programs. Music shows include hip hop, dance, blues, world, gospel, experimental, jazz, R&B, and indie pop.  Public affairs programs run the gamut, ranging from a show about bike culture, to a political talk show, to programs focused on environmental topics. A number of these shows (including Radio Bilingue) are syndicated programs produced elsewhere.

WRFU board (Photo: J. Waits)

The low power FM station is a project of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center and according to its mission statement:

"WRFU is a progressive radio station collective committed to social justice, focusing on public affairs issues and the arts. WRFU airs opinions and debates in an open and diverse forum that focuses on educating and empowering the public. WRFU provides an accessible venue for an eclectic mixture of arts programming."

WRFU Studio (Photo: J. Waits)

In addition to WRFU, the Independent Media Center includes meeting space, an event/concert space with a stage, production equipment, a computer lab, and a library.

CD Library at WRFU (Photo: J. Waits)

Throughout the Grassroots Radio Conference, I would wander by WRFU and for the most part there was no sign of volunteers at the station. They did hold some WRFU studio training sessions as part of the conference program. Additionally, an entry on the conference schedule stated that, "Throughout the weekend, WRFU will be broadcasting content from the GRC on the air. Stop on by to get acquainted with the station, drop off an audio file to play, or do an interview.  Don’t be shy!"

Sign on window at WRFU (Photo: J. Waits)

Since the station was largely unoccupied (despite the above sign on the window that read "Station Occupation"), I asked one of the organizers if it would be OK for me to take a look around. I wandered about in the cozy studio, snapped some photos, and took in the view. WRFU has a glass window that faces a row of post boxes that border an active hallway that leads into the main part of the Independent Media Center. From a DJ's perch in the studio, he or she has a prime view of everyone coming into the building.

WRFU Studio (Photo: J. Waits)

With this visit to WRFU, I wrapped up my mini tour of radio stations in Champaign-Urbana. I didn't manage to see all of them (I would have liked to have seen the other college radio station in town - WPCD at Parkland College), but I was happy to see a broad range of stations.

Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (Photo: J. Waits)

See a complete list of all of my Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Radio Station Field Trip 33 - WEFT in Champaign, Illinois

Entrance to WEFT (Photo: J. Waits)

During my trip to the mid-west this summer for the Grassroots Radio Conference, I was able to tour a number of radio stations. My first stop was WLUW in Chicago, then I visited WPGU in Champaign, followed by a visit to community radio station WEFT in Champaign.

Historic advertising on the lobby wall at WEFT (Photo: J. Waits)

WEFT 90.1 FM is a community radio station located in downtown Champaign, Illinois. WEFT's first FM broadcast was in 1981 (following a launch over cable FM in 1980) and by 1988 WEFT was broadcasting at 10,000 watts of power.

Paul Riismandel in the WEFT record library (Photo: J. Waits)

My friend Paul Riismandel was a former DJ and volunteer at WEFT from 1994 to 2008, so he helped arrange my visit to the station on Saturday, July 28, 2012. We met up with Paul's friend Mick Woolf, who is the Station Manager at WEFT. Woolf drove us over to WEFT, which was empty when we arrived.

Public Service Announcement bin at WEFT (photo: J. Waits)

WEFT owns the building that it's housed in and faces a main street in town. The studio is near the entrance to the building and behind that is a large open space containing the record library. According to Woolf, there are about 40,000 CDs in the library. He told me that they moved the vinyl out of the library because it wasn't being played as much and they were having trouble with broken equipment on the turntables. He said that they got rid of most of the vinyl collection, but held on to a portion of it which is housed upstairs.

Main studio at WEFT (Photo: J. Waits)

Riismandel shared his perspective about WEFT with me. He told me that it's largely a volunteer organization, saying,

"What makes WEFT unique is that it is very volunteer driven, with only one full-time staff member and a couple other part-time staff. It serves a somewhat transient small university community of just over 100,000, which means there's a fair amount of turnover and, therefore change in programming, especially compared to community stations in larger cities."

Music genre list at WEFT (Photo: J. Waits)

WEFT currently airs a mix of music and public affairs programming, including some syndicated shows as well as programs produced by local volunteers. Music genres represented include jazz, blues, lounge, electronica, experimental, Celtic, goth, industrial, and rock. There's also a local music show called Local 901.

Riismandel explained the station's music philosophy and told me,

"The station makes a strong commitment to American music like Jazz and Blues, which has been historically popular and strong in Champaign-Urbana due to its location on the way between Chicago and Memphis. At the same time, so-called 'world music' is also a strong component of its programming due to the very international and cosmopolitan nature of the community around the University of Illinois. As well, WEFT has a long lasting music program, where bands come in to play live on air, which has been running for over 20 years."

Sign in WEFT music library (Photo: J. Waits)

Since my visit was timed with the Grassroots Radio Conference, it's also fitting that WEFT has been active in the broader culture of community radio. Riismandel told me, "WEFT has a significant place in the history of community radio, as...one of the first Pacifica affiliates, as well as one of the first stations to air Democracy Now and Free Speech Radio News."

Artifacts in the WEFT library (Photo: J. Waits)

Since WEFT was DJ-less on the day that we visited, Woolf asked if we'd like to get on the air. Riismandel quickly got set up in the studio, grabbed some headphones, and turned on the microphone. He invited me to join him and we spent about half an hour chatting about the Grassroots Radio Conference. It was much like Riismandel's former "Media Geek" program, which aired on WEFT from 2002 to 2008 (and on WNUR from 2008 to 2010). On that show, Riismandel featured news, commentary and interviews about various topics in the media.

After our impromptu interview, we turned the studio back over to automation and raced back to the conference.

Thanks to Paul and Mick for the great tour of WEFT!

Board in WEFT main studio (Photo: J. Waits)

See a complete list of all of my Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips here.