Monday, May 6, 2013

Radio Station Field Trip 43 - KLC at Lewis and Clark College

KLC Radio at Lewis and Clark College (photo: J. Waits)

I was recently in Portland, Oregon for the What is Radio? conference. While there, I decided to set some extra time aside so that I could visit a bunch of non-commercial radio stations. Upon my arrival on April 25, my first stop was KBOO (more on that in a future post). Following that impromptu visit, the next stop on my whirlwind day of station visits was KLC at Lewis and Clark College. After leaving KBOO, I traversed over bridges and found my way to the beautiful wooded campus in southwest Portland. Thanks to some very detailed directions provided by KLC General Manager Shannon Boerner, I easily found the station.

KLC Entrance (photo: J. Waits)

Located in the Templeton Campus Center at Lewis and Clark, KLC is just past the entrance to the building near a student lounge area. Windows in the on-air studio and a windowed door to the lobby face the hallways of the building, so passersby can see into the station. The station has been in its current location since 1995 (it was in the basement of the building prior to that).   

KLC Poster on Station Wall (photo: J. Waits)

Although the station is currently online-only, in its early days (in the 1950s) it was an AM carrier current station and by the 1980s it broadcast over unlicensed low power FM. A story from Lewis and Clark's Chronicle magazine gives a recap of the first ever station reunion and open house in 2010 and provides a nice overview of the history of KLC (including vintage photos). More photos of the reunion can be seen here.

View into KLC lobby from front entrance (photo: J. Waits)

Today, KLC is made up of a crew of around 130 DJs who do more than 70 live shows from around 9am until around 1am. During times when there is no DJ in the studio, an automated system can play material from the station's digital music library. Most programs have multiple DJs. The large number of volunteer DJs is even more impressive considering that Lewis and Clark has a student population of around 2000. Students are required to live on campus for their first two years, so many of the DJs are freshmen and sophomores. KLC's Events Coordinator Emily VanKoughnett said that joining the station can be a great way for new students to "integrate with the school." She added, "we like people who are excited about music."

Nick Pimentel chats with the on-air DJ in KLC studio (photo: J. Waits)

VanKoughnett told me that most students are aware of KLC, in part because the station throws "cool concerts" and also because it's that "weird room" in the student center. Another KLC manager, Nick Pimentel said that the student center location helps them tremendously since every student has to come through the building in order to collect their mail. When I arrived at the station entrance, a campus tour guide was leading people past KLC, so I can attest to the fact that even prospective students are made aware of college radio at Lewis and Clark.

Painting on wall in KLC Studio (photo: J. Waits)

KLC is 100% student-run, but the station does have some faculty members hosting radio shows (including music and talk shows). Additionally, a school staff member from the Student Activities office is a liaison with the station and a former DJ (who doesn't work at Lewis and Clark) serves as the station's adviser.

Sign on door to KLC Recording Studio (photo: J. Waits)

In addition to the radio station, KLC also maintains its own recording studio, which was established in 2011. Pimentel, who is a recording studio engineer as well as the coordinator for KLC's annual music festival (The Sunburn Festival), showed me around the space. He said that they've recorded a number of student bands and also do the tracking and mixing in the studio. It's still a work in progress and there are plans to add more inputs, get new microphones, and add better soundproofing (when we were in the studio we could hear sound bleeding in from the on-air studio). Currently when bands play on-air at the station, they will set up in the recording studio while the singer performs in the on-air studio.

Sunburn Festival Poster at KLC (photo: J. Waits)

KLC is familiar to many students because it hosts The Sunburn Festival on campus every year. A Lewis and Clark tradition since 1987, KLC's annual spring music festival has brought an array of emerging and prominent bands to campus. This year's event, hosted by KLC in March, featured Born Ruffians, Sandpeople, and The Dancing Hats (a student band which was recently recorded at the KLC recording studio). Other bands who've played in recent years have included the Thermals, Mt. Eerie, Akron Family and Gogol Bordello. In the '90s bands like Modest Mouse and Heat Miser (Elliott Smith) played the festival.

Umbrella promotion on the wall at KLC (photo: J. Waits)

KLC also has its own "music and oddities publication," The Umbrella. Currently a blog format on Tumblr, The Umbrella features music content, including band interviews and details about upcoming shows.

KLC Recording Studio (photo: J. Waits)

As we talked, Pimentel pointed out the freshly painted walls in the recording studio, office, and in on-air studio. He said that there was a desire to spruce things up around the station as they were starting to bring in more outside guests (including professors). Although one could still spot graffiti on many of the walls, the station make-over masked some of that with the brightly painted colors.

Sign at the entrance to the music library, aka "the Cave" (photo: J. Waits)

KLC gets sent a lot of physical music, but only occasionally gets vinyl these days. The station has the ability to play vinyl, but not cassettes. Much of the physical music library is housed in a large closet that's known as the Cave. Boerner told me, "a lot of people are intrigued by this room." In fact, some DJs who have taken a particular interest in delving into the music collection in the Cave, highlighting its hidden gems on the shows "Cave Diving" and "Spelunking Hour" (on this show a DJ picks a random CD from the cave to play).

Boerner shows one of the more intriguing 7"s in the Cave (photo: J. Waits)

Some material from the Cave will also get reintroduced to DJs by its placement on a special shelf in the station lobby. Boerner told me that she'd like to get more music storage in the studio so that DJs don't have to come to the lobby or Cave when they want to grab music to play. As we were chatting, I saw an example of that, as the on-air DJ raced past us to find a piece of music during his shift.

Vinyl and CDs in the Cave (photo: J. Waits)

Shows at KLC are an eclectic mix of sounds and include both talk shows and music shows. Current DJs play a range of genres, including folk, rock, electronic, punk, country, and hip hop. Pimentel said that overall the station is there to "introduce people" to material that they haven't heard before. VanKoughnett said that many of the genre shows delve into "weird pockets" of music and she mentioned that one of her favorites was a late-night metal program that explored the "weirdest areas of metal," including orchestral metal. Pimentel said that another program is half jazz and half classical. Its two hosts divide up the show based on their personal areas of expertise.

Vinyl stacked in station lobby (photo: J. Waits)

Another show, "Album of the Week," has been on the air for 2 years, playing an album in its entirety every week. Often guests will come in (including professors) to talk about their favorite albums. Pimentel said that the goal of the show is to "preserve the artistry of the album in full length." He told me that he was on the show as a guest and during his stint he chose to feature a Van Morrison album.

Wall at KLC (photo: J. Waits)

VanKoughnett said that she doesn't feel like they have any restrictions as far as content goes and added that KLC supports "crazy cool ideas." On her program she makes food with her co-host and then plays songs about food. I asked her how she finds the songs and she said that she'll do google searches (for example "nacho lyrics") to find music related to the food.

On-air DJ in KLC studio (photo: J. Waits)

While I was there, the on-air DJ read from an academic text over the air and then played John Cage's silent track 4:33'. Over the air he made a wise-crack about why he opted to play the piece and seemed to relish the opportunity to mess with his listeners. He and the others at KLC said that they enjoyed the freedom of being a non-FCC-licensed online-only station. Not only does it free them up from rules about profanity, but it also allows them to have regular listeners in faraway places like China, Egypt and Germany.

7" record from box in on-air studio (photo: J. Waits)

In reflecting back on the days of terrestrial broadcasts at Lewis and Clark, Boerner said that the old low power 104.1 FM signal couldn't even reach students in the dorms on campus. She told me that they had found old listening surveys from the 1980s that indicated that even people in the building directly across the courtyard from the station couldn't hear it.

Couch in KLC lobby. Office is behind the door. (photo: J. Waits)

Pimentel and Boerner told me that they had recently returned from the Northwest College Radio Conference. Hosted by Oregon State University station KBVR, the conference brought together college radio stations from all over Oregon for panels, presentations, and live music. They told me that this was apparently the first time in 19 years that this conference had taken place and both expressed that it was a great opportunity to learn from other stations.

LPs in the KLC cave (photo: J. Waits)

One of the ideas that they picked up at the conference (a points system for DJs) will actually be implemented in the fall. DJs will earn points for various station tasks and these points can be utilized for rewards, such as tickets to shows. They both said that they hoped that there will be future opportunities to get together with DJs from other college radio stations.

Door to KLC office (photo: J. Waits)

Thanks so much to everyone at KLC for talking to me about radio at Lewis and Clark. In the coming weeks I will share field trip reports from four more stations in Portland, Oregon. In the meantime, see a complete list of all of my Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips here.

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