Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Radio Station Field Trip 46 - Urban Knights Radio at Academy of Art University in San Francisco

 Urban Knights Radio Entrance (photo: J. Waits)

When I was at the What is Radio? conference in Portland this April, I saw a presentation about a new college radio station at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I thought that I'd heard references to this station before, but it didn't really register with me until after I'd seen the presentation. Soon after the event I was put in touch with Matty Staudt, the radio station manager for student radio station Urban Knights Radio and we quickly arranged a time for me to stop by to see the station.

Academy of Art in Downtown San Francisco (photo: J. Waits)

During lunchtime on Wednesday, June 19th I headed to downtown San Francisco in order to visit Urban Knights Radio. The Academy of Art has campuses sprinkled all over the city, with the radio station inhabiting a building on New Montgomery Street. It's not far from Market Street, SFMOMA, and a brand new 7-11 (which is a rare sight in San Francisco)

Glamor Shots of Urban Knights Radio in the Multimedia Communications School Hallway (photo: J.Waits)

After arriving on campus, I met up with Staudt for a tour of the facilities. He told me that he's been at Academy of Art for about a year and a half. Before he arrived there wasn't a radio station, but there was a podcasting class. Since his arrival they've built up the radio station and have also expanded the number of radio-related courses (last semester there were 4 radio classes). He said that it's been exciting to grow the program and that he's noticing that it's helping to create not only buzz for radio on campus, but that it's also "created a passion" for radio among students.

Cart at Urban Knights Radio (photo: J.Waits)

The growth of the radio station has also helped to broaden the School of Multimedia Communications, which Staudt said was more focused on television initially. Originally dubbed K-ART (like the campus television station), the station name was changed to Urban Knights Radio in order to align itself more closely with a familiar campus identity (the school mascot is the Urban Knight). The Director of the Multimedia Communications School, Jan Yanehiro (who has a long history in San Francisco radio and television) also pointed out that "the days of K-Something are gone" and that for students who listen online, call letters aren't all that meaningful.

Matty Staudt holds up his namesake "Matti" the Car (photo: J. Waits)

Staudt explained that Urban Knights Radio has more of a commercial radio slant than some other college radio stations. For one thing, it's online-only, so they are able to run commercials if they'd like. Additionally, Staudt comes from a commercial radio background (he continues to work in commercial radio today and hosts the syndicated talk show "Your Straight Male Friend"). He told me that this is actually his first college radio experience, as he worked in commercial radio while he was a college student. In his early days of classic rock radio he was known as "Matt the Ripper." However, his favorite thing to come out of radio was getting the opportunity to provide voice-over in the animated film Cars. After hearing Staudt on a local morning show, Pixar's John Lasseter brought him in to be the voice of Matti the car.

Urban Knights Radio Lobby (photo: J. Waits)

Urban Knights Radio is housed in a large room containing studios and recording booths (aka "vocal booths") around the perimeter, a conference table in the center, and a couch along a side wall. A relatively barren metal cabinet on the front wall has a smattering of stickers. The on-air studio (studio 1) and the production booths are modular, pre-built units, which I'd never seen at a station before. Coincidentally, I saw a similar booth a short time later when I visited KALW (a modular production booth is in its workroom).

Cabinet at Urban Knights Radio. I Added the KFJC Sticker (photo: J. Waits)

Urban Knights Radio really ramped up this spring as it was the first semester that the station had a radio staff. Twelve students took on roles across a range of departments, including music and promotions. The station staff is reflective of the geographically diverse student body, with folks from California, China, Chicago, New York, and Hawaii. Another big accomplishment this year was the station's successful hosting of campus events. Every other Tuesday the station hosts a live band or musician in the studio and Academy of Art students are invited to attend. Dubbed Tuesday Tunes, this regular event has featured 3 Ring Simian, Apple Stache, Burnt and others.

Production Booth (Studio 2) at Urban Knights Radio (photo: J. Waits)

Although the Academy of Art doesn't have a traditional college campus feel since it's spread out all over San Francisco, Urban Knights Radio managed to attract around 150 attendees to a radio station launch event in April. Staudt said that he was also thrilled when he heard about a student coming to Academy of Art after hearing Urban Knights Radio. The student from Maryland didn't end up getting involved with the station, but did take a radio class.

Tuesday Tunes Poster (photo: J. Waits)

The station also helps promote campus pride by airing sporting events, including men's and women's basketball. Staudt pointed out that many people are unaware that the Academy of Art has some high performing NCAA Division II sports teams.

Spring 2013 Schedule (photo: J. Waits)

In addition to sports, Urban Knights Radio airs a mix of music and talk shows, including a talk show in Mandarin, a Food Truck review show, and a program called "The Vegan Vixen." Staudt said that it's a huge benefit to have a large number of international students on campus. He added that there are quite a few students from Saudi Arabia and he hopes to have a show reflecting that culture soon. Music played closely aligns with bands on the CMJ charts and includes a range of rock, pop, hip hop, top 40, country, and local music. He said that any genre of music is welcome and added that he'd love to have more diversity.

On-Air Booth (Studio 1) at Urban Knights Radio (photo: J. Waits)

There is no physical music library at Urban Knights Radio and DJs play all digital music, some of it obtained from CMJ's monthly music downloads. However, there is a cassette deck and mini disc player in the main studio (mainly for an archiving project), as well as CD drives on a computer. Although there are no turntables, Staudt said that he's hoping that some students involved with DJ culture will do shows and bring in their own.

Cassette Deck in On-Air Studio at Urban Knights Radio (photo: J. Waits)

Any Academy of Art student may volunteer at Urban Knights Radio and it's not necessary to take radio classes in order to participate. Students do need to be trained on Audition and they also need to have a "fully formed show idea" in order to get a regular program.

There's the Couch (and a comfy chair!) at Urban Knights Radio (photo: J. Waits)

The summer schedule is a bit spare as there are only three DJs in town. A few shows air live, but for the most part this summer the schedule is made up of pre-recorded programming (or repeats of live shows). Staudt said that by the fall he's hoping for at least 12 hours of live programming a week.

Script spotted in Studio 3 Production Studio (photo: J. Waits)

Staudt told me that although live shows are important, he's also very focused on where radio is headed and he sees that as "on-demand" radio. Several programs have archived podcasts on the Urban Knights Radio website. Staudt was an early staffer at the mobile podcasting app Stitcher and said that through that connection, many Urban Knights shows are available on that platform. He explained, "You can't just be a DJ anymore." He said that it's critical that his students know how to market their shows by doing research, creating podcasts, and utilizing RSS. One project on deck this year is a collaboration with a marketing class in which students will work to create a marketable podcast. He'd also like to do more with the station's sports broadcasts and is hoping to create a specific sports radio course. Although commercial radio has its challenges, Staudt told me, "sports radio is booming."

An actual radio at Urban Knights Radio (photo: J. Waits)

Although there aren't many students at Urban Knights Radio who own terrestrial radios, Staudt said that he is investigating the possibility of applying for a terrestrial license, particularly in light of the upcoming LPFM licensing window this fall. He said that not many Academy of Art students have cars and that hardly any currently listen to AM or FM radio. Despite that, students at Urban Knights Radio are getting the radio bug. Staudt told me, "I can't tell you how excited they are about radio." He's also very invested in helping his students find employment after graduating. He's already working on connecting students with internship opportunities at commercial radio stations in town, as well as giving them tips on how to be a desirable job candidate in today's radio market. Staudt said that it's critical that today's students become "capable content providers" as that's where the jobs are. He told me that there's a desperate need for good audio and video content and if students can do that as well as be good "social networkers" and "brand builders," then they will be in good shape.

Board in On-Air Booth (photo: J. Waits)

As far as connecting with their college radio peers, Urban Knights Radio did an interesting project this year in which they shared an edited collage of an "hour in the life" of the station's programming with Limerick College in Ireland. A bit closer to home, it's hoped that students from Urban Knights Radio may be able to start attending college radio conferences in the United States soon.

View from Studio 3 Production Studio (photo: J. Waits)

Thanks to Matty Staudt and everyone at Urban Knights Radio and at the Multimedia Communications School for the grand tour of your facilities. My visit definitely opened my eyes to another hidden radio station in San Francisco and I can't wait to see what this young student radio station has in store during the 2013-2014 school year.

I'm working on finishing all of my field trip reports from this year, so be sure to come back to read the remainder of my Portland station reports as well as one more San Francisco Bay Area visit. Until then, here's a complete list of all of my Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips

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