Saturday, July 20, 2013

Radio Station Field Trip 47 - KPSU at Portland State University

 KPSU at Portland State University (photo: J. Waits)

When I was in Portland, Oregon for the fabulous What is Radio? conference in April, I was lucky to be able to arrange for field trips to a handful of college and community radio stations. The bulk of my radio station touring happened on Thursday, April 25, right after I arrived in town from the airport. My first visit was to community radio station KBOO (more on that in a future post) and then I journeyed to see college radio stations KLC at Lewis and Clark College and KRRC at Reed College.

Student Union at Portland State University (photo: J. Waits)

My final stop for the day was KPSU at Portland State University. The bustling urban setting was quite different from the bucolic environment at KLC and KRRC. Although the building housing KPSU (the student union) was easy to find on a main street in Portland, the station itself was hidden in a labyrinth-like sub-basement (apparently dubbed "the dungeons" on campus).

Walking into the sub-basement of the Student Union at Portland State (photo: J. Waits)

After walking in circles on the floor above, I was given wrong directions by student workers at the café that is situated directly above KPSU. Eventually I found the secret stairway that took me down to KPSU. The station was buzzing with activity, with numerous staff members and DJs hanging out in the spacious lobby. My visit coincided with the beginning of a big fundraising push for KPSU, as the station hopes to raise enough money in order to apply for a low power FM license in the fall. KPSU is currently online and on low power campus FM at 98.1 FM after losing an AM time-share contract with Portland Public Schools in 2010.

Newspaper article touting KPSU's dreams of FM (photo: J. Waits)

KPSU's Station Manager Jay Turk guided me on a tour of the station and explained to me why the spring fundraising efforts, dubbed Radio Revival, were so critical. The series of events included a trivia night, all ages music shows, an art show, and a Burger Records' band showcase. The flagship event on May 10th took place on the Willamette River aboard the Portland Spirit cruise ship. A couple of bands were slated to play at the event.

Radio Revival Posters (photo: J. Waits)

Turk said that LPFM is "the opportunity" for the station, as there could potentially be numerous LPFM signals available in Portland when the FCC opens the licensing window this October. Although Portland State has nearly 30,000 students, Turk said that it's been a challenge to gain new KPSU listeners on campus. The station has been working to get broadcasts heard in common buildings and I was told that it is played on the ground floor and basement level in the breezeway of the building where the station is located.

KPSU lobby (photo: J. Waits)

KPSU first began broadcasting on October 1, 1994 when it went on the air over KBPS 1450-AM in Portland. It is staffed entirely by Portland State students, with around 11 paid staff and between 60 and 70 DJs. The DJs are mostly students, although there are some alumni and community members who participate at KPSU. Currently there's a limit on the number of alumni DJs, with only 20% of the shows going to non-students. I was told that there were only about 6 DJs who weren't students.

 Sticker-covered door at KPSU (photo: J. Waits)

Since the station is funded by student fees, it's not surprising that these policies are in place. Turk said that non-students are required to either pay a quarterly fee or bring in an equivalent amount of funding to the station through underwriting or other fundraising methods (such as throwing a station event). All student and community DJs are also required to volunteer at the station for at least 15 hours per quarter. Volunteer opportunities can be any work outside of one's show, including doing fill-in shifts, working events, etc.

1990s CDs at KPSU (photo: J. Waits)

As far as music, KPSU has a collection of CDs housed in metal file drawers. CDs are organized chronologically, based on when they were added to the station. The first CD in the drawer that I looked through was Etta James. Due to limited space, there was a recent project in which DJs went through the CD library and placed stars on items that they felt should remain in the collection. Criteria used included: 1) historical significance 2) excellent music and/or 3) a local artist. Items that had no stars after this process were taken out and put in storage or placed in the music office.

KPSU DJ Apprentice Checklist (photo: J. Waits)

After the CDs were gone through, there was more room available in the lobby. A week before my visit, some new couches were brought in to fill some of the space. Although a new vinyl cabinet was recently built, the station doesn't really have much in the way of vinyl records at the moment. I was told that the station had a bunch of "crap vinyl," most of which was disposed of.

New music in KPSU lobby (photo: J. Waits)

There is a person at the station who oversees the vinyl collection and they are charged with accumulating and buying vinyl records in order to beef up the library. Currently there are some DJs who bring in their own vinyl to play. The on-air studio has a range of equipment for DJs to use, including mini-disk, cassette player, CD players, turntables, computer, and various audio inputs.

New vinyl cabinet and couch in KPSU lobby (photo: J. Waits)

Housed in the basement with a number of different student publications and with the Portland State television station, KPSU has worked on some projects with its fellow campus media makers. In one instance, the station worked with the television folks in order to film a small concert.

DJ Cheeseburger Princess on the Air at KPSU (photo: J. Waits)

When I stopped by the station, DJ Cheeseburger Princess was on the air. He told me that he generally plays music for his show off of his laptop or he brings in cassette tapes. Interestingly, he doesn't play vinyl or CDs. When no DJ is in the studio, a rudimentary automation system plays music on shuffle.

KPSU Radio Survival Guide for new DJs (photo: J. Waits)

I had a great time visiting KPSU and was impressed by all of the enthusiasm for the upcoming LPFM window. I wish the station well and will be interested to see how it fares in the application process. Thanks to Jay Turk and all the DJs and staff at KPSU for showing me around.

I still have two more field trip reports to write up from my Portland visit, so be sure to come back to get more insight into the college and community radio scene there. Until then, here's a complete list of all of my Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips.  


jonthebru said...

It may be not be "Sexy" but I would like to know if a station is using an automation program to fill time which program they are using.

Theo Burke said...

Since this was written, we switched at KPSU from the old automixer to iMedia, and run it on an iMac. It gives us more flexibility with programming genres at different times, and plugging in more of our show promos.

Theo Burke
The Raging Moderate show
on, Thursdays 1pm