Sunday, August 3, 2014

Radio Station Field Trip 24.5 - Radio Valencia in San Francisco

Radio Valencia Banner. Photo: J Waits
This summer, I decided that it was time to do a string of radio station visits in San Francisco. I recently wrote up my visits to KPOO, Mutiny Radio, and and in light of those field trips, I knew it was time to finally see Radio Valencia's new digs. Although I'd visited the station when it launched in 2010, it moved into a more central location in the Mission District two years ago.

View from Radio Valencia. Photo: J. Waits
So, on the afternoon of Friday, August 1st, I ventured to Radio Valencia to see the new (to me) space. The online-only community station is on the third floor of a building that faces bustling Mission Street. Nearby blocks reflect the eclectic and changing nature of San Francisco, with a variety of businesses, including loan shops, trendy restaurants, medical marijuana dispensaries, bars, banks, dilapidated old theaters, and residential buildings under construction. With the windows open in the lobby area of Radio Valencia, one can hear the sounds of buses going by, car horns, and pedestrian traffic.

John Hell at Radio Valencia. Photo: J. Waits
John Hell, who is one of the station's co-founders, caught me up on the new Radio Valencia. When I asked him why they moved, he told me that they "wanted a location that was more conducive to Mission traffic." He said that they looked at a lot of different locations and hoped for a place that either had a storefront or was high up, looking out on the street.

Radio Valencia Studio. Photo: J. Waits
The current location fulfills those dreams, with windows from both the lobby and studio facing Mission Street. The studio is fully soundproofed, which is especially important since their neighbors are an acupuncture studio and a yoga studio. It's also a much larger space than in their former location, allowing for room for couches and a record library.

Radio Coyote Host Sweet Jesus in the Radio Valencia Studio. Photo: J. Waits
Radio Valencia has a staff of around 100 people and its schedule is made up of approximately 80 weekly shows, most of which occupy 2-hour slots. The schedule is pretty full, with live programs from 8am to 2am every day and 24 hours a day on weekends. John Hell said that there is "very little turnover" with DJs, so it can often be difficult for new people to get shows.

Radio Valencia Studio. Photo: J. Waits
As was the case back in 2010 when Radio Valencia was first starting out, the station is "run by committee." There's no General Manger, CEO, or owner. John Hell laughed when he said that he made that his "mandate." Although he was Program Director for the first three years, Radio Valencia now has a Program Committee of 7 people. That committee decides collectively on programming decisions, such as evaluating program proposals from new DJs. There are no mandatory meetings for the staff at large and station communication happens via an online group.

Radio Valencia Lobby. Photo: J. Waits
One thing that's changed since Radio Valencia first started is that there are now even more online-only radio stations in San Francisco, including and KUSF-in-Exile (aka San Francisco Community Radio). With that in mind, I asked Hell how Radio Valencia is different from the other streaming radio options. He said that one thing that he thinks sets them apart is that the people who started Radio Valencia had deep roots in San Francisco Bay Area non-commercial radio and in the "underground arts and entertainment scene." He said that those connections have been a "huge asset" for the station.

Sticker-covered Fridge at Radio Valencia. Photo: J. Waits
Hell said that they aren't "trying to sound like anyone else," but that he did take a great deal of inspiration from KFJC, where he used to DJ (and where I continue to volunteer and host a show). Like KFJC, he said that Radio Valencia asks DJs to challenge themselves and challenge their listeners musically.

CDs at Radio Valencia. Photo: J. Waits
Some of the current shows on Radio Valencia play metal, Bakersfield country, soundtrack music, Latin Alternative, sound collage, avant jazz, underground psych, punk, soul, and electronic music. There are several programs that focus on playing vinyl, as well as one that plays 8-tracks. Radio Valencia has a turntable and CD players and some DJs bring in cassette players in order to play tapes. DJs can also play from digital sources.

A glimpse of the record library at Radio Valencia. Photo: J. Waits
Radio Valencia strives to air programs that feature music that can't be heard elsewhere and it also wants to have DJs that will contribute to the station in some way. DJs are asked to work on a committee, help with fundraising, and help with outreach. The station tries to get out into the community and has been a regular participant in Sunday Streets, broadcasting live from the neighborhood-focused festival. They've also used a mobile DJ unit to do live remotes from various venues, including Yoshi's. Additionally, they like to have guests come on the air, including musicians who will often perform live from the Radio Valencia studio.

Radio Valencia. Photo: J. Waits
Hell said that after KUSF left FM, there has been an increasing number of requests from bands, promoters and venues seeking promotion over the station. For that reason, Radio Valencia is doing a lot more ticket giveaways and is also starting to co-present more shows at local venues.

Doll Head Adorning Computer Monitor at Radio Valencia. Photo: J. Waits
Many of the Radio Valencia DJs have previous radio experience from a wide range of stations, including KFJC, KPFA, and KUSF. With the mission of the station focused on representing underground music, art and alternative viewpoints, it's not surprising that there are some fascinating shows and hosts. Hell said, "there are a lot of awesome, oddball characters." He pointed out that there are several shows connected with the Church of the Subgenius (such as the Nose Hair Lint Glant program), for example, saying, "there's a weird, subversive side to what we are doing."

Remembering Hair Bands in the Radio Valencia Lounge. Photo: J. Waits
Hell said that he doesn't feel like there's a competitive feeling among the San Francisco community radio stations. Instead, he considers it a "brotherhood and sisterhood" that can build on the "power of non-commercial radio." He said that he'd really like to help create a community radio network and perhaps start by simply having a San Francisco Bay Area radio meet-up. Sounds like a great idea to me...

Headphones in Radio Valencia studio. Photo: J. Waits
Thanks so much to John Hell for inviting me back to Radio Valencia. It was fun catching up again and seeing how far the station has come since those early days in 2010. Here's a complete list of all of my Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips. I'm working hard to write up my visits to stations in Pennsylvania, Maryland, D.C. and Illinois and hope to have more posted soon.

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