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Aside from the lack of an even semi-regular playlist, college-radio DJS are still the closest to the Wolfman Jacks of bioptic lure (when the coalminer’s daughter could go to the little bitty stations and do little bitty musical adds for local tractor companies)—if you want some trickle up action, that is! They sometimes start bands or labels or nightclubs, & some have day jobs outside of the music business. Despite its origins as a mostly student-run pre-professional training ground, college radio has been increasingly a haven for many older folks who have a better sense of the history of college radio as a cultural force to be reckoned with, and for whom the term “crossover” does not have to mean “sell-out.”
In one of San Francisco-based KUSF’s (WWW.KUSF.ORG) best station ID Spots, they interview many students noting the discrepancy between the “priests walking around campus” and this “radical punk station!” The relative autonomy granted the stations by colleges is a masterstroke of public relations (much more cost effective than their basketball team); and allows a shield from naked brutal professionalism, a shield that 9 times out of 10 invigorates the culture, but this isn’t necessarily why many like myself are so passionate about college radio.
Nah, we like the music and like feeling part of a community, or like being played on the stations like it even when a DJ doesn’t play our second album as much as she played our first (there may be a little sado-masochism involved). We like the DJs’ mystery, the personality that comes through (even if they hardly ever talk); the humor, the warmth, the anger, the awkwardness. We can be fickle—as I now am lucky enough to live in one of the rare parts of town where I can actually get both San Francisco’s KUSF—90.3, and Berkeley’s KALX (WWW.KALX.BERKELEY.EDU) —that, with nearby KPOO (WWW.KPOO.ORG) and the AM oldies station as a fallback, is usually enough to guarantee that I’ll find at least something interesting (and not annoying) in those “I need radio” moments (though the whole issue of FM’s wavery single on a walkman has gotta be worked on; yeah, I can be a little bitter about the way people fell for “FM” as progress over “AM” in the 1970s and ruined it for us younger folks!)
But I digress—-So here’s 3 DJS, for the first installment of what may be a regular column.
Matokie Slaughter (MAtokie.Slaughter@gmail.com) has been DJing at KALX since 2006; Carolyn Keddy (WWW://Keddy.podomatic.com) has been at KUSF since 1990; and Elise Nordling (www.myspace.com/indiepoprocks) has been doing her on-line radio since the dot.com boom circa 1999.
While Carolyn started as a college DJ at Boston’s WTBU during the heyday of bands like The Lyres, Matokie and Elise didn’t get into DJing until after they graduated. As a kid she had the almost rare privilege of being in range of four Boston college rock and roll radio stations. Listening to Carolyn, it sounds like going to college was first and foremost the excuse to get on the radio station!
Elise had written for Addicted to Noise for a couple of years during that time when the major labels were beginning to sever their ties with the many indie bands. In 1999, after helping break careers of bands like Modest Mouse, she was going to swear off the music business for good, when she was convinced to use her extensive indie-rock collection to start Squid Radio, one of the first internet music radio stations, which has morphed into her current gig with SOMA FM (www.somafm.com) , of which she has taken full control. “IN early 2001, I immediately got to work, doubling the playlist, fine-tuning it, and adding station IDs and the like.”
Both Carolyn and Elise could be called lifers. “I expect I’ll stay on at KUSF until I get sick of it or if people stop putting out records I like.” (Carolyn). Neither of them are willing to sacrifice their taste in the music they dig for the ostensibly greener pastures of commercial FM radio. “But SomaFM is often doing interesting things with various airlines, and I could easily imagine doing work along those lines” (Elise); “”Being a paid radio DJ would be my dream job (Carolyn).” But only if they let her play her kind of music, and bring her loyal SF-based following into the fold… Jamais Dit Jamais…
If Carolyn and Elise, in their varying ways, have that crusading fervor about the music they dig, Matokie’s attitude could be considered more introspective, laid back and less professional-oriented, insofar as branding a particular sound. Perhaps this is simply because she hasn’t been doing it nearly as long as either Carolyn or Elise (though I wouldn’t have guessed this by her on-air presence, which is anything but ‘amateur’ if that word has negative connotations). Unlike Carolyn or Elise, Matokie got into college radio by paying for an hour of on-air time with another KALX DJ, Sergio, during their annual fundraiser. “Not only did I have a blast doing it, but Sergio encouraged her to come to a recruitment meeting.” She’s still “completely passionate” about DJing in general and KALX in particular. Matokie’s hoping to branch out to DJing in a bar or club sometime soon. Perhaps she could get some tips from Elise, who DJed at the Cassanova Lounge for 2 ½ years (and still occasionally DJS between shows), and Carolyn, who is also an active presence as DJ as well as musician in the local Bay Area music scene. Neither of these DJS consider the live DJ to be nearly as or important, as their radio shows, thankfully!
They are all very interested in trying to find local bands and live musicians to support.
It’s probably not an accident if the overall vibe of Matokie’s show seems more lush and less on-edge than Carolyn or Elise, who more often have an insistent beat compared to Matokie. Not that Matokie doesn’t rock, but she’s the most eclectic of the three. She plays “everything from alt-country to indie pop to avant-garde classical to straight-up noise….If anything distinguishes me from other DJs it’s probably what I bring myself to my sets: my own musical history, who I’ve seen play live recently, songs I can’t get out of my head. I’m also pretty bold about experimenting with the flow of a set, putting wildly disparate genres next to each other just to see if it works…..There’s a constant low-level debate at the station about whether it’s better to be ‘blocky’ [a 20 minute punk set, followed by 3 indie-pop songs, followed by 3 classic country songs] or ‘kitchen-sinky’ in one’s approach to programming. Clearly I fall on the ‘kitchen-sinky’ side.”
Indie Pop Rocks! largely stays within the genre of ‘indie pop.” As Elise puts it, “I play everything from folk to alt-country to punk—but probably 80% of the playlist is what I’d call ‘indie pop’ (a genre name Elise may have very well invented), and has a somewhat similar sound to it.” Likewise, Carolyn “will mix it up sometimes, but (her) punk/garage bias is definitely there. Personally, I prefer DJS who play the music they are really into…you can tell if someone is just randomly sticking songs together….”
Of course, some DJS will always be more into one-genre, and others will always be more eclectic, that is the variety still encouraged under the concept college DJ. KUSF’s Carolyn may play more local bands than KALX’s Matokie, but Matokie play more new music, from a wider range of genres. Both modes are so excluded from most of what’s called commercial radio that all three DJS approaches are very refreshing, depending on moods, needs, et cetera…
Despite these various differences, one things these DJs all agree on; they don’t talk too much between songs (so when they do, you better listen!), and nowadays with most stations posting play-lists on the web, there’s at least a little alternative to the sometimes annoying College DJ tradition of not naming songs until half-an-hour after the tune is vanished from short-term memory).
While many people have been claiming that college radio has been in decline for the last 20 years, especially with the deepending American economic crisis, colleges having to cut budgets, and the rise of podcasting, but both KALX’s Slaughter and KUSF’s Keddy
are evidence to the contrary:
Carolyn: College radio is the best place to hear new music and mostly commercial free too. Sure you could scour myspace or various websites and it would probably be rewarding, but most people don’t have time for that. I would point out that people said. vinyl was dead too and now they say vinyl is making a comeback. We need to get people to say radio is making a comeback and maybe people will start to believe it!
There was a rumor a few years ago that the University of San Francisco who holds the license for KUSF was going to sell the station’s license. It got printed in the SF Chronicle. Our listeners got mad and started calling the University President’s office to voice their support for the station and outrage that the university would consider shutting us down. Whether or not they were actually considering it in the first place, the University publicly came out and said they were not going to sell the license….It shows me that people are still out there for whom community radio is still important. Those are the people we do it for. Personally, I thik the internet and MP3 devices are a great thing for college radio…I regularly download shows from WFMU and WMBR and play them on my ipod on my way to work. KUSF has on-line archives and I podcast episodes of my show. “
Matokie: Even though the music industry is in some serious turmoil right now amazing music is absolutely still being made by the bucketful, so much that I can’t even keep up sometimes, and college radio is one place where you can count on hearing something great you’d never have heard otherwise….I readily confess I am totally jealous of podcasters who don’t have to worry about FCC regulations though!”
Since “Indie Pop Rocks!” differs from the other stations in being an internet only station,
I (somewhat naively) asked Elise if she considered the web-only station to be an uphill battle. She quickly put me in my place!
Elise: I’ve been logging in over 700, 000 listener hours per month lately—-which means 700, 000 people listened for an hour, or 70, 000 people listened for 10 hours in the last month…(from US, UK, Germany, Canada, France, and the Netherlands). I’d be hard pressed to say broadcasting as web-only ia an uphill battle at all. My understanding is that I have a much larger listener base than most FM college stations….I think once having the internet in your car is a normal thing, FM stations will suffer heavily, escpeially if commercial free stations such as Soma FM still exist. I’m pretty sure that college stations will continue to broadcast on line and perhaps having these online station options available in cars will finally pull some of the stranglehold away from Clearchannel….Who knows, it might be just what the music industry needs to recover from this current dire situation it has fallen into.”
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