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Common Frequency Event Brings Together Community and College Stations for Education and Discussions on Future of Radio

Common Frequency Benefit in Davis, California (Photo J. Waits)

On Saturday I headed out to Davis, California for a full day of radio immersion thanks to Common Frequency. I’ve been a fan of Common Frequency for awhile, so it was great to be able to not only learn more about their organization, but also meet some of the radio groups who they are helping.

The non-profit Common Frequency is “dedicated to innovative new community and college radio.” They have been helping grassroots stations get off the ground since 2006 by providing “free and low-cost aid.”

Currently Common Frequency is “supporting the build-out of 25 new FM radio stations over the next three years.” On Saturday they invited a number of the stations who they are working with out to Davis for some educational sessions, a panel discussion about saving college radio, and an evening fundraiser and concert.

At the beginning of the daytime sessions, Common Frequency Program and Technical Director Todd Urick addressed the group and spoke of the need for stations to band together and encouraged people to collaborate on building, running, and programming radio stations. He said that wants stations to “learn how to share content” and also spoke of Common Frequency’s desire to form a “collective community radio network” in California.

We then heard from  WGXC‘s Kaya Weidman. Speaking with us from Hudson, New York via Skype, Kaya talked about what it was like to both build and launch a brand new community radio station. She shared with the group the challenges inherent to raising funds to start a new station. Kaya also talked about the barn raising event that Prometheus Radio Project worked with them on, which allowed them to both build the station’s studio and galvanize the local community around the project. WGXC began its terrestrial broadcasts 6 months after the barn raising, launching on February 26, 2011.

Sonali Kolhatkar from Pacifica Radio (Photo: J. Waits)

The next speaker was Sonali Kolhatkar from Pacifica radio station KPFK. She also joined the conversation over Skype and talked to all of us about how she produces her daily morning show “Uprising” and her weekly syndicated show. She started at KPFK in 2002 without a background in journalism, although her show is heavy on interviews and news. Sonali pointed out that it’s not necessary to have a degree in journalism in order to do journalism and argued that even though community radio is one of the oldest forms of radio, it can be “at the forefront” of journalism and new media. In describing her work process, Sonali said that she researches her stories using a variety of sources and then writes an introductory “lead” to every story or interview so that listeners can get a quick overview of the story before the interview begins. She also suggested that being the host of a talk radio show is less about knowing the answers and more about “knowing the right questions to ask.”

Following Sonali, we heard from Rick Ele from the University of California, Davis college radio station KDVS. Rick has been on the air for years as a DJ and is also responsible for training new KDVS DJs. He shared with the group a bit about the format of student-run KDVS (it’s a freeform station) and explained the way that they introduce new DJs to musical exploration. Rick runs an 8-week seminar for new DJs that not only outlines station policies and FCC rules, but also incorporates a “musicology crash course.” In the seminar students are given an overview of the history of music from the plantation south during Reconstruction, to American roots traditions, to the history of rock and roll, to the last 30 years of pop, rock, electronic, and hip hop. Rick said that in the seminar they are asking DJs to “start thinking about why the music you like sounds cool to you.” He argued that they are asking DJs to become music educators, so they want to make sure they have “tools to become an authority.” He also said that it’s important for DJs to “take the time to listen to things critically.”

After the sessions we were able to head over to KDVS for a visit and tour. I’ll outline that trip in a separate post, but suffice it to say I was amazed by the station’s massive record library and am looking forward to a return visit.

The day wrapped up with a fundraising event/panel discussion/dinner/fundraiser/concert on the campus of University of California, Davis. The panel, “Whose Stations? Our Stations! Community Voices, Educational Radio, and KUSF in Exile,” largely focused on the situation at KUSF, but also included an account from David Martin about the launch of Ozcat Radio in Vallejo. KUSF DJ and Music Director Irwin Swirnoff shared his sad, first-person account of the day that KUSF was shut-down by the administration. He said that he was sad and outraged, but felt that he had to act in order to spread the word about what had happened. He explained some of the political support that Save KUSF has garnered and discussed their goal of creating “mounting pressure on the parties involved” in order to hopefully overturn the pending sale of KUSF to Classical Public Radio Network.

Attorney (and former college radio DJ) Alan Korn talked about how the shutdown of KUSF “was a tragic loss.” He mentioned that three “Petition to Deny” documents have been filed with the FCC, as well as several informal objections to the sale and said that Friends of KUSF is hoping to be granted a hearing with the FCC in order to investigate the sale further. Dorothy Kidd, a professor of Media Studies at University of San Francisco, also spoke about the broader implications of the situation at KUSF. She said that as a culture “we need something different than commercial media” and explained the value of KUSF to both students and listeners.  She said she has been heartened by the protests, saying that there is “something poetic” about the campaign to save the station and about faculty, students, and listeners “fighting for what they believe in.”

Thanks to Common Frequency for organizing a fun day of radio in Davis and particular thanks to Gavin Dahl for his hard work on the event and for extending the invitation to me.

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