Saturday was a fun day of radio immersion for me, as I attended the spring University of California Radio Network (UCRN) conference at KZSC at University of California, Santa Cruz. Around 115 people, including volunteers, students, DJs, staff, and advisers from numerous California college radio stations headed to the lovely station in the woods in order to connect with other college radio practitioners and pick up tips from each other and from guest speakers. The theme for the spring event was, “Music Presentation on the Radio: Past, Present, and Future.”
Although UCRN conferences began as a way for college radio stations licensed to the University of California to connect with one another, in recent years the organizers have invited stations from outside of the UC system to the twice yearly events. When I attended last fall’s event at KSPC, there was a nice turnout of folks from non-UC stations in Southern California. This time around, I spotted representatives from many UC stations (KZSC, KDVS, KALX, KCSB, BobCat Radio, KUCI, KUCR, and UCLA Radio), as well as several from no-UC schools (KSPC from Pomona College, KCPR at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, KSJS at San Jose State University, and KFJC from Foothill College).
The day started off with tours of the station. Although I’d visited KZSC 4 years ago for a UCRN event, I was excited to come back to see how the place had changed. Before the conference I was also told that the station would be moving out of its current location, so I also wanted to see it one last time before it moved. The station is unique in that it has been located in its very own separate cabin on the wooded UC Santa Cruz campus since 1978. Perched up on stilts, the redwood structure is packed full of vinyl records, CDs, and other ephemera. Throughout the event, live DJs were on the air in the KZSC studio. Other rooms house production equipment, a news room, and a music processing room (where volunteers listen to new music in order to review it and check for bad language and other FCC no no’s).
After milling about for a bit in the lobby, the conference got underway in a nearby classroom building. Filmmaker Eric Christensen kicked things off with a presentation about album cover art. He shared his thoughts about album art and played sections from his documentary, “The Cover Story: How Iconic Album Covers Came to Be.” Some highlights of the film for me included seeing images of very early album art from the 1930s and hearing an interview with the man who was depicted on a Nirvana album cover when he was a baby. At the end of the presentation, Christensen reflected on the rarity of album art in today’s digital culture. He asked, “Are we losing artifact in the digital age?”
Following this opening presentation, there were station introductions, as well as a steering committee meeting for station management. Lunch followed, and then there was a presentation about “Digital Media and Social Networking in Today’s College Radio World” by Eva Papp of Spinitron. Papp began her presentation with an overview of Spinitron’s history. The company’s online playlist logging system was launched 10 years ago and stemmed from its founder’s “passion for music” and for non-commercial radio. Today, Spinitron is used by approximately 100 radio stations. Papp also touted the ongoing relevance of radio, as not only a popular medium, but also as a way that many people learn about new music. She explained that Spinitron is not only a useful tool for DJs and radio stations, but that it’s also proven to be helpful for musicians. For that reason, Spinitron has been publishing weekly charts in order to provide data about what is being played over college radio.
After Papp’s presentation, I went to the round table discussion “Putting Musicians on the Air Live: Performance and Interview Techniques.” Volunteers and staff from KZSC and KSPC shared lots of pragmatic advice about conducting live interviews. Some of the top tips included: do your research in advance of an interview, prepare a short introduction about the artist/guest and read that on-air before the interview starts, don’t talk over your guest, and send a thank you note after the interview. Some specific advice about hosting live bands included: talk to musicians in advance about FCC rules so they know what they can’t say or sing on the air, talk about microphone preferences in advance, and conduct a sound check and play that back to the band to ensure that they are comfortable with the sound.
Presenter Nada Milijkovic of KZSC encouraged everyone to ask artists for interviews and said that she really enjoys interviewing her musical heroes. She said, “don’t be afraid to ask for an interview.” Although she said it was important to find out from interview subjects if there are questions or topics that they don’t want to address, she also said that it’s better to regret questions you’ve asked, as opposed to regretting that you didn’t ask a particular question.
As the panels and workshops were wrapping up, a couple of rooms were set aside for people to do some station-oriented crafting activities. One room had button-making machines as well as magazines, glitter, and other supplies. Another room was set-up for screen-printing. DJs in that room crafted custom UCRN T-shirts and patches to commemorate the event. At the end of the day, folks reconvened back at KZSC and then either took off for home or trekked to downtown Santa Cruz for a pizza party hosted by KZSC.
For me, this weekend’s event was not only a learning experience (I always learn something every time I visit a station), but it was also a chance to see some long-time college radio friends. To top it all off, I also spotted another one of those mysterious silver paper mache college radio station signs. Whenever I see a new one, I feel like I’ve just won a secret college radio station scavenger hunt.
Just one dollar a month makes you a patron of Radio Survivor. Help us through our Patreon Campaign!