Last last year I received an email inviting me to visit high school radio station KBCP (aka “the Bell”) at Bellarmine College Preparatory School in San Jose, California. I’m always excited to see stations and it’s rare that I get to visit high school radio stations. After exchanging a few emails, I arranged to visit the nearby station last week. KBCP’s General Manager Robby Leano met up with me on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 14 and took me on a quick tour of the station at the all-male Jesuit school.
This was excellent timing, as High School Radio Day is coming up this Wednesday, April 22. Leano said that KBCP is planning to bring out the station’s banner to display while DJs play music in the school’s quad to celebrate High School Radio Day.
A high school senior, Leano joined up with the station when he was a freshman and said that it’s been a “fantastic” experience, telling me, “I really enjoyed it from day one.” I joked with him that kids in his generation are rumored to have little interest in radio and asked how he’d decided to work at his high school station. He said that people had told him that he had a “radio voice” before he even got to high school. He found out about the station after arriving on campus and receiving an email from the station’s advisor at the time (they call them “moderators” at KBCP). Leano said he was really surprised to find out that there was a Bellarmine radio station and subsequently joined the club.
Over the years Leano has gotten more and more involved with KBCP, not only doing music shows with his friends, but also doing sports broadcasts. He told me that it’s been fun to “talk about what I was seeing” during games. He also explained that there have been some ups and downs at the station and during his sophomore year it was in a bit of a downturn. A new advisor stepped up and things seem to be on an upswing now, after a bit of a “rebuilding year” last year.
Leano’s passion for radio has grown and in addition to his work at KBCP, he’s also interned at local commercial radio station KLIV. He definitely wants to do college radio after he graduates from Bellarmine and he told me that the presence of a college radio station on campus definitely factored in to his decision-making process for college. He said that for him having a college radio station at his future school was a “huge priority.” He’s also on Bellarmine’s student newspaper staff and plans to major in journalism in college, with an emphasis on sports and broadcasting. He told me, “I’ve had my most fun doing play by play and color commentary for baseball games.”
According to the KBCP website, the station was founded by a student in 2007 as KBEL. Initially broadcasting at 1670 AM out of the basement of O’Donnell Hall, it subsequently changed its call letters to KBCP and moved to a new arts and humanities building on campus (Sobrato Center). With around 50 participants, KBCP airs live programming before school, at lunch and in free periods during the school day, and immediately after school.
The station functions as a club and the faculty advisor has to always been present when students are in the studio, which means that there are no night or weekend broadcasts. Luckily the station’s advisor is a Photography teacher and the station is located in a room just off of the photography room. KBCP’s broadcast also gets piped in to that room so that one can listen to the station while in the photography classroom.
KBCP is an unusual high school radio station in that it broadcasts over very low power AM as a legal, unlicensed station at 1650 AM. I was able to pick up the station on my car radio in the school’s parking lot and Leano told me that the range is so limited that it “barely gets off campus.” Most listeners tune in to the station’s online stream and some of the biggest audiences have been for sports events, with Leano saying that a Bellarmine/De La Salle football game his freshman year is rumored to have garnered the largest number of listeners.
Sports is a big part of KBCP and the station mainly covers football, basketball, and baseball games. Leano said that he’d like the station to cover a wider range of sports and said that they have also aired some volleyball games, have tried to do hockey, and are interested in broadcasting track meets. With around 15 to 20 members in the station’s sports department, they are pretty well-staffed to do extensive coverage of games.
As far as music, DJs generally play digital music, but people also bring in their own music on iPods or can play tracks from CDs. I was surprised to see that KBCP uses a CD jukebox that Leano told me holds up to 400 CDs. He guessed that there are around 120 CDs in it currently and this is what is used as a make-shift automation system when there isn’t a live DJ at the station. He said that there is a wide range of music in the CD player, so a pretty diverse mix is played when it’s on shuffle. Leano said that there hasn’t been discussion about playing vinyl records at the station and most DJs opt for playing digital music.
The station’s hosts and DJs seem to have pride in their programs, as the station’s walls are covered with promotional flyers and posters for KBCP shows. Some are super professional looking (including a beautiful water color painting pictured earlier), hinting at the artistic talents of participants. Leano also pointed out a hand drawn promotional message for his show, which a fellow student had etched in pencil on a post-it. The station itself is starting to attract more notice on campus too and Leano said that it’s even beginning to become a tour stop when prospective students are led through campus.
The small studio has an interesting mix of pop cultural references from many different eras, including 1980s movie posters from Gen X classics like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club, the classic poster of the artwork from Nirvana’s 1990s Nevermind album, as well as more contemporary artifacts like an abandoned Minecraft costume part, a sombrero and an accordion.
Thanks so much to Robby Leano for inviting me to visit KBCP. I wish the station a very happy High School Radio Day on Wednesday! This is my 84th station tour report. I have one more Kentucky field trip to go (coincidentally, at Bellarmine College), as well as a few visits to stations in D.C., and Virginia. See my most recent field trips on Radio Survivor and see all of my station field trips on Spinning Indie.
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