On July 13, after visiting college radio station The SOCC at Colorado College, I headed to nearby Pikes Peak Community College (also in Colorado Springs) to see KEPC 89.7 FM. Similar to my most recent tour of KBPK, the station is a student-operated learning lab for the school’s Radio and Television program. Station Manager Sharon Hogg (she’s also Associate Dean for the Division of Communications, Humanities, and Technical Studies at the college) met up with me at KEPC on the warm summer afternoon. A former college radio DJ herself, she got her start at college radio station WNFT while a student at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. She ended up working in commercial radio in Colorado and started at Pikes Peak in 1998.
Students and KEPC’s engineer popped in and out of the station during my visit and the big excitement of the day was the arrival of a box of brand new station T-shirts for the staff. A new promotional sign was also propped in the corner of the lobby. KEPC prides itself on its large playlist of music, which draws from a 7,000 song music library. With its mantra of “maximum variety,” KEPC’s alternative music playlist rotates evenly through approximately 6,500 tracks.
Hogg said, “some are very recognizable…some are B-cuts…” She added that they also try to promote local artists, playing their music and doing interviews with them for broadcast. The station additionally works with local clubs to do ticket giveaways and promote nearby shows. When we tuned in to KEPC, we heard a range of artists and genres, including new wave favorites from my youth like the Cure and classic reggae from Bob Marley. Glancing through recent playlists, I spotted music from a mix of eras, including Jimi Hendrix, Yo La Tengo, Squeeze, Blink 182 and Garbage. When I was there, Hogg was about to add music from the new Monkees CD.
The station has been around since the 1970s, but its history is not well know by the current staff. Hogg told me that KEPC was built in 1978 and got its call letters K-E-P-C because the original name for the college was El Paso Community College (the school started in 1968). There may have been radio on a smaller scale before 1978 and a clue to that is in a 1992 student newspaper article which mentioned that the long-time station director Kurt Grow had been programming the station since 1974. Following his retirement from KEPC in 2003, Grow told the Gazette that he had been involved with building the station since 1973, when he started teaching in the school’s broadcasting department. According to the Gazette, “When he began, KEPC could be heard in the college cafeteria.” The station has been growing ever since and in addition to its 89.7 FM signal, KEPC also broadcasts over HD and over two translator stations in Pueblo and Manitou Springs.
Keeping on top of current technology has been a big part of the program at KEPC and the station funds itself largely through money generated through the rental of space to cell phone companies on its on-campus radio tower. Staffers pointed out the state of the art sound board to me and also purported that the station was the first to broadcast in HD in Colorado. I was also told that it was the first Colorado radio station to stream online, although nobody there knew of the exact date that it launched online. Hogg thought that it probably started streaming around the time that she arrived at the station in 1998 as an adjunct faculty member.
Some tidbits of radio history could be seen in the engineer’s office, in particular. Stacks of old KEPC reel-to-reel tapes and carts were on an upper shelf, a KEPC hard hat was positioned nearby, and an incredible display of radio station bumper stickers hung in a series of collages over a desk. The engineer even had a couple of vintage red transcription disc records propped on shelves and hanging on the wall.
KEPC has had its current “Maximum Variety” music format for decades and a framed newspaper article from 1992 affirms that, referencing that the station played everything from rap to heavy metal to mellow country music. Listeners tune in from all over the world and KEPC staffers mentioned that the station has fans in Australia and Afghanistan. A surgeon in New Zealand used to tune in and even made specific requests for upbeat surgery music. On the day of my visit, the station had fielded a call from a listener in Dallas.
Three student interns were working on the air at KEPC this summer and during the school year there are typically between five and six interns. They were expecting around eight participants in the fall. Students don’t have after-hours access to the station (they used to have 24/7 access, but now security locks the building at night), so there are a limited number of hours when interns and volunteers (who also must be part of the radio program or be alumni of the program) can work on the air. Everyone has to pass the introductory radio class first. Most interns don’t have a specified show time, largely due to the varied schedules of community college students. Hogg programs the station’s automation system 24/7 and it kicks in without DJ assistance when there isn’t a live show.
A few of the interns were there when I stopped by, so they filled me about their experiences at the station. One intern, Matt West, described the 4-hour morning show that he does every Monday through Thursday from 8am to noon with another intern as his co-host. Dubbed “the West Johnson Show” (for their last names), he characterized it as a “music-oriented” show that also featured “cool stories” shared by the hosts, including “weird news” that they have culled from the Internet. Occasionally they have guests as well. It’s a bit unusual for KEPC to have a regular morning show like this and the students had to convince Hogg that they were committed to showing up every day. And, according to Hogg, they have certainly shown that they are dedicated hosts. Hogg generally picks out the music for all of the shows, including theirs, but the hosts will occasionally take requests.
Although KEPC has had some other specific shows in the past, including a hip hop show and a dub step show, Hogg told me that they try to not have genre-specific programs, especially since “there hasn’t been that commitment from people” to show up every week. Those types of shows also create a lot of work for Hogg, as she is the one who would be selecting the music and adding the tracks into the station’s music library.
Hogg told me that it’s really interesting hearing listener feedback and said that, “they know it’s a training ground” and that many of the listeners enjoy hearing how the DJs progress “from day one until the end of the semester.” In the introductory radio class, students learn all about radio, including audio editing using programs like Audition, audio production, FCC rules, commercial radio script writing, and more. Additional classes focus on news writing, sports, and broadcast management, with some courses geared towards both radio and television. There are around 12 classes in the entire radio-television program. A cluster of small production rooms (they call them audio labs) are located near the KEPC on-air studio and are used by radio students. The space has a large table in the center and a sign alerts users that it a classroom.
In addition to the interns, Hogg also has a work-study student every semester who serves as the student Program Director. That staffer helps out with various jobs at KEPC, including assisting with programming, music and public service announcements and also managing KEPC’s job opportunity board. That’s especially critical since an important aspect of KEPC is that it prepares students for commercial radio jobs.
According to Hogg, “We’re set up exactly like a commercial station except we don’t have commercials. And we’re set up like that so that they can go right from here to iHeart Radio or Cumulus…That’s the whole concept of our station is for them to know how to do meter readings, to know how to do EAS tests, to know…how to follow a format. It’s not just, come on in and play what you want, because you can’t do that if this is going to be your life, so we make it just like it would be when they walk into another station.” She said that most people coming through KEPC want to get jobs in radio.
Towards the end of my visit, another intern, Brentney Williams, stopped by. It’s her first semester on-air and she said that she’s focusing on becoming “more familiar and more confident” on the radio. She described that experience, saying, “it’s frightening, but very exciting.”
Hogg seems to relish the opportunity to watch students blossom over the airwaves and is particularly grateful that listeners appreciate hearing new voices over KEPC every semester. She said, “Very seldom do I get a complaint,” although she added the caveat that, “our listeners don’t like us to change.” She explained that KEPC listeners are accustomed to the music format of the station and get thrown off if suddenly a new genre of music crops up. That’s part of the reason why the station isn’t currently airing any hip hop, although it has in the past. Additionally, she shared an anecdote from the past about some upset listeners who were concerned about a new DJ. The listeners told her that they were worried that the station had “gone California” on them, pulling in professional DJs; but it was just an older student DJ with a polished voice.
As I wrapped up my visit, Williams talked a bit about why she decided to go into radio, telling us that “music has always been the best therapy.” West added that he likes radio because it’s a professional job than is also “fun.” After getting some quick suggestions on what to do in Colorado Springs before leaving town, my daughter and I headed off to see the spectacular rock formations at Garden of the Gods.
Big thanks to Sharon Hogg and all of her staff and students for spending the time to talk to me about KEPC. This is my 113th radio station field trip report, which means that my back log of tours has shrunk to just one more in Colorado and one more in Southern California. Hopefully I can get those posted before I hit the road again! See my most recent field trips on Radio Survivor and peruse a full list of my station tour reports on Spinning Indie. 11/3/16 UPDATE: You can also hear more from my visit to KEPC on Radio Survivor Podcast #66, which includes audio interviews from my trip to see the station.
Just one dollar a month makes you a patron of Radio Survivor. Help us through our Patreon Campaign!