During my quick jaunt to Orange County this summer, I also stopped by college radio station KBPK-FM at Fullerton College in Fullerton, California. Although the station’s 90.1 FM class D license is held by the Buena Park School District, it is operated by Fullerton College, serving as a training facility for students in the Communications Department. The oldest community college in California, Fullerton College dates back to 1913.
KBPK’s Operations Manager/Program Director Tracy Thackrah gave me a short tour, explaining the station’s role on campus. The semester had just ended (I visited on June 1) and the on-air class wrapped up the week before my visit, so the station was empty except for a few professional staff members. During the spring semester there were ten students in the on-air radio class.
Students also serve in on-air internships over KBPK. Thackrah said that interns are given weekly on-air shifts that are typically three hours long. In the prior term there were live shows for the on-air class on Fridays from 9am to 4pm, which functions as the “lab” portion of the class. The next set of interns were slated to start doing on-air shows in August. In the past, advanced radio students have also done weekend shows, although Thackrah said that it’s become a “harder sell” in recent years and that much of the weekend programming is now pre-produced. Some of those shows are even crafted by alumni.
When students aren’t live in studio, the station operates on automation (it uses ENCO’s software for that). In addition to the FM signal, the station streams online, which Thackrah says has been a “game changer” for the tiny 19 watt station since KBPK has been picking up a lot of listeners on its stream. Catching the station terrestrially on my car radio was challenging, particularly since a couple of nearby stations are also on 90.1 FM, including a religious station and a Spanish-language station. KBPK’s tower is just a few miles away in Buena Park and Thackrah acknowledged that “this is kind of in a tricky area” and said that the station does a better job of reaching north Orange County than Fullerton.
In a departure from the programming found on many extra-curricular college radio stations, KBPK airs an adult contemporary music format and is primarily focused on training students for careers in radio. Its “Air Talent Guide” makes that very clear, stating that, “We will be training you to work in professional radio not college radio.” According to the manual, “At KBPK we’re here to TRAIN YOU not ENTERTAIN you. The Adult Contemporary music format that you will work with is programmed to a target listener who is a ’40 something’ female, right in the middle of the popular 25 to 54 consumer group, who spends more money on consumer items per week than any other demographic.”
Students at KBPK are given a music log outlining the songs to be played in a given show, as well as a schedule of public service announcements. In addition to these formatted music shows, the station also airs news, public affairs shows and some specialty music shows, including 1950s and 1960s music on the “Classic Sundays” show. KBPK additionally does sports broadcasts of high school and Fullerton College games.
The Radio Broadcasting Program offers vocational certificates and AA degrees, with graduates moving on to careers in radio (KBPK’s website highlights the accomplishments of some of its radio alumni) or to 4-year schools. Thackrah told me that in the 1980s and 1990s, students tended to do the certificate program and then moved on to radio jobs, adding that, “Now what we’re seeing, in the late 90s and 2000s, is they’re just transferring.” He mentioned that California State schools are particularly popular, especially those with radio programs and stations like Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State. Bucking that trend, one of the spring graduates was immediately heading off to a radio job for an NPR station in Alabama.
New forms of radio and the overlapping worlds of the web, video, and audio are all critical parts of the training at KBPK. According to Thackrah, “Students are really gung ho about podcasting” and the program has started to place a strong curricular emphasis on that as well. Some recent student podcasts have focused on technology, jogging and gaming. These shows have ranged from 30 seconds to 30 minutes in length. Another growing part of the station these days is video, which is now being taught in news classes. He noted that video is also a key part of the school’s journalism department, saying, “it’s all converging.”
The station space includes the on-air studio, a production studio, three practice studios, and some offices. In four years, it will be moving into a newly built facility thanks to funding from school bonds. During our tour, Thackrah showed me some of the gear that the station has added, including new sound boards. He pointed to the CDs lining the wall of the on-air studio, saying, “We keep our CDs around in case ENCO fails and then students can see what radio used to be.” I immediately noticed the older, station-crafted CD singles from the likes of Heart, Michael Bolton, Color Me Badd, Bryan Adams and Hootie & the Blowfish. Thackrah acknowledged the changing technology, adding, “When I first came in, we still had carts and we’d just gotten out of the turntable stage, so I never got to do that.” His first radio job was in Montana, where they did have turntables at the station, but even there, he didn’t get to use them on-air.
As we wrapped up our tour, we spotted some even older equipment, including reel-to-reel tape players and a bulk tape eraser (which Thackrah said was being used as a door stop). Thackrah said that they keep the reel-to-reels “just for show,” but they have also used them to digitize old reels that listeners have brought in. The station also has an archive of old station reels too.
Thanks to Tracy Thackrah for showing me around KBPK. This is my 112th radio station field trip report and I still have a few more to write up from Colorado and Southern California. See my most recent field trips on Radio Survivor and see a full list of my station tour reports on Spinning Indie.