College students do not generally shy away from societal norms. Whether it’s food, fashion or their radio, they recognize the acceptable and try to flip it on its head.
It only makes sense that college radio stations would reflect a similar attitude as they defy the norms of commercial radio stations and craft content that works for college students and community members. Scene Magazine sat down with three different college radio stations to discuss the experiences of working at a college radio station and what those stations offer to their surrounding communities.
KMSU at Minnesota State University, Mankato is especially unique for a college station because many of the volunteers are community members instead of students. Although the station is identified as the university’s station, it remains a staple for most Mankato residents on the drive into work or returning home for the day. We chatted with Tim “Shyboy” Lind and Shelley Pierce, the morning show hosts for “Shuffle Function.”
Along with KSMU, KQAL at Winona State University prides itself on providing unique programming that reflects the student body at the university. Their tagline is “Your Radio Alternative.” Student and Music Director Caleb Hammel gained skills and perspectives working at the station he didn’t anticipate initially.
KRLX at Carleton College in Northfield is also working with college students to develop skills, helping them transition into careers. But they are also providing a platform for students to interact with their campus and community. Rebecca Newman, student and station manager at KRLX, said almost one out of eight Carleton students work with the station in some capacity.
KMSU at Minnesota State in Mankato
Q: What kind of music does the station tend to play?
Tim ‘Skyboy’ Lind: It’s hard to pin down a station because from hour to hour it varies wildly. Back in the day, it probably would’ve been “reform radio” since it’s eclectic and all over the place. Any given moment you can hear rock music or punk, then followed by bluegrass.
Shelley Pierce: followed by Polka … We are fortunate enough here that everybody that volunteers has their own show. We get to play our own music, choose what songs we want to play which is rare in radio. That is what gives the variety we see on the station.
Tim: It results in a very personalized sense of programming, not just for the people who run the shows, but also for the people who listen to the shows. Listeners find something unique and see how it grows out of who the hosts are.
Q: How’s your experience been as DJs?
Shelley: I’ve been able to do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I weren’t on KSMU. We brought one of favorite musicians to play in Mankato; we’ve been able to interview people we’ve never would’ve met otherwise; and even when “We Might be Giants” stopped by the studio a few weeks ago, I met some of my favorite musicians ever. None of that would’ve happened if I didn’t host a radio show at KSMU.
Tim: Doing a show at KSMU lets me do exactly what I dreamt of doing as a 10-year-old kid. A lot of kids want to be firemen or doctors, but I wanted to be a DJ. What we do every single day on KSMU is what I always hoped it would be when I was a kid.
Q: What should college radio offer?
Shelley: I think it should be a station that focuses on community a lot. Also, I think it should be more challenging than the typical radio stations that play ‘Top 40’ music. Often times, you hear the same four songs on those stations and they need to be more open in terms of content and music.
Tim: Basically, run as fast as you can from the commercial radio aspects.
Shelley: Exactly – because when people talk about how radio is dying, they are talking about the big commercial stations, not the kind we are offering.
Q: What do students or community members respond to?
Shelley: We do pledge drives at our station since we’re member-supported to an extent – not entirely. The fact that a little station like ours gets to host pledge drives and hear from people means a lot to them. It’s something we hear enough that when people move to Mankato from bigger metropolitan areas, they believe they lost their favorite station and they won’t find anything else like it. Then, they stumble onto KSMU and realize ‘Holy Cow. I can’t believe this exists! It’s everything I’m looking for.’ I love hearing that. We’re kind of in fly-over land in Mankato, but it goes to show that if you have the right volunteers and the willingness to do things that you will grow an audience.
Tim: I think also the passion of the hosts, during their program, really comes across strongly while listening to this station. It’s hard not to find that contagious. Who wants to listen to 40 minutes of commercials every hour anyways?
KQAL at Winona State
Q: What kind of music does the station tend to play?
Caleb Hammel: KQAL is an alternative radio station, so we’re bringing a true variety to our programing. A lot of the popular stations these days subscribe to the same ‘Top 40’ music, but we strive to get local artists, new artists and underrepresented artists, those who aren’t the top choice for plays. Along those lines, we tend to stay away from anything that heavy – hip-hop, metal rock or country. We stay in that indie ground and incorporate things that are different.
Q: What do listeners or students respond to most?
Caleb: There is a time component to it, so with spring coming around the corner, the music released and received well sounds like the summer. Songs that put people into a certain mindset. Right now, spring represents a slow transition to warm, so we might see slow acoustic songs or folk not be as popular as something brighter like electronic. People like what they are experiencing in that moment. It’s definitely an ever-changing thing.
Q: What can the experience offer students who work as DJs or for the station?
Caleb: The major component is the interpersonal skills, so being able to talk on the radio gives that experience. You also learn how to think on your feet and talk for longer periods of time about anything. So many times you are talking for 10 minutes straight about absolutely nothing but you have to make it sound legitimate.
It provides a great experience to help college students narrow down their interests and what they might want to pursue in their life. It’s also great work experience. I will be graduating with two and a half years of real world experiences with record labels, artists, distribution companies and other groups. I don’t know a whole bunch of campus positions that offer that real world experience.
Q: Do you have an idea how your applying those skills outside of college?
Caleb: I am talking with a few distribution companies about internships or job opportunities. One is out of Minneapolis called Tinderbox which is a great company. Also, I’m talking with two companies in New York. All these companies, I’m talking with on the phone, three days a week, to get to know these people, trying to bridge my own career into that. I’m ready and excited to apply the experiences from the station into the beginning of my career.
Q: In your opinion, what should college radio offer the community?
Caleb: A different listening experience from a more-traditional, commercial station. We don’t have to subscribe to any charts or anything of that nature. We have the freedom and liberty to play any music we want and, and a lot of times, people say that’s what they want to listen to as well.
There are only so many people in a town like Winona who want to listen to that type of music. So we’ve heard from many community members, “Thank you for giving us an alternative that won’t play just the three or four songs with a millennial beat and auto-tuned lyrics. Thank you for giving us something that’s different.” That’s what I think college radio and alternative radio can do for the community.
KRLX at Carleton in Northfield
Q: What kind of music does your station play?
Rebecca Newman: It’s really a big mix. KRLX has over 200 DJs each trimester, which lends itself towards a large variety of content. Each host can play what they want on their show, so it can really be different depending on the season or time of year.
Q: Is there a theme that you keep consistent across the programming?
Rebecca: We try to let the DJs decide for themselves what they want to share with the community or what they want to broadcast. It’s really up to them to craft the show in their own voice.
Q: What’s the typical experience for your DJs or what can they expect to come away with after working at the station?
Rebecca: I can definitely speak from personal experience because I started as a DJ when I was a freshman. KRLX is a 24-hour station, so the board assigned the slots. My friends and I ended up with the 4-6 a.m. show on Friday mornings, so I gained a closer relationship to my friends as I got to know them better. They are now my roommates and closest friends, so it’s a great way to bond with people that you share an interest with.
I also think many DJs enjoy the vibes of sitting in the studio, playing music for the community and talking to their listeners. A lot of kids on campus are involved with the station; there is a statistic where about one in every eight students works in KRLX. It’s become something that students enjoy doing and that they can benefit from.
Q: What’s the response from students or community members who listen to your station?
Rebecca: I think people really enjoy listening to KRLX because it’s fun for other Carleton students to hear what their friends or classmates are playing or talking about on the radio. Many people keep coming back to listen and some eventually become DJs, so that response speaks a lot for itself.
Q: What should college radio offer to the community?
Rebecca: One of the things that KRLX particularly does the best is being a platform for students to be creative and show their creativity. We give you the microphone, and it’s up to you to make the show yours. Students are working with the music, content, audio and producing to create these programs that connect to students and community members. We really let people decide on their own programming, so they can share what they want to share.
By Kelsey O’Hara