By Michel Cazary
As I walk through the rusty old door on my way into the station, I am greeted by my fellow comrades, fashionably dressed in black and looking rather dissatisfied with the world. I hear yelling from the tiny office over on my right, debating the validity of a spin-off project of a band that only five people have ever heard of. I hear a meager DJ's voice making a station ID over the air sounding like he is about twelve, but really he's nineteen.
This is KSDT, and for most of my college experience, this was my second home. For anyone who has ever worked in college radio, they know that there is nothing like it in the world. It is a breeding ground for all of the angst-ridden college students who need to find an outlet somewhere on campus to vent about the world, find out about new music and meet quality people.
I have spent my entire college career at KSDT (the student run radio station at the University of California, San Diego) in one form or another, I started off as that scared, twelve-year-old sounding DJ and eventually worked my way up to programming director, operations manager and finally general manager. Once I had begun to take on managerial positions at the station, I began to see the many battles both within and outside of our school that we had to face.
Our biggest problem as a station was broadcasting and how to do it. When our station was formed in the seventies when certain FM dials were being given out for public station, the management at the time thought that the wave of the future was cable radio and that we did not need to bother with FM at all. Big mistake number one. So where does that leave us today? We have the weakest AM signal which cannot even be picked up more than twenty feet away from the station, we broadcast on cable radio which no one has, we have a television channel, yes a television channel on the close circuit campus cable that allows us to broadcast our signal over an image, that image has become a surveillance camera on the DJ. We are tampering with internet broadcasting, but we are constantly limited by bandwidth, sketchy providers and a pretty crappy server. So basically we broadcast in so many ways, none of which are very effective, often having a negative effect on station morale and recruitment.
So the question remains: why don't we have a transmitter. Here's the deal, San Diego is situated right next to Mexico which means two things, one, we have trouble getting anything on the FM dial meant for public radio because Mexico has it and two, local stations put their transmitter in Tijuana and boost their signal far above FCC regulations killing stations around it. This has put us in a very tough bind, along with just about every other college radio station in the area.
Just to give you a sense of the array of radio currently available in San Diego, here is a bit of history. In 1996 the overturning of the Telecommunications Act took away the limit on the amount of stations one company could own, as a result, J.Core bought out a bunch of stations in the area and basically streamlined them to offer the usual easy listening crap on every station, yet under a different name. I think just about every time I turn on the radio I here that stupid song by Journey; " I heard if from a friend who, heard it from a friend who....". On top of that, we have station who proudly uses its call letters of KGB. San Diego is notorious for its horrible radio and its lack of diversity. As for public stations, we are limited to two, KPBS which broadcasts NPR about 60% of the time and a college radio station that is devoted solely to Jazz, neither of which are bad stations, but they do not broadcast new and upcoming music artists in a variety of genres like we do.
As you can imagine, being in a community with such poor radio choices while working at a college radio station with no voice is extremely frustrating. Hence our excitement about the LPFM decision. This was our first big shot at really going somewhere (even if our proposed transmitter location would broadcast halfway into the ocean, it was something). We promptly turned in our application, we felt like we had a lot going for us; an educational purpose, an already functioning station, and even a designated location to put our transmitter. Thus our dismay at realizing that we are not eligible for the signal because of our location in the middle of an urban area. All of this based on sketchy research saying that we would interfere with some corporate radio station's precious signal.
So what is a poor college radio station to do? Unfortunately I graduated school last year and am no longer in charge of the running the place, but I still worry about where things are going. Our station is a strange place, it is completely student run, but no one really gets paid anything worth mentioning. It is a truly amazing place in that it exists almost entirely as a coup and we have managed, pre internet broadcasting and without a number on the dial to reach up to seventy quality shows. The greatest thing would be for us to have a means for broadcasting, all DJ’s past and present have worked so hard for the station, they deserve to be heard.
Needless to say, I am angry. Working as general manager has shown me the seedy underbelly of broadcasting and its many corporate sponsors and has shown me that there are many forces working to silence commercial-free, alternative radio. Our station offers opportunities for students to not only have their own radio program, but to gain valuable knowledge about music, recording and management. Due to a lack of understanding about our transmitter issues, the governing body of the school fails to understand why we do not broadcast to more people and why we do not get underwriters to become more self sufficient. I have seen our budget cut by the school every year, I have heard countless rumors about us being shut down, losing funding and being turned into a fast food restaurant.
It does not help that San Diego is one of the most apathetic communities (if you can call it that) on the face of the earth. A big enough city, that people assume that there is a lot of music, art and dance happening that they don't worry about creating it and not enough violence and hate (that is blatant) to make people revolt against it. Such an equation makes for a place where radio stations like ours are looked over and under valued. If it was not for the strength of our many DJ’s who relentlessly show up to broadcast over a television on campus, I do not know what we would do. The fight is not over and never will be, but each year it gets harder and in the face of increasing animosity towards free radio and the commercialization of all that was once independent.
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