Mary McCaslin's Roundup

Feb 6, 2003




            Last fall my husband and I took a seven week road trip across the country for a string of shows. On the tour we visited Columbia, Missouri, which is home to a wonderful community radio station called KOPN.

            This radio station prides itself on the fact that almost all of its programs are hosted and produced by community members. KOPN carries very little in the way of syndicated programming. Such radio stations are growing increasingly harder to find on the dial.

            We know what happened with Pacific Grove's KAZU (90.3 FM) and to its local programming. What once was a unique community voice has become nearly an all National Public Radio (NPR) format. No attempt was made to reach a balance. Beloved local hosts and their programs, many which had run for years, were discarded with seemingly little thought to what they had given to the listeners in their community.      

            KZSC (88.1 FM), located on the UCSC campus, is licenced to the University of California Regents and its mission is to offer a broadcast educational experience for students.  There is a mandate that the majority of the on air staff be made up of UC students, but non-students also host shows. (The student / non-student ratio is approximately 60 / 40.) KZSC has always had a very diverse format, which is also part of its mission. The schedule features rock music of every persuasion, along with hip-hop, folk, jazz, blues, very popular reggae shows and public affairs shows. KZSC also carries the KPFA news each evening at 6 pm. All other programs are produced "in house".

            The university supplies the buildings used by KZSC and pays two employees, the broadcast advisor and development director, but does not pay for operating expenses. The station is run by the students on a volunteer basis and must rely on listener support and underwiting for most of its funding. Last year the UCSC students voted to tax themselves to provide additional funding for equipment upgrades.  

             Many of KZSC's long running and most popular programs are hosted by community members, such as the folk shows, Turtle Island, Unfiltered Camels, the Golden Road, the Bushwackers and Breakfast in Bed. For the most part, these programs have been in the same time slots for years,  building up a strong listener base. This is an important factor in helping to bring in large pledges during the semi-annual fundraisers.

            The students, whose schedules change every couple of months, often must take less than ideal time slots to do their shows. Or their shows may be re-scheduled at new times the next quarter. This makes it a considerable challenge to build up a solid listenership. It  takes the enthusiasm and stamina of youth to commit to doing a show with a time slot that might change in a few weeks or to host a show  from 3 to 6 am.

            Almost all of the people who host local programs on public or community radio stations are volunteers who do it for the love of music or free expression of ideas. The same is true for the on-air staff of KZSC, except that just making the committment to host a program once a week are not enough. UC students and non-student community members must do twenty hours of volunteer time and pass the broadcast class before becoming eligible to apply for an air shift. To continue on the air each program must generate twenty hours of volunteer time, which its host or hosts are responsible to complete.

            In March KZSC will celebrate thirty years on the air. Hundreds of students have passed through over the years bringing vitality and fresh ideas to the airwaves. Some permenant local residents believe that the students who attend UC Santa Cruz should not be thought of as part of the community. But when they are broadcasting music and ideas over local airwaves, these students are indeed members of this community. Together with the non-student programmers they have brought unique and quality programming to the radio family of the Monterey Bay.



            Radio station KKUP (91.5 FM), licenced in Cupertino, is the last 100% listener supported radio station in the country. They have no underwriters and no other funding. And they like it that way.

            I spoke with Lisa Atkinson who has hosted the folk radio show  Don't Worry  (It's Just Us Folks) on KKUP for the past eleven years. She explained that everyone involved at the station is a volunteer, including the station manager.     

            KKUP started operation 31 years ago this coming May in a small house previously used for the old Cupertino Electric Company. The city rented the building to the station for a dollar a year until finally tearing it down. From there the station set up in a garage where it operated until the 1990s when at long last KKUP moved into a real studio. One can only imagine the hard work and dedication it took  to make the dream of moving out of the garage and into a studio a reality.

            Heard throughout the Santa Clara valley and on this side of the hill all the way to Salinas, KKUP offers every kind of non-commercial music, public affairs, the poetry of Alan Watts and the stories of Erica Lann Clark. 

            A few times a year KKUP hosts weekend long marathons featuring live on-air performances by various artists. One marathon will showcase folk musicians, another offers blues performers. These are the fundraisers for the station and are as much fun for the performers as they are for the listeners.



            When rumors surfaced a couple of months ago that KUSP (88.9 FM) was about to change its long standing schedule to include more NPR programs many of us braced for the worst. Visions of another disaster like the KAZU debacle danced in our heads. Would KUSP, which held the Monterey Bay NPR "monopoly" for many years, face off with KAZU in some sort of on-air duel for ratings at the cost of its local programs?

            Fortunately, the answer is no. The majority of the local programs remain. Some have been moved and yes, some are gone. After decades of bringing great country music and western swing to us every Sunday afternoon,  Johnny Simmons and his co-host Dave Bob Nielsen have retired the Lost Highway. Rachel Goodman and Michael Tanner have also retired Saturday afternoon's Coast Ridge Ramble.

             A new "music mix" program called the Open Road, featuring folk, Americana and world music along with live studio interviews and performances will air weekdays from 11 am to 1 pm.  Its cast of hosts include John Sandidge, Rachel Goodman, J.T. Mason and Robin Roberts (both formerly of KAZU). Following the Open Road will be It Takes All Kinds, a music mix show hosted by Charlie Lange, Louise Salazar, Brett Taylor and others. Each host will bring his or her musical knowledge and style to these programs.           

            Two longtime favorites remain on Saturdays: Cindy Odom's Celtic show, the Continental Drift, now followed by  Down on the 'Pataphysical Farm with Leigh Hill and Chris Jong.

            The classical music schedule has been re-arranged and Talk of the Bay, featuring local news, public affairs and interviews has been expanded to four mornings a week.

            Undoubtedly, some listeners will be unhappy with the new schedule. This is to be expected with any change. In spite of the increase in network programming, the community feel of KUSP is alive and well, if not stronger than ever.

            "Is it Public, or is it Community ?" is the title of this article. The term Public is usually applied to a non-commercial station that fills the majority of its schedule with NPR type programming. Community radio stations strive to keep almost all of the schedule in the hands of local hosts, airing a minimum of network programs. For the most part, non-commercial radio, whether Public or Community, has much more to offer the listener than commercial radio. Of course, there are noteable exceptions.

            KAZU is a Public radio station.  KKUP and KZSC are Community stations.  KUSP has bridged the gap between Public and Community radio, but refers to itself as a Public radio station.

            It doesn't really matter what a non-commercial station calls itself.  It only matters that they receive the support of the listening community when it counts the most.

            That's it for this time. Keep in touch.



Mary McCaslin will be teaching a Fingerstyle guitar class at the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center in Ben Lomond in March. E-mail her at