It’s 10 am on a Tuesday. Deep below street level, in the bowelsof the Smith Memorial Student Union, Ryan Kepler has been tendingto a jumble of broadcast equipment for the past hour. With thesounds of the Pacifica Network’s “Democracy Now” playing in thebackground, he prepares KPSU for another broadcast day.
KPSU broadcasts 24 hours a day, campus wide, at 98.3 FM,citywide until two in the morning at 1450 AM, and reaches the worldvia webcast from www.kpsu.org. A string of DJs, musicians andfreaks file through the station everyday until two in the morningwhen KPSU ends its broadcast when it begins a nightlong mechanizedmix.
Kepler arrives at 9 a.m., freeing the station from autopilot. Helinks the station to the Pacifica broadcast and finds a set of CDsto play after the newscast. He never knows what he’ll see when heenters the station. Sometimes the place is trashed. Once, he openedthe door to KPSU to be greeted by a terrible stench from a bunch ofscented candles which had been burned, presumably for atmosphere,the night before. It seems the only atmosphere candles would helpcreate in the cramped and well used KPSU studios is one of atorture chamber wired for sound. Perhaps that was what they weregoing for.
“Sometimes the late night DJs get wild,” Kepler says with asmall grin.
Despite the occasional morning surprise, Kepler loves his job.He has volunteered his time for years, every weekday from 9 am to 1pm. He began as an intern, participating in a program throughOregon Commission for the Blind.
“It’s community radio, not corporate,” he explains from anoffice chair in the broadcast studio. “They let little guys like mecome down.”
In the background, “Democracy Now” is ending. Kepler swivels inhis chair and runs his hands along a large control board populatedwith a complicated variety of knobs, lighted buttons and sliders.With a few deft hand motions he has played a station identificationand transitioned from the Pacifica broadcast to the CD players. Hismovements are sure and fast. The station is in good hands.
Around 11 a.m., the assistant music director, Angelo Deselo, hasmade his entrance and retreats to the smaller of the two officesoff of the lobby area. He shuffles through the CDs scattered acrossthe desk and turns on the computer. Every week Deselo and musicdirector Kevin Friedman must preview, for quality and content, anaverage of 150 CDs and records sent from emerging local artists andmajor labels. Some of the music is gold and some is pure shit -take, for instance, a release from a band called Double Wide, agroup that sports mullets and sings songs about working on cars anddrinking Oly.
The good news for Portland artists is that local music is givenpriority. Deselo reaches behind him and digs through a heap ofpapers and jewel cases. He extracts a very professional-lookingpromotional package from the pile and waves the folder in front ofhim. Glossy photographs and cover letters flap loudly inside.
“These get dissed,” he says. “It’s the folder of death.” Hethrows it back onto the pile. “We usually toss the CD and use thefolder for school,” he says, turning back to his computer.
Cody Rich has begun his day KPSU. He opens the door to thelarger office, crammed with computers and office furniture, andhangs up his coat. Rich is the programming director at KPSU. Heschedules DJs and monitors the content of their shows. Shortlyafter Rich’s arrival, KPSU’s volunteer coordinator, Adrian Huggo,walks into the station. Style-wise, the two are a study incontrasts. Rich’s world-weary, alt-preppy cardigan style playsinterestingly against Huggo’s all black danger-rocker look.
Today, the two have a “meet and greet” scheduled for New StudentWeek and at 11:40 a.m. they’re in a conference room three floorsabove the station.
“I wonder if anyone will show,” Huggo says, looking out thewindow. Less than a minute later, new students begin wandering intothe room. Once new students have settled in, the informationsession begins. Rich discusses the station with a charmingaffability, while Huggo talks with a quick, sparkling verve. Whenthey speak of KPSU, it is a shining jewel in the crown of Portland.It would be difficult for anyone not to be seduced by theirdescription. They do not discuss the realities of the station: theconstant hum of chaos; the lack of space; the temperamental, wellused equipment; the frightening couch that, due to the possibilityof disgusting acts that it may have been privy to, no one will siton. But if the students go through with orientation, as it isassumed half of the group will do, they will find out about thesedetails soon enough.
Turning their attention to the new students, Huggo asks them tointroduce themselves, describe the show they would like to have andwhat music they would play. As the students divulge their widevariety of musical tastes, Rich and Huggo nod their heads and blurtout occasional giddy exclamations at the mention of certain bands.Soon, the session has become a music geek-fest with everyone in theroom trading stories from their musical lives, the whole groupnodding and laughing. Perhaps, unbeknownst to Rich and Huggo, thetwo have presented the most honest representation of the station: agroup of people hanging out and sharing a conversation inmusic.
It is early afternoon, and Eliza Brandenburg is struggling withbroken headphones and buttons which are falling off the controlboard in the production studio. As “DJ Eliza,” she hosts “Attack ofthe Killer Eggplant” from 8 to 9 pm, but right now she is justtrying to record the PSU campus calendar for later broadcasts.
When she is finally able to get everything working, she leans into the microphone and in a breathy make-out voice says, “Hello, allyou groovy kitty cats out there…”
Musical director Kevin Friedman also has a make-out voice, whichhe uses almost constantly, insisting on ending every sentence with,”…ya feel me?” As in, “Everybody wants a piece of KPSU… ya feelme?”
As he prepares some new entries to add to the 16,000-album musiclibrary, he discusses some of the best labels that are sendingmusic to KPSU. He is currently enjoying releases from Domino,Thrill Jockey and Sanctuary.
Rich is in the background picking out music for his 4 pm show,”The Church of Blasphuphmus (Not Jesus) Hour.”
“How fast do I lose my job if I play Yes?” he asks.
“Talkdemonic” is scheduled to do a live in-studio set at 5 pm.At 4:45, the band, in the form of one Kevin O’ Conner, is justbeginning to unload equipment from the elevator.
The in-studio performance was essentially set up on the fly. “Ifit’s good for the band and it’s good for the station, we’ll dowhatever it takes to make it work,” says Rich, late for anappointment and needing to leave. At the door he turns and waves.”Call me if anything goes terribly horrible,” he says and isgone.
By 6 pm, nothing has gone terribly horrible and Talkdemonicflows into the third song of the set. The lights in the stationhave been dimmed. O’Conner, behind his drum kit, is bathed in thewarm, rose glow of a red-plastic heart lamp that he brought withhim. The drums are punishing in the small space, but the rhythmsare crisp and clean, driving a deeply melodic music pouring from alaptop. When he is finished, he passes out copies of his CD,Meeting Sunshine.
After Talkdemonic has left, assistant technical director BrandonArends breaks down the PA and coils up various and sundry cords.He, along with technical director Myron Kingsbury, are the chiefsound engineers at KPSU. It is a job with an interesting sideeffect.
“I don’t even listen to the music anymore,” says Brandon. “Ijust hear compression and vocal affects.”
As the afternoon progresses into evening, the music from theKPSU studio becomes more and more diverse. Tom Slovak, aka Tomas P,has been playing a m�lange of indie rock.
“Portland is a radio wasteland…” he says after his show. “Iwant to expose people to music that they won’t hear anywhereelse.”
It’s nearly 9 p.m., and DJ Deanne Rhymes has brought in a clutchof vinyl with a focus on underground beats and female artists. Sheis a tall blond with a radio voice as smooth as the tracks shespins. She is expecting Rev. Shines, DJ for local hip-hopsuperstars Lifesavas, to guest with her tonight. He enters thestudio 40 minutes late because his ride to the station failed toshow. Without removing his coat, he hits the turntables and weavestogether a series of old soul grooves. At the end of the show, hesurprises listeners by premiering a brand-new Lifesavas track, theFa-Sho remix.
While hip-hop madness plays itself out in the background,station manager Eva Hegedus has come in to prepare for her show,Severe Exposure. It’s her last show before school begins and shewants to rock out. Focusing on the more radical forms of electro,she previews a series of CDs, looking for the most dissidenttracks.
When she started at KPSU she wanted to play music that would getpeople to turn off their radios; but tonight at 10 pm she is in thestudio with the lights off, encouraging her audience to cut loose.Though there is no way of knowing what is happening out in theworld, one could imagine two distinct possibilities -listeners haveeither turned off the radio, retreating to their beds with poundingmigraines, or they have turned the radio up, stripped naked andstarted thrashing about their rooms to the crunchy electrofeedback. It seems each song Hegedus plays is dripping withhigh-voltage sex.
Myron Kingsbury will build on the crunch with his program, NeonNoise, an hour of IDM and, well, noise. He prepares his set on awell-worn Mac laptop, plugs it into the studio board and the darkroom is filled with the eerie glow of the screen.
Kevin Chan, as DJ Kevin Crumb, finishes the night with indierock and pop for two hours until 2 a.m., when KPSU signs off the AMband. He will face a long, lonely walk home, but he doesn’t seem tomind.
“We put a lot of effort into this. We do this out of a lot oflove and passion,” he says. So the walk isn’t so bad.