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ISSUE 119 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/23/2005

Left of the Dial on KSTO

By Peter Farrell
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 23, 2005

Does anyone really listen to KSTO? Most students on the St. Olaf campus are vaguely aware of the station’s existence, but few take the time to explore its programming.

Although many people may adore the idea behind college radio – KSTO operates independent of Clear Channel directed mainstream media homogenization – students stop short of actually tuning in.

The person most painfully aware of this fact is new KSTO manager Nathan Hopkins ’07, from St. Louis, Mo., who assumed control of the station at the end of last year. Founded by students in 1965, a number of problems, ranging from weak signal strength to broken equipment, have plagued KSTO over the years. However, few solutions have proved viable, or affordable, to the students running the station. Even a big push for extra funding in light of the SGA budget surplus fizzled out last year due to the perceived lack of student interest. Hopkins put it concisely: “Basically, KSTO has been a mess in the past.”

But with the controversial sale of WCAL early last year, KSTO has become the college’s lone radio station. Now, Hopkins believes, the much-maligned punk brother of the classically oriented WCAL has an opportunity to make some headway with both students and faculty: “With WCAL gone, we’ve implemented a number of changes that hopefully will change the way people perceive the station.”

First and foremost, Hopkins and the other KSTO executives have focused on increasing the station’s signal strength. In the past, students in Rand and Larson – two dorms in close proximity to Buntrock Commons, KSTO’s broadcasting headquarters – have had trouble being able to tune into anything but static. The station went to considerable lengths to remedy this problem at the end of last year, and now all students in all housing areas should be able to listen with no problems. KSTO even made sure Hill-Kitt residents, who actually live in an entirely separate voting district from the rest of campus, would also be able to tune in.

Beyond fixing the campus signal issues, KSTO has also implemented webcasting for the upcoming semester. Adopted in 1997 and later abandoned, people outside of the St. Olaf campus – the immediate broadcast area – will again be able to check out the station.

Finally the broken equipment from last year has been fixed or replaced. Over the summer, the station repaired the faulty mixing board, fixed the broken CD players, and replaced blown speakers. Everything, absolutely everything, in the station is functional.

Returning disc jockey Molly Nelson ’08 was excited about the improvements: “Unbelievable things have happened. Buttons don’t fall off the console anymore when you press them too hard. The place smells like sunshine dust. It’s really going to make a big difference for DJ’s running the shows.”

Aside from fixing old equipment, the station has also acquired new equipment. DJs will now be able to hook their iPods up to the mixing board and broadcast individually crafted playlists they create on their computers. The acquisition of iPod technology also motivated KSTO executives to rescind the station’s longstanding structured playlist policy. DJs no longer have to draw 66 percent of their music from the KSTO library. Instead, the station hopes that the free-for-all format will foster a spirit of creativity in the studio; students can now mix personal and archival songs in any fashion they like.

Finally, KSTO – not generally regarded as the most fashionable place on campus – is attempting to position itself as a campus hub for alternative culture.

“KSTO can be so much more than it is. I see it becoming a gathering point for disenfranchised Oles,” Hopkins said. “I want to prove to students that there is life after Christmas Fest and the Limestones. We aren’t the Current and we aren’t WCAL. But we are an alternative cultural element for many people.”

Unbeknownst to many people, that alternative cultural element takes shape and assumes palpable power in the form of the College Music Journal, more widely known as CMJ. KSTO directors keep track of the most popular songs being played and report the numbers to CMJ, which in turn compiles a list of the most popular college radio songs.

Both major and independent labels use the CMJ lists to keep track of up-and-coming artists, and mainstream radio often takes its cue from the college kids in a never ending pursuit of the much sought after “18-to-34-year-old” demographic. Bands like Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, The Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie and the Decemberists all rode college radio to national prominence, and, in some cases, major label recording contracts. The station’s alternative music director Curt Frank ’06 summed up the idea nicely at the KSTO informational meeting: “College radio does make a difference.”

For your listening convenience, the Manitou Messenger has compiled a list of three of the most creative shows broadcasting this semester. That’s not to say these are the only shows worth checking out: KSTO covers the musical gamut. Punk, ska, reggae, hip-hop, jazz, alt, loud rock, metal, industrial and more will all be covered by the station’s DJs. So, to paraphrase Timothy Leary: “Tune in, turn on, and (don’t) drop out.”

Mess Spotlight:

Show: Music to Play After Dark

When: Tuesday, 12 p.m. to 1 a.m.

DJ(s): Trond Sneås Skauge, a.k.a. DJ Snails

Genre: Electronic

Synopsis: Trond hopes to provide his listeners with some of the “best electronic music there is, from dreamy trip-hop, to harsh industrial.” Expect to hear tracks from Sigur Ros, Parca Pace, Fennez, Terrorfakt, Air, Ulver, Godspeed You Black Emperor! offshoot, A Silver Mt. Zion and more. Trond also plans to have a German friend, DJ Supindahood, stop by for guest appearances. Not much talking will be taking place, though, for as Trond informed me, “No one really wants to listen to my voice when there is so much great music just waiting to be played.”

Show: These Ain’t Yo Mammy’s Flapjacks

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

DJ(s): Kate Dietrick ‘06 and Meghan Cieslik ‘06, a.k.a. Aunt Jemima and DJ Butterworth respectively

Genre: Indie

Synopsis: According to Kate and Meghan, they plan to “take the piss” out of each other in a show that will include embarrassing stories, dancing and British jokes involving slang and Guinness. Musically, Kate and Meghan play a variety of bands that deceptively all fall under the “indie” moniker. Dance Punks, Sufjan Stevens and the gloom-pop of Interpol will all be featured, along with tracks from Bright Eyes, Spoon, The Weakerthans, Tegan and Sara, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Architecture in Helsinki.

Show: Hell on the Hill

When: Saturday, 10 p.m. to 12 p.m.

DJ(s): Keith Fox ‘08, a.k.a…. Keith Fox.

Genre: Metal

Synopsis: Loud rock director Keith Fox’s show occupies a unique niche in the KSTO lineup. He plays all things metal: black, death, thrash, grind, doom, power, progressive and experimental. Choosing to not “cheapen the music” with commentary, “Hell on the Hill,” is a two-hour blast of distorted sludge and mayhem, death and doom. Keith will feature songs from metal luminaries such as Opeth, along with less popular metal artists with chipper names, like Darkthrone, Children of Bodom, Porcupine Tree, Nevermore, Bloodbath, Cephalic Carnage and Suffocation. Not for the faint of heart.

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