Nestled across from the IT office and amidst an array of media centers, computer labs, classrooms, and administrative offices, you’ll find another point of interest on the first floor of Taylor Hall: KWSB Radio, the longest running collegiate radio station in Colorado. KWSB, which broadcasts on 91.1 FM, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018.
Dons Lopez, a rising senior studying Music Industry, is KWSB’s Station Manager, a role he assumed in the fall of 2021. Lopez was enamored by the radio station from his very first campus visit, coming on as a DJ his freshman year.
“At the end of my first year, they were like ‘are you interested in being a manager here?’, and I was completely blown back because I didn’t even know what that entailed, but I was like ‘yeah, absolutely!”’ recalls Lopez.
Ron Graham, the station’s Program Manager and a rising senior studying Business Administration and Communication Arts, remembers learning about the radio station from a club fair. “They were blasting music, they were giving away free t-shirts and everything, and they were like ‘oh and you can be a DJ if you want!”
Getting trained up
Right from the start, Lopez and Graham were hooked, and Graham is now the main point of contact for aspiring student DJs. The process to become a DJ is quite simple—a prospective DJ will make initial contact with Ron, and then review the handbook and basic rules of broadcasting, receiving a brief station tour.
Then, the soon-to-be DJ will simulate a show in Studio B, the station’s backup studio, before moving on to shadow a station manager’s show. They will conclude their training by doing a show under the supervision of a station manager, before being unleashed to broadcast without further supervision.
“It’s easier than you expect, [becoming a DJ]. Looking at a big radio station board, looking at all the technology, it can be a little overwhelming. [But] five minutes of reading the manual and talking to our trainer really just narrows it down… It’s very easy, it’s very fun. I think the biggest challenge most DJs face is public speaking,” says Lopez, who encourages DJs to envision broadcasting as just speaking to their friends about music.
Once trained up, student DJs are off-and-running, but must abide by certain station-specific guidelines. For example, the station’s guidebook features the helpful instruction, “If you don’t have anything intelligent to say, just continue playing your music.”
Lopez notes that the pandemic was not all too kind to campus radio, and necessitated a “one person in the studio” policy that knocked out existing collaborative programs, and tanked the radio station’s public visibility during a period of lockdown and decreased on-campus activity.
He is aware that some students who entered campus during pandemic times may not even be aware Western has a radio station, even with its storied, student-driven history.
But Lopez had made it his mission to raise the station’s profile, emceeing events, boosting the station’s social media presence, and doing other outreach to raise their stock and get students involved and tuning in.
Those efforts include the creation of a promotional position dedicated to promoting the station for the 2022-23. Lopez considers getting the station back up to a sizable DJ roster to be a significant success. “Radio is not dead and we are here to show that”, he adds.
It’s all in the details
Altogether, the station has seven student management positions, with specific positions that oversee the music, programming, production, digital, engagement aspects of the station.
Dons, for his part, serves as the proverbial middle man amidst the managers. “We really preach a student-run radio station model around here,” notes Lopez.
The station features a primary broadcast room, with a soundboard featuring many channels for music input, including CD, aux, etc. On the output side of things, the sound stemming from KWSB’s Taylor Hall space goes out via a barix box on TuneIn, a radio streaming service that allows listeners to tune in from around the world.
For Gunnison Valley listeners, KWSB’s broadcasts will first hit the radio towers behind campus, which then transmits over to Tenderfoot, or “W”, Mountain, before booming out to the whole valley.
To fill airspace outside of the station’s dedicated DJ programming hours, the so-called “Ghost DJ” is enlisted. Jacob Vogel, the station’s Digital Manager, programmed the ethereal entity to play certain genres in certain blocks.
“Certain hours of the day, it will play country, or it will play alternative, or it will play EDM, sometimes if you tune in late at night it will play reggae, or heavy metal… During the midday it plays more popular genres, country is a big one in the valley,” adds Lopez.
But there’s plenty of room for prospective DJs to make their mark going forward. “We’re open essentially 24 hours a day, like if a DJ wants to come in at midnight and do a show, sure, but no one’s going to listen to it,” Lopez adds with a laugh.
DJ blocks can be as short as 30 minutes, but shows of an hour or more are generally preferred, even up to two or three hours as the schedule allows.
The Ghost DJ
When it comes to the Ghost DJ, Vogel, a Computer Science major in the first cohort of the CU-Western program, is in control of automation. Now a rising senior, he signed up to DJ right away as a freshman on campus, and became the Digital Manager in the fall of 2020. “I think the main application of my Computer Major is criticizing—just constantly criticizing the software we have to use,” Vogel says with a laugh.
Vogel is also working on improving the Ghost DJ feature to more accurately reflect the musical taste of the station’s managers, and to cultivate a more unique taste for the airwaves. “We’re the college radio station that has the liberty to play whatever we want,” says Vogel. “We want to make [ourselves] a unique radio station that you go to to hear something you haven’t heard before.”
He has also been working on digitizing hour-long blocks of the station’s vinyl collection, recording them hour-by-hour and converting them into MP3 format. Vogel himself likes to explore KWSB’s jazz vinyl collection and DJ on a soundboard, crafting an EDM show that he describes as ‘dancy and fun.”
Vogel encourages students to get involved and take charge of their student radio station. “As a student, this is our radio station. If you want to hear a certain type of music that we’re not playing, then we want you to play it,” he adds. “It’s less intimidating than you think.”
A diverse set of programming
KWSB’s 2021-22 schedule featured more than fifteen distinct programs, including ones named “Kaleidoscope”, Western’s Workin Man Country”, “Radio Shipwreck”, “Radio Kaos”, “Turtle Island,” and “Dumpster Fire Fridays.” Often, students will team up to work on programs together, a practice that is now possible again as pandemic restrictions have waned.
Lopez has his own show, the “Pop Punk Power Hour”, which airs on Fridays during the academic year. “Whenever I can, I love to turn on the radio and listen to other DJs’ shows, just to see who’s playing what and maybe get some inspiration here and there,” says Dons.
Lopez’s show comes complete with the tagline: “we play the latest and greatest in alternative, punk, and indie rock” or as Lopez puts it, “just anything that’s kinda in that rock-ish, alternative vibe”.
Graham’s show is “Ron’s Real Rock Radio”, which goes by the tagline “serving you your daily dose of alliteration and classic rock tunes.” Graham grew up on classic rock, and began the show’s tenure playing CDs in lieu of Spotify or other music streaming services.
To sustain that, they would borrow CDs from their dad, or check them out from the local library. Nowadays, they have expanded their repertoire to include music from Spotify, and are playing around more with weekly themes, like song titles with a woman’s name, or ones tied to specific locales.
For Graham, their greatest satisfaction comes from texts from their father, who both inspired and fulfilled their love for alternative rock growing up.
Building out the fan base
Asked about his favorite portion of campus radio, Lopez grins “this is gonna sound kinda cocky, but [its] my fan base. This is my third year doing this now, and I’ve grown a nice fan base of people who regularly listen in and [tell me] ‘hey, I love the pop punk power hour, good show today!”
That feedback motivates Lopez in his music selection, but at the end of the day, it’s all about sharing his passion for punk and alternative music. “I just get to sit in the booth for an hour and jam out to my favorite tracks, I’m like air drumming and singing along, and the IT people [across the hall] look at me like I’m crazy,” says Lopez.
Regarding his favorite show he doesn’t produce, Lopez highlights fellow manager Vogel, who puts on a classic vinyl show featuring a lot of rock and jazz, utilizing KWSB’s massive collection which lines the station walls. Lopez stressed that no matter your music taste, KWSB Radio plays something for everyone, whether it’s rock, metal, country, jazz, alternative, or pop.
KWSB has enabled Matthew Eshed, now a second year Master’s of Environmental Management (MEM) student, to make his longstanding goal of hosting a radio show a reality this semester. “I’ve wanted to for a long time– since I was a kid,” he adds.
Eshed’s new show is called Climate N’ Jamz. “The idea behind the show is that these climate topics are uncomfortable, and there is some grief around them,” he says, noting that many environmental conversations trail off awkwardly.
“My idea is [that] okay, I’ll bring in some funky jams to play with it, to sit with this uncertainty and lack of clarity,”’ Eshed elaborates.
His show is heavy on jazz and funk tunes, mixed in Afro-Caribbean and hip-hop titles. “[It’s] music that makes you move, makes your body move–I’m trying to bring a somatic element to these complicated and complex climate issues…maybe by moving it [our ideas and tension] through our bodies, we can move it at a global level too,” offers Eshed.
Besides the preselected first song, Eshed picks his music live and in real time, crafting selections around his predetermined environmental topics. For now, he’s using Spotify for his music selections, but Eshed would like to progress to a level of comfortability that allows him to utilize CDs and records within KWSB’s library.
Another aspiration for Eshed is to invite expert guests into the studio, or even accept listener phone calls. Thus far, Eshed has received some positive feedback on a small sample size. “One person has said that my vibe was immaculate,” he says with a chuckle.
The sports beat
KWSB also has a history of broadcasting Mountaineer sporting events, an aspect of the station that was dormant during the pandemic. But starting in the spring of 2022, Kai Vong, a rising sophomore studying Computer Science and Political Science, has picked up the athletics torch, becoming KWSB’s Sports Director (the first since the pandemic hit) while also hosting a jazz show of his own.
Vong broadcasted a number of basketball games during the spring semester, utilizing the station’s ability to set up mobile broadcasts for Mountaineer home games, beaming his play-by–play calls over the airwaves while Lopez, the Station Manager, holds down the fort at the station.
Vong hopes to begin broadcasting at away games down the road, as well as at football and women’s soccer games next fall. Later in the year, he plans to pick up where he left off with his bread-and-butter, the basketball broadcasts.
For Vong, the KWSB gig is his first experience with sportscasting, but he’s a devoted, longtime sports fan, particularly of soccer, basketball, and football. As he gains experience, Vong is looking to develop a more intimate relationship with Western’s players and coaches, potentially conducting interviews before or after games, or during halftime.
Ultimately, Vong wants readers to know that even if they live far from Gunnison, or just cannot make a specific game, KWSB offers Mountaineer fans the opportunity to listen in to Western’s teams and stay up to date with Mountaineer sports via 91.1 and the TuneIn app.
Expression on the airwaves
Graham stresses that for the staff and the volunteer DJs, the radio station is a mode of expression, a fun activity to engage with and enlist their friends to listen in. But it’s also a creative experience for would-be broadcasters and other performers.
“If you want to go into radio or broadcasting, or even theater, you have broadcasting experience now, so you get more comfortable with speaking on-air to an audience, and then you also become more comfortable operating a soundboard. That’s a pretty cool, important skill that you can use.” Even for those who simply listen in, Graham touts the benefits of KWSB for forging broader community connections.
Max Klein, a rising senior studying Computer Science, served as the station’s Music Director during the 2021-22 academic year. His show, Max’s Mountain Mix, focused on indie rock and electronic music, with occasional forays into bluegrass. But Klein also carved out other roles for himself amidst KWSB’s flexible structure.
He received emails several times a week from producers and distributors introducing small bands and artists of all genres to KWSB and other radio stations, and Klein fielded those emails and listened to the samples—pushing the stuff he liked to Vogel to feed into the Ghost DJ.
“Having people send music in–I don’t really listen to soul, [and] I don’t really listen to this type of country, but it’s my job—I listen to it. And I get to hear new music, which is really the best part of the job,” Klein offers.
For him, the love for music traces to his early life. Klein remembers taking a radio into his room as a child and just sitting, listening to the radio. “Coming here and being a radio DJ has been the best opportunity for me to move into a different way of listening to music. It’s a great way to just listen through songs and be open to whatever.”
Klein sees music as a vessel for communication and connection, including with Western’s student community. Accordingly, Klein takes it upon himself to serve as a go-between for the station managers, keeping them abreast of the others’ listening habits on a regular basis.
Klein also encourages student clubs to utilize KWSB’s promotional capacities and submit PSAs (under 30 seconds, preferably) to blast their events out to campus, and to the greater Gunnison community.
Support your local DJs!
Next year, the KWSB crew returns Lopez, Graham, Vong, Vogel and Jones, and will add Sam Bernard in the Promotions Director role, as well as budding DJ Amy Quintana as Music Director.
Lopez leaves us with a parting message: “Tune in to 91.1, support your local DJs.”
If you are interested in getting involved with the station, you can email Dons at firstname.lastname@example.org.