Does K-UTE need its own FM station?
It’s a tricky question.
Utah radio is a dry climate. There aren’t a lot of stations between country and whatever’s currently trending. Unless you’re listening to 96.3, which is still un-ironically playing Linkin Park and Nickleback, you’re probably listening to your own music when you drive. And no one could blame you for sticking with what you like in a radio scene so riddled with the same soundtracks that it’s become routine. I’ve heard Elle King’s “Ex’s and Oh’s” every day on the radio, yet still it’s claimed as “new,” even at the beginning of 2016. Honestly, we’ve got two stations that play local bands on FM radio: 90.9 KRCL and 88.1 KPGR. And one of those two is off-air a good chunk of time.
KRCL plays whatever the hell they want. They’ve got a female artists block, a blues block, a block that I can only describe as a Paul Simon appreciation block. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a song and loved it, wrote down the band name, and still had a hell of a time finding them online. They play genuinely interesting music that most people will have never heard before.
KPGR is without a doubt my favorite radio station of all time. They play, almost exclusively, the stuff you wouldn’t expect to hear on the radio. I remember the first time I tuned into the station. I was scanning when they first came up, and it sounded like dead air but you could hear people talking in the background. A voice came on saying the studio was closing and that they’ve got an interesting playlist for the rest of the day. You could tell they weren’t used to speaking into a mic on air. At first I thought it was our school’s radio. The truth is that KPGR is the radio station of Pleasant Grove High School. It allows them to be interesting: they take popular artists and play their older stuff, their unpopular stuff, their practically unheard-of stuff. And usually it’s pretty great.
Could K-UTE fill this niche as well? The problem is that K-UTE already struggles as is, and to request that the U invest more money into the station to broadcast on an FM signal is questionable at best. There are a number of conveniences and drawbacks to being an exclusively online radio station. It’s reported that the K-UTE front page only gets about 4000 views a month. That’s a fairly niche crowd of people tuning in. At the same time, it allows K-UTE a lot of freedom in creating their own content and playing the music they want to hear. I posed some of these questions to Jarom “Solar” Norris, the broadcast manager of K-UTE.
At one point K-UTE did have an AM channel. What happened to streaming to an AM station?
There are a few reasons for that. K-UTE has never gotten very much funding from the university, so we’ve often operated on a very limited budget. So the simple answer is that we reached a point where keeping the AM station around just wasn’t worth the money we spent on it. But there are a couple of other fun rumors about how it went down. One such rumor was that there was a point where we had Internet Streaming and AM Streaming, and the AM antennae actually went down at one point, and nobody noticed for a couple months, so they just left it broken.
Do you feel not broadcasting over live radio changes how K-UTE functions compared to standard radio stations?
Oh, absolutely. One such way is that we don’t have to comply with the same FCC regulations that other college radio stations do. That includes paying enormous yearly fees and getting slapped with penalty fees whenever you get caught cursing on-air or advertising for a company. This allows K-UTE to focus more on paying our staff and giving them the freedom to represent the campus voice with minimal censorship.
Actually, back in 2013 the station manager at the time, Will Hatton, was working on getting us an FM license. That project was abandoned because of the amount of money the license and fees themselves would cost, but in the process the station became much more similar to an FM station. Now we try to give DJs as authentic of a radio experience as possible while also retaining the freedom of Internet streaming.
Is the radio still relevant when it’s not broadcast on a station?
The radio business has definitely taken several hits in recent years, as advertising is becoming a less valuable commodity and live-streaming through Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes have become more useful. But radio has found its relevancy in being in touch with the local community. That’s what makes K-UTE relevant, is the fact that the music is all picked by students to reflect the campus’ tastes, to tell the campus story through music. We try to engage with the community, DJing at events and putting on concerts on campus. Our talk content advertises events and projects going on in this area and it highlights our peers. That’s what sets radio apart from generic streaming. We’ve also grown into the new on-demand mindset by creating Podcast, Blog and Video content that can be accessed via our website. We’ve been able to design our website and our social media accounts to be a hub for student entertainment.
Do you foresee this changing in the future?
Honestly, not unless the university steps in and decides that FM or AM radio is an experience they want students to be able to have. We’re still operating on a limited budget that is shared by all of Student Media, and our priorities for further financial gains are paying more scholarships to DJs and Producers and engaging more in the community. In order to actually upgrade the station, the University would need to substantially increase our budget and hire us a full-time faculty advisor with knowledge of radio hardware. Most other colleges that have student radio stations have both of these things. But for now, we like being one of the only college stations that’s entirely run by students, from the DJs all the way up to the Station Manager.
I don’t know if the U should put more resources into K-UTE in order to reach a wider audience. But I do feel that Utah lacks quality radio.
Check out K-UTE and see what you think at http://www.kuteradio.org/