This September, UC Berkeley’s student-run radio station will celebrate 50 years of operation, despite receiving less funding from the campus and recently increased competition from Internet-based sources.
Even as new technologies — like Internet streaming — squeeze profits, and campus budget cuts strip funds from the station, KALX radio, which was founded in 1962, has managed to embrace its longevity and consistency and create a niche market for its alternative, diverse music.
“A lot of college radio stations are being shut down, but I feel like KALX has stayed true to what it was 50 years ago,” said Lorraine Petel, the station’s publicity director and UC Berkeley sophomore. “It means a lot that we’re still on the airstream.”
The sense of pride among volunteers and staff members at the radio station can be traced to its long history of finding and influencing underground artists.
Staff members have access to a library of more than 95,000 records, discs and vinyls to listen to, and disc jockeys are required to feature three to four different genres of music in each three-hour shift, in accordance with guidelines that have existed since the early 1970s. Several staff members at the radio station said the result is an eclectic range of music that appeals to various music tastes and changes with time.
“When you listen to a digital service, you don’t get the same connection that you do with a human,” said Sandra Wasson, the station’s general manager.
Petel said punk-rock artists like Billie Joe Armstrong often visited staff members at the studio, and artists like Bon Iver were frequently played before appearing on the national stage.
To be sure, the station is hurting after losing a portion of its budget. Recently, its leadership was forced to reduce its engineering staff, and though the station’s operating strategy has mostly remained the same since 1962, KALX has embraced digital technology in some capacity, including live streaming radio shows — accessible on the Internet and the station’s iPhone app — and featuring weekly and monthly charts of listeners’ favorite music.
Still, Wasson said the plan for the future is to stay the same, with a formula for production that has existed for decades — broadcasting news twice a day, live bands once a week and medleys of alternative music throughout each shift.
“We’re poor, just like all the other clubs on campus,” she said. “But radio in general is still a very active force.”
The anniversary celebrations begin on Sept. 7 with an exhibit at the Rock Paper Scissors Collective and will continue with performances and fundraisers at various locations in Berkeley through mid-October.
Sam Buckland covers academics and administration.