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Changes in Frequency: the evolution of KSTO

I can vaguely remember a time when having my own radio show at KSTO sounded like the best idea in the world. Unfortunately, given that I became very busy – very, very quickly – and the fact that I am an incredibly lazy person, gracing the students of St. Olaf with the dulcet tones of my voice for an hour a week never became a reality.

Sadly, my laziness has stayed with me this year, so radio has not become a part of my life. However, this week I had the opportunity to talk with some of the students involved with KSTO. They were each more than happy to impart their knowledge on the nature of radio, their respective shows and general information on KSTO itself.

The station was first brought to life in the 1950s when student workers at WCAL-AM a listener-supported radio station expressed their desire to have a radio show catered to student interests. In the 1970s, WCAL began to grow and needed the space accorded to KSTO by St. Olaf. This expansion eventually lead to

KSTO’s relocation to its current location in the basement of Buntrock.

Incidentally, FM 89.3 The Current was launched at St. Olaf as a sister station to WCAL-AM in the late 1960s. The station was operated at St. Olaf for almost 40 years with programming that focused more on classical music and religion-based shows. In 2004, St. Olaf sold the station to Minnesota Public Radio, and the Current we know today came to life.

As issues with funding and radio reception seemed to continuously pop up, the ’80s and ’90s saw a good deal of fluctuation for KSTO. The AM frequency KSTO operated on became nearly impossible to receive in most residence halls.

It was not until the 1996-1997 academic year that KSTO found its savior: technical director Christian Green ’98. As KSTO had not been able to appropriate the funds necessary for making a full-scale FM conversion, Green proposed an FM alternative that would broadcast only to the residence halls on campus. The decision was made to keep KSTO an “on-campus” radio station, and Green began working to complete the conversion.

Unfortunately, Green was forced to cut his work short and return home for medical reasons. After only a few months of treatment, Green died of cancer in Iowa City, Iowa. Green was a junior at St. Olaf at the time of his death. Though his story is short and heartbreaking, Green’s hard work contributed to KSTO’s standing as a thriving FM campus radio station, and for that, his legacy lives on.

Carolyn Bernhardt ’14, the current manager of KSTO, has been working this year to ensure that Green’s progress was not in vain. The station recently purchased a variety of new equipment, in addition to refurbishing the studio. Instead of using iTunes as a music library, KSTO is now operating with Simian: a system that allows bands and DJs to record and store material in addition to organizing music files.

KSTO also has a new set of microphones, monitors and furniture in the on-air studio. Additionally, Bernhardt has been working to increase the usage of CDs and vinyls on-air, providing an alternative to the much-used music storage software.

Bernhardt hopes that by the new year all of the DJs will have a complete understanding of the new technology. Bernhardt also plans to expand talk radio with an up-and-running news section as early as next semester.

“Modeling the station after NPR has always been the goal”, Bernhardt said.

Though the role of radio as a media outlet is not what it used to be, Bernhardt sees a very bright future for KSTO. Its influence seems to be increasing, due largely in part to an incredibly driven and enthusiastic first-year class.

“The new first-year DJs paired with returning DJs have allowed for a very diverse, varied and knowledgeable station,” Bernhardt said.

Madeline Burbank ’15 – the voice behind a news and politics segment on Tuesdays from 7-8 p.m. – covers everything from events on campus to political relations internationally. Her goal is to keep St. Olaf students from becoming too “stuck in the campus bubble” and to inform us of what is affecting the ever-changing world we live in. For those eager for their daily fill of political commentary, Burbank’s show can be followed on Twitter @STOBuzz.

Andrew Parr ’15 runs a show devoted to classical music, airing Tuesdays from 3-4 p.m. For Parr – a possible music education major – this experience is everything he could have hoped for. His delight comes from the opportunity to expose students to music they may not otherwise listen to.

“What I get to do is everything I’ve always wanted to do. Hopefully I’m giving people the chance to really understand what they’re listening to,” Parr said.

Parr also expressed his appreciation for the radio, admitting his hope that its decline is not permanent. Parr added that it is not as relevant as it was 30 years ago, but argues that there is a great benefit to listening to radio.

“It’s nice because when you’re listening to music by yourself, you don’t have anyone to tell you something about the music,” Parr said. “But DJs on the radio can have something valuable to say.”

Unfortunately, the fact remains that today music is easily accessible through Spotify, Pandora and hundreds upon hundreds of other websites, sweeping the discovery of new music from under radio’s feet. So is there really anything to gain from listening to the radio when we can just as easily open up a few tabs on Firefox?

Zaq Baker ’15, Top 100/Alternative Director and DJ at KSTO, highlights the personal side of radio.

“There’s a very human-to-human component that you just can’t replicate with music software, which lacks a lot of the power that radio has,” Baker said.

If nothing else, KSTO is the epitome of individual expression. Though on-air personalities do have to adhere to Federal Communications Comission’s guidelines, there is no other form of censorship regarding music played or topics discussed.

“If you want to know what Oles are really about, listen to KSTO. The monoculture at St. Olaf does not have a radio show, but the truly interesting Oles who make St. Olaf what it is are the ones that do have shows,” Kevin Jackson ’15 said. “At KSTO, you can get to know the real side of students – the unfiltered side.”

In short, dear Oles, KSTO is not something to be disregarded. Why should radio take a backseat to your iPods? Can your iPods make jokes, provide insight or offer opinions? No.

And Siri doesn’t count.

Things You May Not Know About KSTO

1. The Great Fire: In the 1970s, a fire started in the KSTO section of the WCAL building and caused damages costing upwards of $3,000. The fire destroyed the printer and all of the broadcasting equipment.

2. The New Production Studio: This year, KSTO is working with new equipment in a nicely renovated studio.

3. Live On-Air Shows: KSTO now has a designated space for musicians to perform on-air. This opportunity is extended to all campus bands and musicians.

4. Recording: The studio now has a space where campus musicians and bands can record their material. Additionally, DJs can pre-record shows they would be unavailable to do live.

5. Hope Country: Brent Johnson, the leader of Hope Country – a folk group from Duluth – will be coming later this year into perform on-air before the band’s show at Hogan Brothers.

6. Variety: This year’s lineup houses a large amount of diversity in show type. According to Zaq Baker ’15, there are many different types of DJs with diverse tastes and kinds of shows. “No two shows are quite alike, and that’s really only something college radio can give you,” Baker said.

7. They See You. . .: DJs can actually see how many listeners they have at one time. This can either make them feel really good, or really bad. So, listen up and give these wonderful people some warm and fuzzies.