At 6 a.m. yesterday, KCSB rolled into its freshly minted spring programming schedule. For new DJs, this might mean a longed-for opportunity to broadcast on the station; for returning ones, perhaps an improved time slot. If they’re taking the quarter off, it could offer an equally welcome 10-week break from the pressures of community radio. For KCSB listeners, the spring schedule brings, as usual, a mixture of old same-time-same-channel favorites, a handful of brand new shows, and a reshuffling of the rest. It’s a regularly scheduled testament to, and driver of, the station’s refusal to be boring.
If you aren’t a longtime listener, you may not know that each of KCSB’s programming quarters (which roughly align with UCSB’s academic quarters) has its own listening character, and each presents its own set of challenges to the station staff. I learned about a few of these challenges when I sat down with Ariana Dumpis, KCSB’s program director, to chat about the process of putting together this spring’s schedule. While she seemed happy indeed about the results of the effort, equally clear was her relief at putting the somewhat onerous task behind her.
Of course, it’s not a job that Dumpis or any of her predecessors have had to take on single-handedly. Schedule construction is also overseen by the Program Mediation and Review Committee, a body of 10 including community members, programmers, and three KCSB staffers. This is the same group responsible for reviewing shows year-round: listening in and making sure everyone’s adhering to the KCSB standard. At the end of each quarter, when the deadline has passed to hand in program proposals, demo discs, and the like, their crunch to scoop up these often wildly disparate parts and assemble them into a coherent whole begins immediately.
Several times, Dumpis likened the process to putting together a puzzle, though it’s a puzzle with the added challenge of a ticking clock. A mere four days after all the paperwork is filed, the complete schedule must be posted on the station’s lobby window. While the collective puts in a solid five hours or so of preparatory work beforehand, the brief window of time that follows is dominated by calling DJs who have filled out their proposals incorrectly or forgotten them entirely, and putting heads together for two separate five-hour meetings to figure out what should broadcast when.
Some elements of the schedule fall into place with relative ease, while others demand extended finesse and fiddling to lock into place. Certain programs, venerable KCSB institutions, simply remain in the same time slot they’ve occupied for the past decade or more. Brand new programs tend to fall into the wee hours, between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., colloquially known as the “graveyard” but really more of a place where KCSB shows are born and their voices found. More trickily, some programmers incur slight changes in their availability, or the amount of time they’d like to spend broadcasting each week changes, or they’re tired of one slot and want another.
Off the top of her head, Dumpis recited a litany of considerations: “Do they want to stay in the same time? Do they want a new time? Do they need to be in safe-harbor hours? Do they have classes? Do they work? Are they going to graduate soon? Is this their last chance to be on the air? We want to keep people in the same spots to help them build listenerships, but we also want to fit everyone in. That’s why programmers sometimes need to alternate weeks with other programmers. Students want the 8-10 p.m. or 10 p.m.-midnight slots. They also don’t want to do weekends.”
It’s not all about temporal desire and availability, of course. Beyond mere arrangement of the 168 hours lie the even more complicated issues of whether and why particular programs should air on KCSB. “We review the programmer’s mic skills, their technical skills, how well they do transitions, their ability to play [public service announcements],” Dumpis said. But such abilities can, in theory, be judged objectively. There are even more difficult qualities in play: “We also have to ask, ‘Does this show fit in with KCSB’s mandate?’ It’s hard to define! Everyone’s show is personal. We want to make sure we feature other genres besides indie rock and ‘eclectic.’ We also have a few blues shows, some jazz shows, a lot of dance music shows. It would be nice to expand our presence in reggae and hip-hop.”
Whether or not the show proposed is music-based, personality becomes a factor, and KCSB is nothing if not a haven for varieties of unusual personality. “Some people know everything about the music they play and are eager to talk about it on the air, and that’s great to hear,” Dumpis said. “But we also like when programmers give the music priority. It’s just nice to hear the enthusiasm. When the enthusiasm is there, you feel good about putting them on the air, even if you have to do it between 2 and 4 a.m.”
So what’s especially interesting on the spring schedule? Dumpis highlighted two new music shows playing only tracks by female artists, one of which airs Friday mornings and, perhaps unexpectedly, is helmed by a male DJ. She also mentioned a late-night Friday program driven by a concept I’ve never before heard of on freeform radio, and that’s saying something: The host improvises playlists by carrying over one word from the previous song’s title into the title of the next. “So if they play one song with the word ‘that’ in the name,” Dumpis explained, “the next song will have ‘that’ in the name as well.” Who wouldn’t want to find out what sort of a listening experience that will turn out to be?
You can check out the online spring schedule at KCSB.org for yourself, or pick up one of KCSB’s brightly-colored printed copies after Monday, April 12 at one of over 80 locations in Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Isla Vista, including Java Jones, Freebirds, Borders, Chaucer’s, Sojourner, and the Goleta Coffee Company.