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(Re)making Poodle Radio

Delivering The Indy Through Your Power Outlet


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

They say that if you push your radio right up against the wall, you can hear it.

Some doubt this story, while others vehemently proclaim their belief in it. Some claim they found just the right angle to position their antenna relative to their electrical outlets, and tuned it in themselves. Some simply say they’ve known, or at least known of, someone who’s pulled off that feat. You yourself are likely only six or seven degrees of separation away from someone who knows someone who has found a way to hear KJUC-AM.

This is the mythology that surrounds KCSB’s carrier current training station, a broadcasting no-man’s-land where radio skills are developed on the fly and experimentation is all. This tiny operation has its own expectations, its own sensibilities, its own mores. Though the man himself seems to have long ago moved on from the UCSB campus, the promo clips recorded by KJUC alumnus Ben Lau remain a testament to the place’s attitude. Each is a miniature radio drama in itself, usually commencing with a character hearing strange noises seeping out of his wall and ending with an explanation that, yes, that is a KJUC DJ spinning a Chinese-language rendition of the Titanic theme.

Founded in the early 1980s as KCSB-AM (see also “A Brief History of KCSB, Part V: The Controversial ‘80s” in The KCSBeat), KJUC has since been preparing a steady stream of hopefuls for community radio greatness. As long as you produce a decent demo tape to submit to the program director at the end of the quarter, you can do pretty much what you like, testing new strategies, implementing new theories, seeing what works and discarding what doesn’t.

Some of the techniques that might fall by the wayside include “don’t plan anything out in advance” and “forget you played that song already.” It’s fine to try them, though, since the signal goes out only as a “carrier current,” broadcast through the electrical wires of certain UCSB residence halls. Hence the need to cram one’s radio up against the nearest power source.

But that doesn’t mean KJUC has no quality programming! In fact, one of the many listening experiences it currently offers comes from the Indy itself. Poodle Radio, the paper’s official radio program, has been hitting the airwaves—or, rather, the electrical circuits—every Saturday afternoon from 4-5 p.m. this winter quarter. Fortunately, for readers who’d like to become listeners, there’s a better solution on offer than sweet-talking your way into some poor Gaucho’s dorm room every weekend: Each Monday, web content manager Mike Gahagan uploads the show, in streaming form, to this very site’s Poodle Radio archive page.

Though I host, produce, and organize the program, I didn’t start it. That credit goes to senior editor Matt Kettmann and reporter Ben Preston, who, from October through December 2008, put together no fewer than seven shows on topics like gang violence, the state water supply, Proposition 8, and O.J. Simpson. Listening to this first iteration of the show—”proto-Poodle,” I’ve come to call it—I was favorably impressed. Each broadcast brought a bunch of Indy contributors, live, right into the studio to chat about their areas of expertise and what was currently going on in them. But putting together the weekly broadcast, and completing the KJUC-to-KCSB transition, can be a time-consuming endeavor, especially when piled atop already heaping plates of fulltime journalistic employment.

This, a year later, is where I come in. Having programmed on KCSB since 2004 (see also my self-profile for this column) and written for the Indy since 2007, it occurred to me that I could function as a living point of connection between the two entities. My unbreakable, inexplicable addiction to volunteering to produce local media certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

I thus took up the hosting and organizational reins of the renewed, rebooted Poodle Radio as 2010 began. My goals for the show have so far been twofold. First: to live up to the liveliness of the proto-Poodle broadcasts that came before. And second: to feature as wide a variety of subject matter and as many personalities as possible in order to capture what we all know to be the veritably kaleidoscopic Santa Barbara experience. Thanks, props, ups, and the like go out to the paper’s contributors who have donated their time and voices this year: Elizabeth Schwyzer on dance, James Donelan on the symphonic scene, Chris Meagher on the news, Aly Comingore with music, D.J. Palladino on film, and Charles Donelan on Sundance skiing conditions, to name but a few.

Despite the content we’ve assembled, these first four shows of the new season have constituted an object lesson in the creativity of limitations. Long since broadcast-trained, and not having had to use KJUC studio in half a decade, I’d forgotten how, shall we say, minimalist it is. This is a boon to fledgling programmers who seek to avoid getting flustered or bewildered by a multiplicity of switches, sliders and blinking lights, but more of a challenge for everyone else. The possible silver lining here is that Ben Preston, formerly of proto-Poodle and my co-host for the first half of this quarter, and I have been prompted to find “outside the box” workarounds to accomplish what we’ve wanted to accomplish on the air.

But amid this imaginative usage of little more than a trio of CD players, a mixing console, and a computer not connected to the Internet, our minds have been feverishly brewing all manner of ideas to execute next quarter in the full-featured KCSB studio. That is, we’ll execute them if the powers that KCS-Be see fit to promote Poodle Radio onto the FM schedule. If not, it’s back to the drawing board. But if so, oh, the plans we have! More live guests at once. Impassioned debates between these live guests. Call-ins. Remote reports. Man-on-the-street (probably State) field recordings. Keep an eye on this column, and we’ll keep you posted on the show’s evolution. Dorm room walls can’t contain us for long.

411

Poodle Radio airs Saturdays, from 4-5 p.m., on KJUC, 770/880 AM in select UCSB residence halls, and is uploaded each Monday morning to independent.com

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