A lot can happen in 55 years. Humans can land on the moon, invent the Internet, and rapidly modify the climate in half a century, for starters. Simultaneously, a lot can remain the same, and during those decades, UCSB’s radio station, KCSB, has held it down as an anchor of independent programming, remaining unchangeably unique in a consistently changeable world. In 2017, the station celebrates this landmark with their annual fundraising campaign. I spoke with the station’s general manager, Ally Gonzalez, about where she hopes to lead the station, what radio means to her, and her favorite DJs over the years.
Why is it important listeners donate to KCSB? For me, the most precious feature of KCSB is the fact that we are a community-access media source. This should not be taken for granted. Behind the scenes, our content is produced and reviewed by a community of over 100 programmers and volunteers that pull from the many corners of the 805 area. Our programmers are aware of the privilege of being on the air, especially in a time where now so few media sources exist outside the handful of conglomerates. Because of this privilege, our role as producers is taken seriously, and as programmers we challenge ourselves every week to provide content, cultural or otherwise, that is educational, novel, and personal. Our station is one of the only left in the country that provides this sort of experience, with this kind of access to the community. We need to celebrate and support these kinds of organizations.
I imagine you were a listener to KCSB before you became part of the staff. How does it feel to have been on both sides of the coin, and where do you see your role as either shaping or maintaining its vibe? I actually joined KCSB my first quarter as a student at UCSB (and my first month in the Santa Barbara area), so I guess for a more honest comparison, I may relate to my previous experiences listening to radio programming, commercial or otherwise. Before joining the KCSB community, what I understood — after years of playing “Name That Tune” with my family in the car — was that most radio followed a strict formula, sourced from a fixed and objectively sparse music collection. The music library a commercial radio station pulls from aren’t even albums, just singles. Listening to the same three Led Zeppelin or Queen songs, oh my god, if I hear “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the radio ever again, wow. Commercial radio is such a cultural wasteland.
I noticed a loophole in my understanding of radio’s value when, in high school, I fell in love with The Twilight Zone and East Village Radio, exploring Rod Serling’s early career with noncommercial radio where he wrote mysterious, beautiful stories, and then listening to EVR’s eclectic and strangely humored music program “Chances With Wolves.” I became exposed to a one-of-a-kind quality I’ve since only found with independent radio — a rare, personal, intimate experience of imagination and education shared between listener and programmer. This understanding is felt more deeply now that I have the privilege of working behind the scenes at one of the most special noncommercial stations around. KCSB’s 55 year legacy is not only heard on the airwaves, with our evergreen mediation of eclectic music and activist-oriented public affairs programming, but I’m aware of this legacy when I work with and learn more about my fellow programmers. I feel a great sense of pride as I reflect on our ethos towards creating healthy community spaces, and how central this element of our mission statement has been in our relation to each other as media-producers and to our attitude towards our listenership.
Immersing myself in KCSB’s culture of independent, non-commercial, people-powered radio is the best life decision I have ever made. I’m in love with this group of people, and their love for what they do and share with their listeners is empowering, and I’m lucky to be around this kind of energy every day. As General Manager, I see myself as a supporter of their interests, as they are a reflection of the community’s interest. I’m responsible for empowering the student-led committee that works alongside me; it’s another beautiful feature of KCSB that our leadership positions, or collectively known as the executive committee, is exclusively open to undergraduate students of UCSB. It’s of incredible importance to me to make clear the value of the work that we do and by extension the value of keeping an organization like KCSB as efficient and present as possible. Being there for the students and programmers for their projects and interests is my job.
Building on that, are there any new steps you hope to take as GM? What expansions or projects would you hope to see happen at KCSB? There is a lot to be done at the station. Like I said, 55-year legacy, meaning 55 years of wear and tear, and not much “wiggle-room” money! For example, we just updated our phone system after getting rid of one that had been here for 25 years! A project we are seeing to now is remodeling our website, after the one we had for about ten years crashed last April. In terms of facilities management, there are a couple big projects that I would hope to see us pursue in sort of a “five year plan” kind of way. We produce a lot of pre-recorded content between our News and Sports department, our Public Affairs shows, and our wide array of public service announcements. That said, we need to build another production studio. The other project is refurbishing our massive music collection, one of the largest in the state; we have decades of music sourced from independent labels in our library, however with the issues of stolen property, broken or damaged music, and issues of space, there needs to be a lot of attention given to reorganizing the space which our collection occupies, while also being able to re-fulfill the music which has been damaged or stolen. Lastly, in terms of projects outside of our internal efficiency, hosting as many free events for the 805 community is of extreme importance to our programming staff. These events, in reflection of our mission statement, are to educate and enrich our local culture. For example, a committee of world music programmers at KCSB have been helping organize our third Hello World! Music Festival, with this year’s lineup showcasing musicians from Brazil and Niger.
Who have been some of your favorite DJs over the years? You’re asking me to single out certain members of my family, this is hard and unfair! So many people have inspired me here. Grateful for getting to know Jason’s Inertia Musica (eclectic); Sunnyland Steve’s Views of the Blues (blues); DJ X.TEK OVERLOAD’s The Chronometricz Show Live (hip-hop); Steve S.’s Joyful Cosmos (world); Spencer VH: Today’s Active Lifestyles (eclectic); Hoshwa’s 5…4…3…2…Fun! (rock); Blanq Wahl & Ina Rume’s The Transatlantic Phenomenon (world); Tío Chuy’s ¡Muévelas! (Latin); Ben’s Orchestral Oasis (classical); Elizabeth Robinson’s No Alibis (public affairs); Sam Goff’s Tektonic Dubplates (eclectic). I’d especially like to thank my former co-host and dear friend, Joaquin, who’s doing a funny show now called Scooch. He’s currently one of our music directors as well, and I’m lucky to have had the experience of sharing music with him and our listeners for a year. He really loves music! And we’re very lucky to have him as a music director. Anyway, it’s really hard to narrow down what DJs are my favorites. Like I said earlier, they’re all so passionate to challenge themselves in order to share real, educational content, whether light-hearted or heavy, and all of them are worth getting to know.
What are some great/funny/strange KCSB memories? Too many memories, so it’s hard to think of particular ones. I will say that working alongside Ted Coe, our station advisor, has been such a beautiful experience, I guarantee he’s one of the funniest people ever. Lots of inside jokes in the main office, for certain. Being General Manager has been so challenging, and exhausting, but at the same time the most fulfilling experience I have ever had. I feel like I might be talking in circles now, but being around such brilliant, caring people, people who care about their community, has filled my heart with purpose. I’m honored to be here.