Friday, March 19, 2010

Media: The Janitor is Listening

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Like anyone who writes for anything smaller than the local newspaper, I often wonder if anyone bothers to read what I write here. Sometimes I'm tempted to place a paragraph of grammatical nonsense (some would say this whole thing is topical nonsense) in the middle of an article to see if anyone bothers to say anything in a comment or personal e-mail.

This isn't my first experience with very small media. As a senior in high school, I spent one semester on the air about an hour or two a week on my high school's radio station, KASB 89.3 FM in Bellevue, Washington. (There were only three people in my on-air class, so generally speaking I was on Tuesdays and most Fridays.) A part of a vocational educational program in broadcasting, the station's claim to fame was that it was the last 10 watt mono (not stereo) FM station west of the Mississippi River. That meant the station was not only less powerful than a light bulb, but its signal went about as far as the light from one. I once proposed a promo "From I-90 to 520, from Lake Washington to 405... this is KASB" but it was rejected because that eight square-mile area might have exaggerated where we could be heard.

Yet, that didn't mean people weren't listening. The signal could be certainly be heard on campus. One day I ended up filling in on the air when I normally would have been at lunch, and two people in my next class complimented me for a piece I had done on the air. Even on a normal day, though, I could count on at least one call when I gave out the station's studio phone number. Gary the Janitor would call in at least once a week, always with the same request, "Can you play Alice in Chains?"

At the time, we only had one Alice in Chains song on a cart (yes, this was when radio stations still played things off tapes), Them Bones, and in the normal broadcast studio, we couldn't play things off a CD even if we wanted to (there was an auxiliary studio where that was possible, but it was usually in use during the day). The song matched the station's alternative-music format quite well (in fact, it was used on a "Nothing's Harder Except Your Head" promo). So, I'd check the logs to make sure the song hadn't been played yet that day (and at 9:30 in the morning, it usually would not have), and if it hadn't, I'd get it on the air.

A lot has changed at KASB since I was on the air. The station has changed frequencies to 89.9 FM and now has a 60-watt signal that can be heard beyond the city limits of Bellevue. Still, I bet students are wondering if anyone is listening. They needn't worry--I'm sure Gary is, if nobody else.

I can see the comment coming up now... "Can you write about Alice in Chains?"

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