Cal State Long Beach’s (CSULB) student-run radio station K-BEACH recently rode a digital side channel to return to the FM radio airwaves after a 30-year hiatus.
The student station had been an Internet-only operation until it was given the opportunity to hitch a ride on the university’s broadcast outlet on 88.1 HD-3 funded by a 2011 grant of $40,000 from Associated Students Inc.
For many years, CSULB’s jazz station KKJZ-FM, also known as KJazz, was the only voice of the university, serving the heart of the Southern California radio audience with a Class B 88.1 MHz signal, but K-BEACH has something new to add. The Internet version of K-BEACH and the HD-3 station are separate operations featuring different programming
Faculty advisor Danny Lemos, who has an extensive radio résumé with stops in both the Los Angeles and San Francisco markets (including a 14-year stint with Rick Dees), also pulls an hour-long weekly air shift on Friday mornings.
“I walked over here from my previous position at KJazz on my lunch break one day and got very excited,” he recalled. “Everything at KJAZZ was tight and under control. Here, I found an open field where I could experiment. I started volunteering in 2009.”
One of the new station’s goals is to reach students the way they listen to radio using HD (high-definition) technology. “They don’t listen in their cars. They listen to what they can carry in their hands,” Lemos noted. “We’re moving toward the available audience. I realized years ago where radio was going and it was going into the hands of its audience. When I came to K-BEACH, they were already doing it.”
He believes it is the student staff that makes K-BEACH special. Not only is K-BEACH grooming the next wave of talent that will be needed to run radio stations in the future, Lemos said, but the free-wheeling playlists of the genre give new musical acts an opportunity to gain exposure.
“Recently, we taped one of the first programs for the FM station and the team members were beside themselves,” he explained. “They listened to themselves on their HD devices as they left the building. It was the first time they didn’t have to be near a computer to listen. They could drive to West Hollywood and still hear it. That’s exciting.”
Lemos noted that listeners need to have the right devise to receive the K-BEACH broadcast or any HD stations for that matter. He also said that he and his staff are looking to a younger audience that does not listen to KPCC or KCRW.
“Our morning programing has a lighter spin. Our secret is a morning team of seven, five of whom are students,” he said. “They started with colt legs and now they’re racing. They’re getting so good so fast.”
The best part about student participation, however, is that they are able to put the experience on their resumes. Lemos said CSULB students are in competition with KCRW and KPCC in the No. 2 radio market in the country, and the HD station’s signal reaches from Mission Viejo to Oxnard. Having that as a calling card when they leave the university is an incredible benefit.
Still, one of the biggest challenges, according to Lemos, is getting these students ready for commercial radio.
“For 12 years, the original K-BEACH functioned as a kind of student club. Beginning this year with HD, we’re operating as a business,” he said. “We have a sales department and we have a budget to make. Now students are learning everything they need to know about working on a commercial radio station. I turn over the budget to the student staff and tell them it is their money and that they can spend it as they see fit. Not only does it teach them fiscal responsibility but they feel empowered. They feel for the first time in a long time that K-BEACH is their station.”
But there are also challenges to dealing with a student staff. “They disappear during finals week,” laughed Lemos. “I’m not used to that in a commercial radio station. To handle that, I assemble a staff of volunteer retired radio veterans to mentor the student managers. During finals week, these five volunteer professionals get their chance to run the station. They’re excited about it. It’s like a week at camp.”
K-BEACH’s general manager and communication studies major Evan Dixon feels lucky to be part of the management team to bring in the new signal. “It’s been a long road to this point but now it is a dream come true,” he said. “There has been a whole lot of work from the past and present K-BEACH staff and I am overjoyed it is finally coming true. I only hope this encourages a return of radio curriculum to the campus. That is the ultimate goal.”
K-BEACH already has had a life-changing effect on Dixon. When he first came to the campus, he had no interest in radio. He was looking to just do studio work but quickly found the process too meticulous for his liking. So, he tried out the radio side of things and now he is looking for a career in the field.
Dixon hopes the students who follow him to K-BEACH get as much out of the experience as he has. “I was trying to imagine my CSULB experience without K-BEACH but I couldn’t do it,” he said. “Some of the best friends I’ve made at CSULB, I met at the station. I even volunteer to work after my official shift. Working here is a great experience even without a career goal in radio.
“Working at K-BEACH teaches not only professional skills but life skills. I remember one student who arrived very shy, but once she discovered broadcasting, she became bubbly and outgoing; it really turned her social life around,” he added. “Working at K-BEACH offers the chance to interface with other students and industry professionals alike. We learn how to handle ourselves professionally and have a good time with other students as well. We are all taking a journey together and are developing into what really feels like family.”
Dixon feels working at K-BEACH has helped to prepare him for the real-world career he hopes for in music or broadcasting.
“I’ve learned how to look for advertising and how to deal with promoters. The connections that I have made and practical experience I have gained really makes me feel confident that I can find a future in this industry,” he said. “It’s my hope that K-BEACH earns the reputation as the best training ground for a radio career on campus. I want the university to know K-BEACH is here and student radio is still very much alive.”
K-BEACH Alumni Relations Committee Chair Mike Stark, who earned his B.A. degree in radio/TV/film from CSULB in 1974, believes the new station represents an important step for the university and its students. Tracing the station’s evolution from KSUL to KLON to KKJZ, he looks back with regret on the sudden stop to radio curriculum following the demise of KSUL.
“What the end of KSUL did was virtually wipe out the radio curriculum at CSULB,” Stark said. “There are many people who came from the KSUL experience who went on to work in radio for many years. But the university had not taken any steps to woo those alumni back. This is our first opportunity to come back and have something to tie our anchors to. I’m a long-time advocate of college radio as the farm team of terrestrial radio and digital media today. Now I want to advocate the return of a radio curriculum.
“When I got a call from K-BEACH and was told they wanted to get alumni back into the planning process, I said I’d be happy to help if only the goal was to tie the new station to radio curriculum,” he explained. “Within a month, one class already was tied to the station and they have a seven-year goal of developing a program of curriculum. My goal is to gather alumni in support of the station. There is a core group of five volunteers, all of whom graduated from CSULB after the KSUL experience and went into radio careers where they remain to this day. All have weathered the storms of radio by taking what they learned at CSULB to make careers.”
Stark’s vision for the station sees plenty of student leadership. “That was the magic when I was at KSUL and that is the magic we want to recapture,” said the past president of the CSULB Alumni Association. “We want CSULB alumni to be the students’ peer advisors and help them through the learning process. But above all, we want students to do the job, not for us to do the job. We will be there to assist but it is up to the students to do all the heavy lifting.”
Lemos said K-BEACH plans to build its own talent beginning with K-BEACH University every Saturday for two months this summer. Students and station volunteers will be able to attend classes for free, but others might expect to pay a $25 fee. Each course will be taught by a veteran L.A. broadcaster, for example KFWB’s Phil Hewlett (a CSULB alumnus) will be an instructor for the news radio.
“I want to thank Alumni Relations Committee Chair Mike Stark. The support of alums is very important to the success of the station. The students know they will be alumni themselves and they want to maintain their connection to the station,” Lemos explained. “Mike Soultanian founded K-BEACH in 1998. He is now our consultant for the HD technology and helped to put the station on the air in the summer of 2012. For that, we gave him the Founder’s Award.”
Lemos believes K-BEACH has a role to play in reversing the decline of student broadcasting. “I recently met with Golden West College (officials) about their fledgling Internet station and they want to consult with us,” he said. “It’s all about creating new talent. Today’s radio audience looks for stand-out personalities and I feel K-BEACH has several already.”
He also encourages the campus and community to listen to K-BEACH. “You’ll be surprised. There is plenty of programming for all tastes, and some of our talk shows are the best,” Lemos noted. “I challenge all our potential listeners to pick out the stars of tomorrow’s radio and they will find them at this station. They are doing great work and I’m very proud of them.”