The Beat Goes On at KSPC Despite Pandemic

Screen shot of student Hannah Avalos' desktop during Zoom call that allows her mouse control over KSPC studio computer.

Until mid-March, Hannah Avalos ’21 used to wake up in her room in Harwood Court, the tile-roofed Pomona College residence hall built in 1921, and walk across the street to DJ her weekly show on college radio station KSPC 88.7 FM.

“Roll out of bed, brush my teeth and head straight over,” she says. “I was live in studio every Friday morning from 8 to 10.”

These days, Avalos is coming to you live from her home in Whittier, spanning the 25 miles to campus via a Zoom connection that gives her mouse-control access to the KSPC studio in Thatcher Music Building.

It is 10 a.m., you’re listening to KSPC 88.7 FM. I’m DJ Hannah and this is the “Weekend Warm-Up.” 

Not much has changed except her new 10-to-noon time slot, other than being limited to music from the station’s digital library when she DJs remotely. The indie-folk mix Avalos plays includes acts like the Silver Lake Chorus, with their formal choral arrangements of popular music, and Joanna Newsom, the girlish-voiced singer-songwriter who turns a harp into a contemporary instrument.

The beat goes on at KSPC, despite the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic that sent college radio DJs home around the country. 

Other than Avalos, student DJs are sending in their pre-recorded shows on MP3 files though Box or Dropbox. But for her, the high-wire adrenaline of being live sustains her in the stay-at-home era—all through technology undreamed of when KSPC first signed on to the airwaves in 1956. 

“It’s kind of like an outing for me,” Avalos says. “It’s an activity, more than another task I have to do. It’s a really nuanced difference, but I think having it at a set time is more like having an appointment or a fun activity, rather than another homework assignment or a work assignment.”

Keeping It Going

When the world seemingly stopped spinning in March, so did the discs that students were spinning at KSPC. But the 24-hour music and programming never stopped, thanks in part to a heroic effort by Pomona’s director of student media, Erica Tyron SC ’92, and Dia Hakinna, the station’s part-time administrative associate. 

Tyron started working at KSPC during her first semester at Scripps College in the late 1980s. She  never left, and was hired to take over the station’s management and eventually oversight of The Student Life newspaper as well. In the early weeks of the pandemic after the students left, Tyron kept the station going round-the-clock by patching together pre-recorded or archival shows and public service announcements—sometimes from the studio and sometimes queuing up overnight programming from home before going to bed. Hakinna put together some of the archival shows and announcements, and also helped keep the station’s social media presence fresh. Later, student DJs and others began emailing in shows, and some of the community volunteer and alumni DJs began returning to the studio.

“When everything was shut down, broadcasting was still considered an essential service as far as the governor’s order,” Tyron says. “We were granted access to continue to have live DJs in the studio.” Social distancing is accomplished via time slots. “If you have one DJ coming in for a two-hour shift, the next one comes in two hours after that shift ends,” she says. “In between the two of them, there will be a pre-recorded show.”

A Different Sound

As always with college radio, eclectic is the word. There is new music, of course, but also classic rock, reggae, a program of French music known simply as “Le Show,” and a classical music hour that longtime College staff member Nadine Francis used to host on her lunch hour and plans to continue remotely as a community volunteer after leaving her job. The noted novelist Jonathan Lethem, the Roy Edward Disney ’51 Professor of Creative Writing at Pomona, is also a KSPC DJ, broadcasting remotely this summer on Sunday mornings under the on-air name JoJo with co-host Sam on their show “Radio Free Aftermath.”

Special offerings during the pandemic have included the “Coronavirus Blues Revival” by a DJ with the moniker Boss Guy in Claremont that included the Elmore James tune “I Can’t Hold Out” and, more starkly, “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” by Reverend Gary Davis. A “Desert Island Discs” episode from Pomona’s Humanities Studio served as an introduction to the format originated by the BBC during World War II  featuring well-known guests playing tunes that sustain them.

Alumni, too, continue to keep the station going. Former students who typically did shows during holiday or academic breaks have been sending in pre-recorded shows more regularly. 

“A lot of folks, of course, are stuck at home,” Tyron says with a laugh.

One alumnus, Tim Wedel ’79, used to do occasional shows during Alumni Weekends or on winter and summer breaks. After the shutdown arrived, he started driving to Claremont each Friday from his home in Torrance, taking advantage of lighter traffic to do a show called “Shelter in Space”—a reference to both KSPC’s “The Space” nickname and the times—live in studio.

“It's a little strange how empty it is when I get there,” Wedel says. “I'm doing it at noon on Fridays and a DJ hasn't been in there since Thursday evening, so everything is dark and a pre-recorded show is playing.”

In college, Wedel was a DJ, music director and for one semester, the KSPC station manager. His brother Terry Wedel ’77 was also a DJ and went on to a professional broadcasting career before teaching in the communication arts department at Saddleback College until his retirement. Over the last few years, the brothers have hosted a few shows together, most recently in January during winter break. Tim Wedel also recently retired from his career with an aerospace company and KSPC is his new hobby, a bookend on the far side of his college years.

“One of the things I like to do now is look for new stuff,” says Wedel, who went to college in the early days of rap, New Wave and punk. “If I do play some older stuff, I'm trying to play cuts that weren't hits. or I'll play a live version, a demo version or a cover version.”

Making It Work

Jasper Davidoff ’22, is still in the midst of college and is continuing to work for KSPC this summer from his home in Evanston, Il.

“It definitely makes me feel closer to college, because the things I’m doing are related to the things I’m doing when I’m on campus,” he says. 

As one of three summer program coordinators along with Alan Ke ’22 and Graham Hirsch ’23, Davidoff has created a new podcast called “Making It Work,” exploring methods to promote physical and emotional wellness in ways that work with staying at home.

His weekly interviews have included such topics as “Life Athletics,” featuring wellness tips with JoAnne Ferguson, professor of physical education and women’s softball coach, and “Make Up Your Mindfulness” on meditation and mindfulness with Paola Ruiz-Beas, assistant dean of students for the first-year class. He also has explored food issues and the sounds around us.

“We do a lot of work to provide access to music and information, and we already do a fair amount of messaging about the community. I was thinking this is a way to help people figure out what’s going on, be happier and do better while we get through this situation,” Davidoff says.

“Every now and then, I surf other student stations, and a lot are just replaying a lot of stuff, definitely not producing new sound to the degree we are. We’re doing what we can.”