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A Day in the Life of KFAI (continued)
continued from the February 2012 edition of the KFAI Network
We leave Dale as he wraps up the weekly news broadcast. We see Fubar Omniverse host Blanche readying her lively music program, as Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Student Blake manages the station's reception desk. The usual Friday morning front desk volunteer, Mostly Jazz host Bill Cottman, is out of town for two months.
The next receptionist, Gerry, welcomes the (mostly staff) people coming and going, and answers a couple phone calls. Gerry volunteers at KFAI every other Friday afternoon. After she retired, she realized that she wanted to find something to do with her spare time. She's been listening to KFAI since 1978 and likes how it's so eclectic. She also enjoys the interesting people she gets to meet at KFAI's front desk.
On very short notice, Elmar is filling in for Johnny D on Radio Antilles. You may know Elmar as a co-host on Echo Chamber and as the only host of Rocket Ship Ska Trip. But did you know he used to play with a band called The Jinkies, before coming to KFAI in the '90s? He now plays bass in a salsa band, and rides his bike everywhere, even in winter.
Friday afternoons we find Susan Gray hard at work in the newsroom, preparing KFAI's updates. As she works, Susan thinks about "Radio Antilles," "Louisiana Rhythms," and "Sugar Shop." She tries to broadcast news that she thinks would interest the audience of each particular show. She also tries to avoid reporting about crime and violence, because she doesn't want to get people down at the beginning of the weekend.
Susan talks with reporter Dan Greenwood about KFAI's "Legacy stories"— longer-form pieces that use funding from Minnesota's Legacy Amendment to focus on Minnesota's culture and history. Soon Susan needs to get ready for her next update, and we go back out into the lobby.
Gerry has a visitor: a woman named Beverly who has come to pay her pledge from the fall drive, and she just happens to know Gerry. Beverly, too, is a long-time KFAI listener. Soon they are discussing different volunteer options for Beverly to become more involved.
Just before 4pm we find Susan, Lolly Obeda and Eric Mohring all in the on-air studio together as the final song from Louisiana Rhythms plays. The lively atmosphere quickly goes silent as Eric goes on-air to wrap-up the show and Susan prepares to transition into the news. While Susan reads the news, Eric packs up all his CDs and Lolly works at a computer, getting ready for her show. Lolly then scrambles to find her preferred set of headphones, an older pair of Sennheisers, to no avail.
Lolly has hosted Sugar Shop for 25 years. Before that, she hosted a wake-up show. Every year she does a show from Hiawatha Elementary School called "Sweet on School." Lolly finally finds her favorite headphones and continues on with her mix of blues, rhythm and blues, and sweet soul music.
We head back to the lobby, where Beverly has signed up to work as a receptionist on the Fridays Gerry isn't around. Membership & Volunteer Director Pam Hill Kroyer brings Beverly her member swag: two KFAI pint glasses, a tote bag and a t-shirt. Soon, Gerry and Beverly are having a lively conversation about religion with Blake.
Lolly is near finishing her show when volunteer Raymond Jackson arrives to make sure Free Speech Radio News runs smoothly. His nickname around the station is "Ray Jay," and his main commitment to KFAI is this weekly half-hour he gives to make sure we hear the news on Fridays at 6pm.
We stop in the music library, where Elmar is hanging out after filling in for Johnny D. He shows us his favorite songs he played today, by looking up videos on YouTube for the songs. He finds: Morgan Fisher & friends (as "The Burtons") covering "MacArthur Park"; and Bonnie Pink with Miceteeth "Don't Get Me Wrong."
Lolly leaves at 6:03pm. We visit Ray Jay in the on-air studio, and he tells us his history with KFAI. He had a long-running show on KFAI called "Let's Get Busy" before moving to New York in 2000. In NYC, he did voice overs and commercials, but, he says, "I missed the Little Apple." He moved back to the Twin Cities in 2007. He's also a hip hop artist— he says he's "probably the oldest bona-fide rapper in the Twin Cities," and his grandkids call him "rapping grandpa."
While he's talking to us, Ray Jay, who is legally blind, re-writes the announcement that's scheduled for the end of the news so he can see it better, and looks up the weather on-line to do a weather announcement. Ray Jay says that in his 35 years of doing radio, KFAI is the most diverse station he's ever seen.
Around 6:15pm, someone calls the studio for Kathy, host of the next show, CHAT Radio and asks if she's there. She's not there to take the call, but moments later she enters the studio. Kathy looks up at an in-studio monitor, which shows feeds from four cameras. Kathy sees her guests waiting outside the building, so she goes down to the first floor to let them in.
Just before 6:30, Kathy's guests and co-hosts shuffle into the studio—it's a full house tonight. It takes a few minutes to get everyone in a chair in front of a mic and wearing working headphones. Present are Kathy Moucheupao, co-host Wameng Moua, regular guest Sai the Funny Guy, and two guests to talk about the night's topic.
At some point there's a break in the live discussion for music and announcements, and the hosts talk "off-mic" about a proposed name change for the show. Wameng lets us know they hope to change the name from "CHAT Radio" to "Hmong FM." They hope to make the name change official at an upcoming Program Committee meeting.
During the last half of the show, guests Chong Moua and Nick Kor of the LGBT advocacy groups Shades of Yellow and MN United for All Families (respectively) talk about the upcoming marriage amendment, what it means for the Hmong and Asian-Pacific Islander communities, and announce an event happening the next day.
Host Jonathan Kennedy from the Minnesota Sound checks over the bulletin board outside the on-air studio for any station information he may need to know, and enters the studio as "CHAT Radio" wraps up. Once Jonathan's first track is playing, he tells us about getting the show ready. He usually comes in around 6pm to prepare for his 7:30pm show. He usually has up to four new CDs in his show’s mailbox that he can play, and he also looks over the local "new arrivals" section in the music library.
Tonight, Jonathan has a new track from Paul Doffing's recent album, "Blossom Is You," and an excerpt from local metal group Crusader No Remorse (on cassette!). He says he's probably one of the only KFAI DJs who regularly plays things on tape—and as he cues up the track, we can see why. It's hard to find the right point on the cassette to start the song. Jonathan says he's also looking forward to playing something from Elmar's group, the Mutant Frogs. He says Elmar—yes, the same Elmar who filled in for Johnny D this afternoon—does interesting things on the keyboard.
Oops—we see Kathy come back into the studio—she's forgotten her phone! She finds it, says bye (again), and leaves.
At 8:30, Jonathan switches into what he calls the "From the Vault" portion of his show. He kicks off his Friday night with new music, followed by a round-up of the weekend's concerts, but then gets to dig deep into KFAI's library for Minnesota music from before the new millennium. Tonight he's doing a phone number theme, starting the set with a Marshmallow Fields remix of "867-5309 (Jenny)."
"I always wanted to be a DJ but never thought it would happen, but I can (be a DJ) through KFAI," says Jonathan, who has been doing his show for about three years. He says he plans his show throughout the week by checking flyers and local papers like City Pages, and by picking up new music at local shows, and then spends the final hour-and-a-half before showtime planning his playlist.
A few minutes before 9:00, as Jonathan wraps up his show, Glen Leslie of Jet Set Planet arrives lugging a plastic bag of CDs. His show is usually all-vinyl, he explains, but construction in his basement is blocking access to his record collection.
Glen describes the sound of "Jet Set Planet" as "easy, uneasy, and sleazy listening," composed mostly of instrumental records from the '50s, '60s and '70s that he finds at thrift stores. Between sets, he talks a mile a minute, filling in the historical details of each song without missing a beat. Identifying one tune as Linda Laine's "Don't Do It Baby," he says, "Last time I uttered that, I was trying to talk myself out of eating a Chicago hot dog."
As "Jet Set Planet" continues in the on-air studio, Elmar is still down the hall in the music library, searching YouTube for music to play on his next show. He's been hosting "Rocket Ship Ska Trip" as alter-ego "Capt. 2Much Freetime" since the late '90s.
Meanwhile, in a production and training studio, host MJ Gilmore is working on an upcoming Live From Studio 5 program. The show hosts in-studio performances from artists on Wednesday nights, welcoming local and international groups from "pretty much any genre," she says. MJ got her start at KFAI as a volunteer recording promos with the Cart Crew, and worked her way toward her own show by subbing in for various program hosts. Besides prepping for "Live From Studio 5," she's working on a proposal for the Wave Project, a public-access opportunity that allows applicants to fill one on-air hour with just about anything they want. Program hosts like to take the opportunity to step outside their usual genres by doing the "Wave Project," and many DJs help community members host their own "Wave Project" episodes.
Back in the studio, Ron "Boogiemonster" Gerber arrives for his show, Crap From the Past, and opens a package from a fan. "This is from Colin, a guy in his mid-40s from Liverpool—Glen Leslie's and my most ardent fan," Ron explains. Colin apparently gets up at 4:30 on Saturday mornings, his time, to listen to "Jet Set Planet" and "Crap From the Past." He's sent the guys a copy of the self-proclaimed "World's Worst Record," a single called "I Want My Baby Back" that features a cartoon of a guy digging up his deceased beloved on the cover.
As Glen finishes the last half-hour of "Jet Set Planet," taking a few requests by phone from listeners, Ron starts setting up the equipment for his show. He's running his music through a laptop for the first time this week and isn't quite sure how it will work.
As the show starts at 10:30pm, Ron opens Facebook on one of the computers to monitor the "Crap From the Past" fan page, where listeners can post requests and other comments throughout the show. One fan gushes, "Wow, Ron, you're playing stuff I haven't heard in 30 years. You got me remembering good times from the past!"
Introducing a song by the Spinners for a segment he calls "Ron's Dream Jukebox," Ron rattles off a detailed history of the band that he swears is all off the top of his head. Like Glen Leslie, he's not just playing weird songs; he knows the backstory, too.
"'Crap From the Past' is sort of built on the premise that you can careen wildly from pop genius to some of the worst trash you've ever heard," Ron says. As the clock approaches midnight, he's still hard at work, gleefully spinning terrible records to close out another day at KFAI.
Dale Connelly (before 9am), John Vennewitz (9:30am – 1pm), Jessica Folker (5pm – 8pm) and Colleen Powers (8pm – 11pm) created this story; Pam Hill Kroyer edited it.
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