There are more than 40 different programs at KUGS 89.3 FM, Western’s student-operated radio station. Out of all the shows on KUGS, “Yellow Radio” and “Na Mele O Hawaii” are of particular interest.
In addition to being the only two nonstudent-run programs on KUGS, “Yellow Radio” and “Na Mele O Hawaii” are also the station’s longest running shows. For many years, these programs have provided students with new and diverse music and have also served as informational and explorative mediums for the hosts who run them.
If you listen to KUGS on Saturday between 4 and 6 p.m, what you hear might confuse you. You may interpret the seemingly random noises, sounds and silences as a sign to fix your radio, but do not fear, you are simply tuned in to “Yellow Radio.”
“Yellow Radio” provides listeners with a wide range of experimental, electro-acoustic and electronic music, as well as noise and sound-art music. The show is hosted and produced by Sebastian Mendes, a Western associate professor of arts. In his promo for the show, Mendes said, “‘Yellow Radio” is for those who take their sonic universe seriously. ... Get ready for the sounds of ugliness and beauty, even a terrible beauty.”
“Yellow Radio” is in its ninth year of production, making it the station’s second-longest-running show. As an experimental program, Mendes uses the program to showcase a variety of unusual music, recordings and noises from the 20th century up to the present day. He is the only faculty member currently hosting a show on KUGS.
“I think it’s a great program,” KUGS Program Director Lauren Stelling said. “It’s kind of one of those programs where [Mendes] has really done what he wants with it, and I think he has done it well.”
Every Saturday morning, Mendes gets his coffee and enters the studio outside of his home. He proceeds to select a setlist for the show from his expansive collection of thousands of CDs and vinyl records.
From there, Mendes edits the playlist down on his computer to fit the two-hour span of “Yellow Radio.” At around 3:15 p.m., Mendes heads to the KUGS studio, located on the seventh floor of the Viking Union, to start his show.
“I won’t say I’m not interested in what listeners might think about the show, but the absolute most important thing for me is that by producing this show on a regular basis, it keeps me connected to new and unusual music that I’ve had an interest in it for a really long time,” Mendes said.
“Yellow Radio” is sometimes thematic, where every piece of audio shares a commonality. Two shows in November dealt with the subject of noise. Mendes played works such as “Industrial Noise,” a 10-minute recording of industrial sounds composed by Laibach, an avant-garde musical group.
“Noise is kind of a modern concept,” Mendes said. “I think that as the industrial revolution came, the idea of noise as a negative thing has increased in people’s minds and ears to the extent that modern people have desensitized themselves and sort of tuned out the acoustic world that surrounds us.”
Mendes plans to host a future “Yellow Radio” show on breath. He plans to feature recordings of wind from across the globe, whale songs, Inuit throat-chants and a self-made three-minute recording of Western’s steam whistle, “Big Ole,” which Mendes said is comparable to an industrial breath.
“While I may not assign a particular theme to each and every show, I try to have some cohesiveness. I don’t have a real goal for my programming or anything like that, it’s an exploration,” Mendes said. “I’m just open to really experiencing as wide a range of music and sound art as I possibly can.”
“Na Mele O Hawaii”
Sandy beaches, tropical drinks, tanned women adorned in elaborate leis, luaus and brightly-colored, flowered shirts: these mainstream perceptions of Hawaii permeate throughout the continental U.S, creating a distorted view of the tropical state.
“Na Mele O Hawaii,” which airs Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m, aims to inform listeners that there is more to Hawaii and its culture than many may think.
“Na Mele O Hawaii” has been on air for more than 20 years, making it the longest-running program on KUGS.
The original host, Cliff Kawana, was a Bellingham community member from Hawaii who had a passion for Hawaiian music.
Kawana hosted the show for 12 years before the current host, Bernadette Davidson, took over. Davidson, a Hawaiian native and a Western staff member in the Registrar’s office, has run “Na Mele O Hawaii” for more than a decade, and for the last five years she has shared the show with co-host Kanani Davidson. Though the show’s leadership has changed, its purpose has remained the same: to showcase music that represents all of Hawaii.
KUGS General Manager Jamie Hoover said “Na Mele O Hawaii” lends a strong element of diversity to the station’s programming, and it gives listeners an opportunity to hear authentic Hawaiian music.
Davidson said she thinks most people think of Hawaiian music as the sort of “twangy tourist” music that is played in Hawaii’s hotels and resorts, as well as in Hawaiian-associated mainstream media.
She said traditional native Hawaiian music usually consists solely of mono-tonal chants, until Western culture began to influence the genre’s style. From there, Hawaiian music picked up elements of jazz, blues and reggae, and incorporated it with Hawaiian language and instruments, forming a unique sound. Davidson said she wants listeners to get a better grasp on native Hawaiian culture through the music on “Na Mele O Hawaii.”
“My motivation is just to teach people that there’s more to Hawaii than sun and beach,” Davidson said. “There’s a culture there, there’s an understanding there, and there is a language there.”
The two hosts switch between co-hosting shows together and taking turns independently hosting “Na Mele O Hawaii” from week to week. Davidson said that they each have their own musical style when hosting the program.
“[Kanani] plays a different sound than I do. It's a different flavor. It's younger and more eclectic than I am,” Davidson said. “I tend to play more traditional [music].”
Davidson associates misconceptions of Hawaii with the typical tourist experience when “outsiders” visit the island. She said that tourists usually stay isolated in their resorts and hotels, and as a result, are sheltered from many societal and economic problems that families in Hawaii face. In particular, the separation of wealth between extremely rich residents and extremely poor residents is a prevalent and growing problem in the state, Davidson said.
“The last time I went home, it was horrible. I could just cut the tension with a knife,” Davidson said. “[In order to survive, many families in Hawaii] work two jobs to make pay, they have multiple families in one house, and the outsiders don't want to see it.”
Davidson said the greatest part about hosting “Na Mele O Hawaii” is learning about her homeland and people through researching the songs, artists and Hawaiian lyrics aired on the program.
“I’m educating myself more about my history and my culture. I grew up in a time where to be Hawaiian was not accepted. Everybody was trying to hide being Hawaiian, where today that’s totally different,” Davidson said. “I’ve learned more about my heritage than anything else, and then I can pass that on to my kids and grandkids.”