“KUGS was started in 1974 in the Ridgeway dorms,” Jenn Hartman said. “Program director for Western's own KUGS radio station. The transmitter was housed in a janitor's closet.”
The transmitter was only 10-watts, which has a very small signal, she said.
“In 1984 we boosted our signal to 100-watts. We're hoping to boost our Wattage again soon,” Hartman said.
From these tiny, 10-Watt beginnings to its online debut in 1997, KUGS has kept its focus on providing its listeners with an alternative to the top 40 and corporate owned media conglomerates.
“There are only a handful of college stations staffed the way we are,” Jenn Hartman said.
“KUGS is fully student staffed except for our station manager,” she said.
This unique trait seems to be at the heart of KUGS. Although KUGS license is owned by Western's Board of Trustees, Hartman explained, all programming decisions are made through the staff at KUGS. The station receives the majority of its funding from the Associated Students, said Hartman.
Hartman's said her aspirations for the upcoming year run along a similar vein as they are to “increase diversity on airwaves in all meanings of that word,” more specifically by getting differing voices on the air such as, “women, queer folks, people of color, people of varied abilities, and backgrounds.”
Does that sound like an appealing environment to you? The process for getting your voice onto the air and into the ears of your community isn't hard.
“KUGS doesn't require any previous experience.” Hartman said. “Anyone who's interested in radio, we have a place for you.”
At one point Ben Gibbard, of Death Cab for Cutie fame, was a KUGS DJ, Hartman said. Although finding the office can sometimes be a challenge as KUGS is located on the seventh floor of the Viking Union and can be reached from the sixth floor of the VU. Just take the stairs located behind the ATMs or the seldom noticed elevators next to the info desk.
According to Hartman, new volunteers first start as newsreaders for one quarter, where they learn the ins and outs of radio production and are provided with training to become a DJ on Music for the Masses, which runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day and showcases widely diverse music.
Casey Nolan, a three year volunteer, described her first experience with KUGS while simultaneously DJ-ing at the KUGS booth at the AS Info Fair. Metric played in the background as she described the short learning curve, “two or three weeks,” and the work environment in which, “everyone's really supportive.”
After participating for two quarters, volunteers are offered their own specialty show. Nolan currently masterminds The P.I.I.T.S., which stands for punk, indie, industrial, techno, and ska, and runs 10 p.m. to 12 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Nolan said she enjoys the atmosphere of KUGS, a place where she can always have access to new music and can “hang out and listen to music with other people who love music.”
Ben Estes, a senior at Western, has been with KUGS for two quarters, and currently is the creator of the Swedish Pop Show, which airs from noon until 2 p.m., Sundays.
Estes said he is “into that kitchy, poppy, indie vibe” which “everyone seems to like.” Estes said he discovered his inclinations for all things Swedish online.
“The Internet and [music] blogs allow people to listen to a lot more variety,” Estes said.
That same vehicle, the internet, may be responsible for KUGS staying power. Hartman described that there is always worried talk about how to retain interest in radio, but KUGS has seen a lot of interest in volunteering, more even than in previous years.
“Western was the second station in the nation to go online [in 1997],” Hartman said. “Students just aren't bringing radios with them [to school] anymore.”
According to Jamie Hoover, KUGS general manager, the KUGS online broadcast has received listeners from all over the world, including Brazil, Austria, the United Kingdom, and even China.
Mark Nowak, a freshman at Western, said he learned of KUGS at orientation and then was able to listen to its broadcast online over the following summer. There he was able to review what music was being played to see if it interested him, he said and he filled out an application to start as a newsreader.
KUGS also offers news programming for civically engaged listeners. KUGS is a Pacifica affiliate, a group of Northwest radio stations, which provides KUGS with many public affairs programs which they can air, said Hartman. Democracy Now is one such show which airs twice daily, 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. for those early-risers, and 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. for the rest of us.
Also starting last year KUGS has been putting on its own local news broadcasts, which was extremely labor intensive, according to Hartman. It involved providing a crash course in radio production and journalism to interested students, she said.
Some of last years topics included Immigration in Whatcom County, College Students and the Internet, Racism in Bellingham Schools, and All-Ages Music in Bellingham, and KUGS hopes to continue this project, Hartman said.
“Each quarter we are looking into producing a few public affairs shows,” said Hartman.
All interested student should go to the KUGS office on the seventh floor of the VU for more information, or go to http://kugs.org and click on the volunteer link. You can also listen to its web-cast on the same sight or tune in to 89.3 FM.