The No. 1 most listened to college radio station in the country is run by Banana Slugs.
UC Santa Cruz’s campus station, KZSC, was recently ranked fifth on Huffington Post’s list of the top nine college radio stations in the nation. This notability may be due in part to the station’s No. 1 ranking on radio station search engine radio-locator.com.
The Huffington Post cited as its inspiration the recent College Radio Awards at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City last month, where KZSC music director Tyler P. Wardwell was a best newcomer award nominee.
Wardwell said that regardless of the recent attention the radio station has received, the accomplishment that matters most was the continued financial support of the campus community.
“The real recognition that I’m most appreciative of and proud of is that we managed to reach our fundraising goal in one week during our fall pledge drive,” Wardwell said.
Supporters keep the station going, since KZSC is not directly funded by the university.
“People continue to pledge out of their pockets,” Wardwell said. “As much as a widely read blog linking our website is great recognition, what we really strive for is the recognition of our listeners.”
The student-run radio station has been recognized by both the media and its listeners in the past, winning Metro Santa Cruz’s Goldie award from 2003 through 2008 and the Democratic Media Award from 2002 though 2005. The Huffington Post listed these awards in its reasons for including the station in its top nine.
One reason why KZSC has received so much recognition is its unique broadcast content.
“KZSC works very hard to not have a specific identity and to bring progressive and challenging and eclectic and diverse programming,” Wardwell said. “I think that we really let our DJs run with any idea that they come up with.”
Wardwell recalls a Balkan gypsy music show last summer and an Eastern European exercise dance music show as examples of the station’s unique programming.
As one of the few non-commercial radio stations in the nation — a rarity among the airwaves — KZSC DJs are unbound by advertisers, which adds to the station’s unique voice.
“We don’t want them to sound like DJs that are getting paid,” Wardwell said of the reasoning behind keeping KZSC advertisement-free.
While creativity is the core of the DJs’ success, an audience of over 1 million listeners makes this creativity extraordinarily accessible. The station has come a long way since its inception in 1967 as KRUZ, when it broadcasted from the basement of Stevenson Dorm 2 and could only be heard as far away as Dorm 7.
To become a DJ, students must volunteer at the radio station for 20 hours a quarter, as well as take a film and broadcasting class while volunteering and spending time with a KZSC mentor.
Shira Bogin is the current teaching assistant for the film and broadcasting course. She became involved with KZSC as a first-year, like many of the veteran broadcasters.
For Bogin, KZSC functions as a speaker-lain haven.
“KZSC really serves as a good getaway place from the rest of the world and a really good place to just kind of deconstruct my mind and just de-stress and relax a little bit,” she said. “It’s something that’s kind of completely separate from the rest of my life.”
Bogin’s position as class TA is one of the many opportunities to get involved at KZSC. Students like Bogin have the option to run for executive positions upon the completion of the film and broadcasting class.
Lauren Bell now holds the position of volunteer coordinator at the station.
“I had no idea I’d be interested in radio when I first came to college,” Bell said.
For Bell, part of the station’s appeal is “the experience of meeting so many diverse people who are interested in the same thing.”
The station’s staff is a collection of students from different academic backgrounds. KZSC staff includes anyone from anthropology majors to economic majors.
“[KZSC] has nothing to do with other interests except for loving music and wanting to voice that,” Bogin said.
Music director Wardwell is an American studies major, but radio is where he indulges in his passion.
“For me, the answer’s pretty straightforward,” Wardwell said. “It’s the reason I’m still here. I wouldn’t be a student at UC Santa Cruz if I hadn’t found the radio.”
Both students and community members participate in the station. Twenty percent of KZSC programming is run by community members.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily a product of the community adopting our style or our style being reflective of the community,” Wardwell said of the ties between the two groups.
The nationally-ranked campus radio station’s personality has earned a massive listenership at UCSC and beyond, in part due to the efforts of its dedicated staff members.
For Bogin, the KZSC experience is unparalleled.
“It would be kind of fruitless to pursue something like [KZSC] after college,” she said. “I don’t think there would be something like it.”