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Local music on the airwaves

College radio station KUPS salutes local music every hour

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There is a steady throb emanating from deep within the belly of the student union building at University of Puget Sound. The sound comes from a dark cave-like corner of the basement that is hidden behind a door that is cloaked in band stickers and show posters. The sign on the door says “KUPS,” which may confuse any student wandering in from nearby keg parties in need of a receptacle.

As opposed to the kind popular at parties, KUPS is the technical radio designation for the 100-watt campus radio station 90.1 FM The Sound. Every conceivable space in the station’s inner sanctum is adorned with music-related paraphernalia like an extended altar full of offerings to the Gods of Rock. The walls that aren’t plastered with posters and stickers are covered floor-to-ceiling with shelves of CDs labeled in categories: alternative, local, electronic, loud rock and hip-hop. I was happy to see that the local music section is surprisingly robust with CDs by Northwest artists including The Blakes, The Saturday Knights, Rocky Votolato, Joy Wants Eternity, and the Portland compilation PDX Pop Now. This expanded collection of local CDs exists because The Sound DJs are required to play at least one song by a local artist every hour. Cool.

The station broadcasts live 19 hours a day, seven days a week. There are 115 DJs, all UPS students who volunteer to learn the ropes by broadcasting 90 different shows. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., The Sound is alternative music, which KUPS Alternative Music Director Caitlin Boersma admits is kind of a catch-all category. It allows them the freedom to play artists such as rapper Galactic back to back with the likes of light indie band Rilo Kiley. Weekdays from 8-10 p.m. The Sound is electronic, leaving the more edgy loud rock and hip-hop to the less objectionable 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. time slot. “This is so that they fall into FCC ‘safe harbor’ hours. From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. the seven forbidden swear words can be played on air,” explains Allison Beller, KUPS public marketing director. “During safe harbor we have a disclaiming liner that is played about every half hour to warn listeners. It basically states that some of the language contained in this programming is not suitable for minors and other viewers.”

Weekdays from 2 a.m. to 7 p.m. the broadcast is automated to play random songs from their playlist. Weekends The Sound alternates jazz, blues, world, reggae, classic rock, funk, folk, and one show even features video game music. There is also a talk radio show at 11 a.m. Saturday called “The Melon” that covers current events and controversial political issues.

The Princeton Review (a provider of “Top 20” college rankings including categories such as “Professors Get High Marks,” “Happiest Students” and “Dorms Like Dungeons”) recently ranked KUPS as the ninth best college radio station in the nation.

“We moved up two spots from 2007,” says Beller, “and in 2006 we placed at 12th. We plan to continue this rise to the top, and we’re really proud of this given our small staff. Emerson’s college radio station placed 2nd and they have over 50 staff members — four times more than us.”

The station is managed by a staff of 13. Eleven of these staff members are new this year, which is a larger turnover than usual for the station. 

“With some speculation about our abilities as a nearly new staff this year,” says Beller, “we are determined to take the station to a new level. We are working hard to accomplish our goals, which include improving the quality of programming, increasing listenership and getting more involved with the local community. We’ve made a concerted effort to promote higher quality DJs both by being more selective in the hiring process and developing air talent. While the student population at UPS is extremely supportive of the radio station, it is disappointing that many Tacoma residents aren’t aware that KUPS exists.”

Beller believes it’s a privilege to be involved with KUPS.


“I think the station has a great opportunity to play a positive role in the local music scene and the community in general,” says Beller. “I love everything about KUPS. As a DJ, I get to learn about new music from new albums on rotation as well as from the fellow DJs that have become some of my best friends. KUPS is somehow able to effectively integrate the large number of DJs who generally represent disparate social groups on campus. Above all, we promote fantastic new, local, and independent music that doesn’t often get airplay on commercial radio.”

Tune in to 90.1 FM. If you are outside the broadcast radius, you can listen online. For more information or to submit your music, visit here.

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