KPNI Wants to be Heard

December 2, 2008 by · Comments Off 

By Christy Vutam
cvutam@smu.edu

The last musical notes of The Avett Brothers’ “Murder in the City” fade down.

“Speaking of murder, I do believe we have a caller,” Sarah Nolen says into the microphone. “Caller, you’re on the air with ‘Serenades with Sarah.’ How can I help you?”

“I’m in love with the Cowboys,” a female-sounding caller says.

Nolen stares quizzically at the microphone before speaking into it. “Do you mean you’re in love with a cowboy or with the Cowboys?” And so begins another call requesting Nolen to dole out relationship advice in her Wednesday night radio show.

A few minutes later, KPNI’s radio DJ Alan Rose walks into the studio. “Was that you?” Courtenay Paris, KPNI’s radio station manager asks, grinningly. Rose smiles.

“That was so you!” Paris exclaims. “I knew it was you!”

As Nolen relays her initial confusion about the identity of the caller, Rose fist pumps. “Yes, you didn’t recognize my voice!” he says.

Nolen might not have identified a fellow DJ’s voice because of all the new DJs flooding KPNI’s airwaves. KPNI became a student chartered organization in Spring 2008. The change allowed the station recruiting outlets, an opportunity to ask for funding from Student Senate, and resources to be heard other than just online.

KPNI fans can listen to the station currently only over the Internet at the Web site.

A Boost in Man Power and Money

This semester, KPNI has seen the number of its DJs more than double in number from at least the last five semesters. About 40 DJs are now hosting 33 shows, which air seven days a week.

When Nolen, KPNI’s assistant station manager, started at KPNI in the Fall of 2005, the staff consisted of four people. Currently, there are nine staff members.

“Once we got chartered, we really decided, ‘OK, we’re going to get more DJs,’” Paris said. “We went to the organizations fair at the beginning of the school, and we had people filling out DJ applications and e-mailed everybody [who signed up]. That’s how we got all the freshmen.”

In September, KPNI received about $1,500 from Student Senate – enough to buy two laptops and to cover installation fees at the Dedman Center for Lifetime Sports.

One of the main goals for KPNI’s staff’s is to air in SMU buildings. Students passing through Hughes-Trigg Student Center in October might have heard SMU’s radio station emitting from the ceiling speaker for about two weeks. However, various issues arose with the volume levels and with the e-mac that’s being used as a receiver shutting down.

Along with broadcasting in Hughes-Trigg, Ben Koopferstock, KPNI’s systems engineer, says the station will broadcast in Umphrey Lee and Dedman in early Spring 2009.

Paris, however, said it’s almost good that the connection isn’t working.

“We’ve never had this many DJs, not for awhile,” Paris said. “We really need to get some kind of control and make sure we know what’s going on because we’ve had problems with that.”

Anyone who knows the combination to the key safe can access the radio studios in Umphrey Lee. While the station’s rules are plastered in front of the microphones and each DJ goes through multiple training sessions before doing a show, a few DJs have ignored these rules, doing shows at unscheduled hours, bringing in guests without permission and leaving the doors to the studio wide open.

When these incidents happen, Nolen and Paris play a variation of good cop/bad cop. Paris deals out the stern talking tos, while Nolen lets the DJs know they’ll be re-trained before hosting their own shows again. If KPNI airs in SMU buildings, Nolen and Paris know any on-air incidents could be grounds for SMU officials to silence the station on-campus.

Struggling to be Heard

Struggling to be heard is nothing new to KPNI. According to KPNI’s Web site’s history page, the station was launched as KSMU in 1947. Periods of inactivity and rebuilding would follow until the 1970s. The FCC dealt with KPNI at least four times; all the encounters affected the station’s ability to broadcast off-campus.

Between 1987 through 2003, the station and its management attempted to have the station broadcast in the dormitories, but they ultimately failed. KPNI used to be heard in the Umphrey Lee cafeteria, but students spoke up against the station’s broadcast after a DJ ranted about the SMU football team.

At the encouragement of Michele Houston, KPNI’s Division of Journalism advisor, KPNI begin broadcasting over the Internet on Oct. 18, 2003.

Tony Pederson, the Belo Distinguished Chair in Journalism, whose division oversees KPNI, said he likes having a radio medium available, noting its attraction to non-journalism majors. Nolen is a CTV major; Paris is an accounting major; and Koopferstock is a computer engineering and math major.

“It’s a terrific asset for students to have access to,” Pederson said. “I like very much the idea of them having the access and being able to do programming and to experiment a little bit with it and to have a little fun.”

Nolen’s show “Serenades with Sarah” is a prime example of students having a little fun. The show makes fun of radio shows that play sappy love songs while dishing out relationship advice. Nolen said she styles her soothing voice after that of nationally syndicated radio host Delilah.

“When [Delilah] talks, she has this very calming, smiling voice,” Nolen said. “You can hear the smile. That’s the key. That’s very hard to accomplish, but I think I do OK.”

Expanding Awareness

Paris and her staff have attempted to expand awareness of KPNI by holding campus-wide events. In September, KPNI brought the musical group Hanson to campus and sponsored “Take a Walk with Hanson.” About 700 people attended.

In October, KPNI hosted a fundraiser, “Jamba Jams.” The station had a band play live at the flagpole while Jamba Juice sold smoothies. Twenty percent of the proceeds went to KPNI.

“A lot of people still think we’re really small and that we’re just not cool, but I guess people really don’t understand how many people have worked so hard to come to where we’ve gone,” Paris said.