KZSC named one of the top college radio stations in the country

Jasmine Peoples, 19, plays world electronica music on KZSC.
Michael Bryant is now in his 10th year as KZSC's broadcast advisor.
KZSC radio has 20,000 watts of power and reaches a potential audience of 2.5 million people.

Its coverage area map looks like a giant spacecraft hovering over Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Salinas,  Seaside, San Mateo, Gilroy and San Jose.

But programmers like Jasmine Peoples, a UCSC psychology major, don’t always know who’s tuning in and how they are reacting.

That’s why Peoples and the other student programmers were surprised and gratified to hear that The Huffington Post has just named KZSC one of the top five college radio stations in America.

The Huffington Post is a major player in the online news media world; in July, the site received 24 million unique visitors.

Peoples, 19, hosts a world electronica show called  “Planetary Blips And Beats”, featuring the music of Egon Fisk, Mothboy, Flyboy,  and I Broke My Robot, among many others. She thinks of her radio station as something small and intimate, “a family type thing.”

That’s why she found it all the more rewarding when an outside source weighed in about the radio station. “It’s amazing to be part of something like that,” Peoples said.

KZSC Santa Cruz 88.1 FM is the only college station west of the Mississippi River to make the Huffington Post’s top five.  

Clearly, KZSC has come a long way since 1967, when the radio station came to life as KRUZ with a measly 10 watts of power.

Citing its reasons for honoring KZSC, the Huffington Post mentioned that the station received The Best Radio Station’ Goldie Award from the Metro Santa Cruz free weekly newspaper [now known as Santa Cruz Weekly] from 2003 through 2008, and was ranked  as the number-one most listened-to college radio station by Radio-Locator, an online site with links to more than 10,000 stations.

Michael Bryant, now in his 10th year as broadcast advisor for KZSC, and a Crown College lecturer who teaches broadcasting, credited the group of DJs –  most of them UCSC students – who rule the airwaves. 

They prepare for their stints as programmers with classroom study – but they also learn on the air.

“Our programmers have a tremendous amount of freedom,” Bryant said.

For instance, a student had an Eastern European exercise show last summer, complete with visualizations for listeners. “She had music playing, and she’d lead people in calisthenics,” Bryant said.  “She’d tell them to run in place. ‘Run like a rabbit in the woods!”’

Other programmers include a student who spins vintage 1950s and 1960s country western music, sticking strictly to vinyl – but never plays CDs or any of the newer country music, which he considers “horse pucky.”

The station relies heavily on private fundraising; KZSC managed to raise more than $21,000 in just one intensive week during its fall pledge drive.  

The radio station is housed in a redwood building that looms over a parking lot like a giant tree fort. Just to get there, you must walk up 40 quad-burning steps, which lead to a wide-open chamber with high ceilings, Himalayan prayer flags, a Jimmy Swaggart album cover on the wall, posters of Billie Holiday, Calexico, Jenny Lewis, the Arctic Monkeys, and a fan letter from songwriter and performer Ben Folds: “Thanks a bunch for everything, and don’t forget to floss.”

The décor reflects KZSC’s eclectic programming.

“A  lot of voices in [mainstream commercial] programming are prerecorded, but everything we do here is live radio, “ Bryant said. “There is a quirkiness to the mistakes and successes that happen this way. This is radio with a human touch.”

KZSC will hold a “music sale” fundraiser from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, November 13, at the Crown Merrill Cultural Center. Vinyl, CDS and music memorabilia will be available for sale.