While I definitely have had my recent complaints about California (even though I am oddly and strangely glad to be living there again), it does seem to have more than its share of good radio stations even accounting for its large size and population. The only problem is that, in most areas, they tend to not be in major city centers and are underpowered if not officially low-powered. Thus, it is not as idyllic as it sounds as one cannot necessarily drive down any of the Golden State’s freeways and always have a great station to listen to on a car radio. However, for the purposes of this website’s Radio page, we do not have to worry about having a car as it is a computer taking us to wherever we want to go regardless of distance, gas prices, getting a decent motel room, and finding a good restaurant.
Before I started going through the world’s radio stations again to get the ones I had missed, there were approximately 20 already listed from California (I say “approximately” as some were added and others removed for various reasons between the time I finished the original version of the Radio page and when I started the full project all over again). To be honest, if I was not so picky on trying to avoid stations that do not broadcast 24/7 or that stay away as much as possible from any type of syndicated programming, I could add in a lot more. However, I have my standards for good reasons when it comes to what I feel I should recommend to my readers all over the globe. Thus, these latest additions all from the State of California total only 14 (“only” he says, ha ha). There are just too many to do a paragraph on each one, so please allow me to group most of them into types.
Some of the best discoveries I have made in the area of commercial radio are two oldies stations — KNAC in Earlimart near Visalia in the Central Valley (not to be confused with the old heavy metal KNAC from Long Beach that is still broadcasting online) and KFXM in Lancaster in the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles. I would also add a “not to be confused with” disclaimer on KFXM but it is actually intended to be confused (sort of) with another station as is KNAC although it is a different one that most people familiar with Los Angeles area radio might be thinking.
What makes these two oldies stations special is not just their wider playlists. These outlets don’t simply try to recreate some of the atmosphere of the long-gone “Top 40,” “Hit Radio” stations of the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s; they actually play the history. KNAC broadcasts jingles, announcements, and even full airchecks from the granddaddy of all of the fast-talking, wacky stunt stations of yore, KHJ “Boss Radio” that ruled the airwaves of Los Angeles for many, many years. On this station can be heard true disk jockey legends that influenced radio and music overall for decades including Robert W. Morgan, “The Real” Don Steele (Tina Delgado is alive, alive!), and many more. KFXM has the same type of programming but uses recordings from the original KFXM in San Bernardino east of Los Angeles which was just as important to the Inland Empire as KHJ was to greater LA.
Just as a side note on this subject…one of KFXM’s main competitors was a station called KMEN. K/men as it was normally spelled in advertising has been on my Radio page since day one but only exists as an online station as their old frequency is now used by the utterly disgusting Radio Disney.
From the relative musical past I now turn way, way back in music history with a non-commercial classical music station that has its own oddity. XHLNC, better known as XLNC1 (“Excellency One”) has odd call letters compared to most of my list because the transmitter is actually located in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. This is very common in border areas of the United States especially in Tijuana as it is right next to the major market of San Diego, California. While the station broadcasts mainly in English, there are occasional brief messages in Spanish so the station conforms to Mexican broadcasting laws. The real oddity comes at midnight local time when the station is required to play the Mexican National Anthem which, unlike the US National Anthem, is always played in its entirety — all ten stanzas and its chorus. Aside from that, this is a nice addition to my few other classical music recommendations as XLNC1 focuses more on shorter and sectional pieces rather than always playing entire symphonies.
Moving forward again in musical time, another great addition to my Radio page is perhaps the most popular jazz station in the entire USA — KKJZ in Long Beach south of Los Angeles. Usually referred to as K-Jazz, this non-commercial station formerly known as KLON has been instrumental in keeping both jazz and blues not only alive but thriving in the greater Los Angeles area. For people like me that live in the Inland Empire, we used to get KKJZ through another transmitter in this area but sadly and stupidly lost it in a story I will have to tell here one day to fully illustrate how even non-commercial, public radio has been greatly corrupted in this once great nation. For now, I will just say I am glad that everybody can always stream K-Jazz online.
For this next station, I move temporarily back into the commercial world but for a station so good that most people I know will not mind sitting through the advertisements. It is also somewhat similar to the oldies stations I talked about above except, in this case, it’s the people from days past still applying their craft live on the air. KOZT “The Coast” in Fort Bragg on the northern California coast and also serving other areas of Mendocino County including Ukiah is the station that pretty much developed what is now called the “adult alternative” format. Ironically enough, the co-owner and FM “underground radio” legend Tom Yates dislikes that term and prefers “adult rock.” Even then, I don’t think even Yates’ preferred term covers it as KOZT often strays from rock into folk, reggae, and other genres. Whatever one wants to call it, it’s great music presented by a staff with an impressive resume of famous “underground” and “progressive rock” stations of the past that would be recognized by many (especially Californians) such as San Francisco’s KMPX, KSAN, and KMEL, KPPC and KMET in Los Angeles, the late, great KZAP in Sacramento, and many more.
As I turn back to non-commercial stations for the remainder of this entry, it will probably not be surprising that one I need to put in its own paragraph is from good ol’ Berkeley across the bay from San Francisco — always a place of ground-breaking political movements (or at least attempted ones) and generally a city where people always look to do things differently. KALX-FM is the campus radio station at the University of California where many of the things we all know and love (or hate) about Berkeley have originated. No matter what one thinks about Berkeley politically, if one seeks out new and varied music, KALX-FM gets the job done in spades with what I can best categorize as a “college/eclectic” format. Each disk jockey is encouraged to play at least three different genres of music during his or her shift and that at least four songs per hour are from relatively new releases. Of course, the blend varies from person to person but it assures that the overall variety heard on KALX-FM is always fresh and never repetitive…yep, no constant rotation of Aerosmith and Boston here!
Continuing on the college circuit, I can now recommend four more standard “college/variety” format stations assuming that one could ever call what is usually heard on any college station not playing NPR programming “standard.” I first want to highlight two such stations that I can actually pick up at full strength in my car — my long-time favorite KSPC “The Space” in Claremont and my current overall favorite, KUCR in Redlands.
KSPC comes from the highly prestigious Claremont Colleges and is a station I have enjoyed listening to since first coming to southern California in 1983. Most of the programming, especially during local daytime hours, is very typical of a college station where there’s some very good and interesting stuff but, occasionally, some programs that will make one want to drink a gallon of broken glass. The timing and mixture of what is good and bad changes quite frequently as most of KSPC’s airshifts are filled by actual students who move around in the schedule before ultimately moving on after graduation. However, while not really a “community” station, The Space does have a small amount of programs run by non-students, some of which have been running for decades. Two fine examples of this would be The Reggae Connection hosted by Junior Francis who has been on the air at least since the late 1980’s and the Boss Guy in Claremont show featuring forgotten music from the 1960’s and early 1970’s that has anchored KSPC’s always spectacular Sunday night lineup for probably even longer.
While The Space has been my long-time radio friend during my years on and off in southern California, my actual favorite non-commercial station besides our local NPR affiliate is now KUCR coming from the campus of the University of California-Riverside. In addition to having some local news and other very good and insightful public service programming (a nice sidelight since all of the big LA stations ignore the Inland Empire and the commercial stations that are here have gotten rid of their news departments), KUCR just seems to have more consistency in its programming and better overall quality than KSPC even though The Space still has most of my favorite individual shows. In addition, since losing this area’s ability to receive K-Jazz as mentioned above, KUCR is the most consistent outlet in the Inland Empire for jazz and blues. Yes, KUCR also has plenty of “modern” and “alternative” music so there’s lots of variety no matter what one is looking for out of one of these “variety” type stations.
Also on the “college/variety” front, I have added two from further north in the state. From the Central Valley, there is KFSR Full Spectrum Radio coming from Fresno State University and, even further up, KZSC coming from the University of California-Santa Cruz, home of the mighty Banana Slugs! If you think that I’m joking about a college naming its sports teams the Banana Slugs, just look below…and, if you think that a college that actually did name its sports teams the Banana Slugs just might have a very unusual student body and thus a very unusual student radio station, you would be correct!
With everything I have brought to the table over the last few days, I hope that there is at least one new station that will keep everybody busy for at least a little while. Of course, there is still more to come as I go back through the stations in 45 more states plus the District of Columbia. While I still hold to the feeling I had back when I first started discussing my radio links that music radio in North America is basically boring everybody in the country into a coma (all while talk radio whips the Neanderthals still left in our gene pool into an unwarranted and hateful frenzy), culling even more decent stations out of the cesspool of repetitive and unimaginative swill churned out by the likes of Clear Channel, Cumulus, Citadel, CBS, Rogers, Corus, and so on makes me feel a little bit more hopeful that we can all still get entertainment and information free from most corporate and government oversight.
However, I close with one caution. With the coming increase in Republican and so-called “Tea Party” power in Washington, all can be assured that one of their first moves (as always) will be to try to remove (or at least reduce) all funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that assists many non-commercial outlets with their bills. Despite what one believes in politics, keep in mind that the CPB accounts for an almost imperceptible portion of the federal budget and, in many cases, keeps stations on the air that cover less-populated, poorer areas of the country that would be completely ignored by the big media conglomerates (ironically, usually areas that tend to be conservative but can only get news and weather bulletins with government assistance because the “free market” refuses to serve them). Yes, perhaps many might not like their tax dollars going to fund a station that runs extremely liberal programming such as Democracy Now! (even though that specific program accepts no government money of any kind…and that’s not an endorsement from me as I believe that Amy Goodman is almost full of as much shit as anybody on the Fox News Channel). However, remember this…it was not all that long ago in US history when it seemed like the Democrats would control Congress for all of eternity and it was none other than the CPB helping to keep conservative viewpoints on the air such as those from William F. Buckley, Jr. The political pendulum always swings and, thanks to the portion of the conservative movement that began in 1978, it is swinging more wildly and unpredictably than ever.
In other words, this latest crop of radical conservatives need to be careful what they wish for. The shoe will be on the other foot eventually no matter what some delusional radio talk show host might say and they will rue the day if they have not left at least one venue through which their ideas can be easily heard by a mass audience…especially all of those old people they count on for votes that still can’t figure out how e-mail works much less how to stream an online radio station.