Classical KCSN radio station plays to its own tune

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Kaitlyn Van Diepen is an award-winning broadcast journalist, but it’s likely that many CSUN students have never heard her work.

The senior broadcast journalism major recently went to Las Vegas for a Society of Professional Journalists convention to accept the organization’s Mark of Excellence award for her work, along with the work of her peers, on KCSN (88.5 FM) radio’s “Evening Update” news program.

Van Diepen will graduate in the fall, and she said she credits KCSN with enhancing her resume. She has won three other awards for her work since Spring 2004, with the most recent SPJ award in recognition of “Update” newscasts from February, September and December 2004.

“It is so wonderful to produce the stories, write them, and figure out the order in which to run them,” Van Diepen said. “It makes it really special.”

Although the station has won many awards, the station’s classical music format and news focus has created issues of alienation with some CSUN students.

Fred Johnson, KCSN general manager, said that since he has been at the station, he has realized that KCSN’s format is a problem with some students on campus, but that the station does not fit the common definition of a college radio station.

“KCSN is a community service of Cal State Northridge, primarily self-supported and professional,” Johnson said.

The way in which KCSN is broadcast, funded and programmed makes it different than many other college radio stations.

Johnson said KCSN uses the lowest power transmitter available for an FM station, which allows the station’s broadcast to cover a nearly 60-mile radius around the campus. College radio stations are usually broadcast over a one-mile radius, he said.

The station, which has its studios in University Park Apartments Building 11, is broadcast to the communities of the San Fernando Valley, the Santa Clarita Valley and West Los Angeles, and its focus is on the local news of those areas.

“We are licensed through the CSU system, and emanate from the campus, so we are a university-based radio station,” Johnson said.

He said he wished the station was fully funded by the campus, but in reality it receives 85 percent to 90 percent of its budget from member support, like all public broadcasting services, with federal aid coming from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

“The state funds come via the university and mainly cover operational costs,” Johnson said. He added that the College of Arts and Media Communication also provides the station with some additional support.

“If you want to hear a real college radio station, than listen to KXLU, the (Loyola Marymount University) station,” Johnson said. “They have kids on air playing whatever they want, and it is supported by the university.”

The station features classical music from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. The station then airs a variety of music from various disc jockeys, who play everything from “conscientious hip-hop” to Broadway showtunes, Johnson said. The current format has been in place for 16 years. Prior to that, KCSN played country music.

Saharra White, junior journalism major, works at the radio station as a production assistant. She said she wishes there was more diversity in the programming of the station.

“The administration and the (university) president at the time decided classical (music) would better represent an institution of higher learning,” Johnson said.

“We (CSUN students) are not into classical music,” White said.

“I love KCSN, and it is going to help me. It’s good experience, but there are certain things they could do to be more appealing to students,” White said.

KCSN news employs about 65 students from three different broadcast journalism classes. The students and the news department have received more than 400 awards since 1987, when Keith Goldstein, KCSN’s news director, came on board.

Goldstein is a journalism professor and the only non-student employed in the news department at the station.

The broadcast journalism students on staff rewrite wire news stories, do on-site and phone interviewing to compile sound bites, and produce all five newscasts for the radio station, Goldstein said.

Van Diepen said that although she has heard students in classes complain about the dull format of the station, she enjoys the seriousness of the station.

“We are covering real events that happen to real people – the same things that the competitors are covering for the local community,” Van Diepen said.

Although students can prepare proposals for the station, it would only be for the time slots available after 6 p.m. and on weekends.

“It would turn people away if we just changed the format,” Johnson said. “It would be like a KROQ listener tuning into the station and hearing polka.”

White was unaware that students could propose different formats to the station, and said that the station could do some advertising on campus to promote the station and increase awareness of its existence, because “some people don’t even know we have a station,” she said.

“The situation at KCSN, and anywhere, is what you make of it,” Van Diepen said.

Connie Llanos can be reached at connie.llanos.600@csun.edu.