Retiring KZSC station manager Michael Bryant leaves behind an impressive legacy
If you want to know what outgoing station manager Michael Bryant has meant to KZSC, you could look at the numbers. When he retires on June 20, he’ll have been there almost 15 years, and in that time, the station has been named the number one most popular college radio station in the country, by radiolocator.com. His hands-on approach to the job means he’s done absolutely everything at the station—many, many times.
“I implemented the electronic playlisting system in 2007,” says Bryant, taking a breather in one of KZSC’s production booths after signing off from his last Thursday morning Beatles show. “I looked it up, and since 2007, counting today, I’ve logged 692 playlists. And that’s since 2007; I was here several years before that just writing them by hand. Then I looked at the different shows that I’ve hosted, either as a sub or shows I’ve done to fill slots on the air, and it’s 59 shows. Every kind of show you could think of.”
But perhaps it’s better to measure the 60-year-old Bryant’s legacy by the innovation he brought to the venerable UCSC campus station. He dragged it kicking and screaming into the digital age, long before other college stations had adapted, and KZSC’s established presence online is an essential part of its popularity, both locally and nationally. He remembers well the long road from their first website.
“It had a black background and red lettering, to tell you how old it was. And then streaming on the Internet—what a crazy idea, let’s do that!” says Bryant, with a laugh. “So it went from there to where we are today, with text messaging and instant messaging in the air studio at the same time that phone calls are coming in, and you’re doing an electronic playlist.”
Still, though, what the people around him are likely to miss most is Bryant’s management style. With a dry sense of humor, an unfailingly personable presence at the station, and a seemingly unflappable calm, Bryant has earned a reputation as a problem solver and caring mentor to the students and community members who come through KZSC’s door.
Keith Rozendal, who will be taking over for Bryant as station manager, says he’s had people at the station tell him “you have no idea what it was like here before Michael.”
“He’s done quite a lot to get the station into really good shape,” says Rozendal. “There are no emergencies, the finances are great, the staff and volunteers are very happy, it’s popular with listeners. As I shadow him, I get more and more impressed with the things he dealt with that now I’m not going to have to deal with.”
Despite working on campus for years, previously in the Office of Employee and Labor Relations, Bryant has a decidedly unbureaucratic style, and his passion for music, his work and life in general still shines through.
Like last October, during the station’s fundraising drive. Shortly before, he’d been in Sacramento, where one of his two older sisters had passed away after battling cancer. When Bryant and his sister’s husband left the hospital with her belongings, they turned on a local rock station, which was playing “In My Life,” a song Bryant himself has played countless times on “Here, There and Everywhere,” his long-running Thursday morning Beatles show.
“Then, less than a week later, was our fall fundraising drive,” says Bryant. “So I’m back on the air every day, encouraging people to support community radio, asking for money. The Beatles show comes on, and I said something about my sister’s passing, and a couple of regular listeners who are online listeners in Minnesota—Gretchen and Ed—called and asked me to play ‘In My Life’ for my sister. I lost it. I couldn’t even get the words out. I had to leave the room for about two minutes, compose myself and come back and do the fundraiser.”
Bryant says he’s constantly asked what he’s going to do in retirement, in that way that suggests people don’t actually believe he’s giving up radio for good. But he’s been on the air since 1972—beginning at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, then on commercial radio in the Central Valley, after which he moved to Santa Cruz and started at KAZU in Monterey, before serving as KUSP’s Membership Services Director for five years, and winding up at KZSC.
“I’ve done everything I can possibly imagine in radio. There really isn’t a part of radio that I haven’t done at this point,” he says.
And with the station riding high, he believes this retirement is for real.
“It’s a good time to stop talking,” he says. “I’m taking a vow of silence.”