When Santa Cruz-based documentary filmmaker Erik Nelson was invited on to KSQD (90.7 FM) to chat about his latest project last May, he knew nothing about the newly established community radio station. But by the time he left the station’s Harvey West-area studio that evening, he had become consumed with a crazy idea: why couldn’t he do a show on K-Squid too?
Today, despite a demanding day job that finds him on the road more often than not, Nelson is the host of Creative Bandwidth, a weekly music show that makes the best use of his skills as a historian, researcher and unapologetic music obsessive. He calls the show “an annotated deep dive into music from great artists and about how that art came to be.”
The show is both erudite and adventurous, held together by connections of music both obscure and popular that casual fans might not be aware of.
It is also an indication of the serendipity of KSQD’s first year on the air. When the station threw the switch on its first broadcast signal on Feb. 15, 2019, no one could have predicted someone like Nelson showing up, lending his considerable talents and enthusiasms, hours of work in preparation and execution, all on a volunteer basis. (Nelson plans to be on hand when KSQD celebrates its first anniversary on Feb. 15).
However much he enjoys programming his weekly show (Saturdays at noon), Nelson is just as much entranced by KSQD as a whole. When he first heard of a show on dreams (The Dream Journal, hosted by Katherine Bell), “my first reaction was, ‘Oh, brother. Give me a huge break,’” he says. “But then I listened to the show and I was captivated. I loved it. It’s a great show. It was interesting and heartfelt and homespun, and spoke to the community and to a wider audience. And that’s what KSQD affords, due to the unique alchemy of the structure of the station and the community that contains it.”
KSQD—which has embraced its K-Squid nickname with a life-size squid sculpture christened “Squidmore”—presents a kind of crazy-quilt block of programming, 24 hours a day, balancing news/talk/public affairs and musical entertainment. It features a limited number of satellite programs such as Democracy Now, The Thom Hartman Show and The California Report. But mostly, KSQD shows are the creation of local programmers, many holdovers from Santa Cruz’s now defunct KUSP, but many newcomers as well. Full disclosure: I host my own show, The Golden, on KSQD, Thursdays at 6:30pm.
“What I love about it,” says Nelson, “is that it’s what radio used to be. It’s not polemical like some of the Pacifica stations, though there is a lot of politics. It’s the radio station that Santa Cruz deserves.”
Rachel Anne Goodman, the chair of the station’s board of directors, said that reflecting Santa Cruz’s inherent diversity of viewpoint and talent has always been the station’s ideal (the station features 126 on-air volunteers). In a time when it seems that the tide is ebbing on many forms of traditional media, including radio, Goodman and the board made a bet that locals needed a broadcast channel that reflected their distinctive tastes and interests.
“When we first put out the call for proposals,” she says, “we got some really amazing ones. But you never know what you’re going to get. We had some gems left over from KUSP, but also new people like Erik who found a niche and just slid right in there.”
Another new programmer to KSQD, Jill Cody, is symbolic of the other role the station has taken on in the community: a forum for social and political engagement. Cody is the author of two books about the threat to participatory democracy. She had no radio experience when she decided to translate her activism to the airwaves. The result is her show Be Bold America (every other Sunday at 5 p.m.), in which she interviews activists both local and national on such subjects as political tribalism, authoritarianism, and corporate control of politics.
She says her goals as an activist are “perfectly aligned with KSQD’s values.”
“Community radio is the air of democracy, and we can use the airwaves of community radio to talk about things that corporate radio would never talk about,” she explains.
Goodman says that the station requires about $100,000 a year to stay on the air, and that fundraising the first year has exceeded expectations.
“Once people find us,” she says. “they like us.”
She says that one of KSQD’s goals in 2020 is to “have more fun, celebrate the things that are working in this world.” At the same time, though, election-year concerns will continue to be front and center. She hopes that KSQD will be a go-to media stop for locals trying to make sense of a chaotic world.
“We’ve already had those moments when you tune in and you hear someone say something so profound, you think, ‘That is exactly what we had in mind [when we started KSQD].’ We’re going through an amazingly tumultuous and turbulent time right now. And we need to figure this stuff out together. We as a culture are at a tipping point where a lot of things are being challenged and changed. To have some way to discuss that together is really important, to feel more solid as a community.”
For more information on KSQD, its first anniversary celebration, or to listen live online, go to ksqd.org.