And it all started with a car wash
Special to Prospector
KVMR 89.5 FM Volunteer Hall Of Fame member Dennis Brunnenmeyer vividly recalls his first encounter with the Nevada City community radio station.
“There I was, washing my new four-wheel drive truck in the driveway on a beautiful Saturday morning in 1982,” he said. “I decided to turn on the radio to look for some good music. I was thrilled to discover the bluegrass show hosted by Ken Crow on KVMR. I’ve been hooked on KVMR ever since.”
And then some.
You see, Dennis grew up in the heart of Illinois, back in the days when the music of Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and the WLS Barn Dance were main sources of radio entertainment. At the University of Illinois, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Physics while studying to the music of Joan Baez, Odetta, the Kingston Trio and other popular folk artists at the time.
Years afterward, he earned a Master’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering and moved here in 1981 for a ten year stint with Grass Valley Group, ending up as General Manager of the Professional Video Division.
Then he heard about the community radio station’s broadcaster training class in 1997. “Wow, it’d be fun to be a DJ, so I took the class,” he remembered. “To top it off, (longtime bluegrass host) Eric Rice was my in-studio mentor.”
In 1997, Dennis started doing a folk and roots music show called “Nevada City Limits” at 4 a.m. and then the show got moved to 10 a.m.-noon and has been on every other Friday for some 21 years.
While the show features both traditional and contemporary folk music, “I still prefer hand-me-down music, acoustic music, the kind I grew up on,” Brunnenmeyer noted.
But if you want to see Dennis animated and enthusiastic, wait until he starts talking about digitizing music.
In the fall of 2008, “on my own nickel,” Brunnenmeyer attended the annual Far West Regional Folk Alliance Conference. He was offered the chance by organizers to host an impromptu session for the 25 or so broadcasters in attendance from community stations like KVMR from all over the western region.
“After our round of introductions, where we each described our stations, our program’s format and how we played our music, I held up one of these (a CD),” Brunnenmeyer recalled. “I then asked the fellow folk music show hosts, ‘So what are you going to do when these CDs are obsolete in ten years?’”
At first, the broadcasters were stunned. Some laughed at the suggestion, shrugging it off as mere fantasy, while others agreed that CDs would eventually go away. Even so, no one had any answers to the question.
“It’s just digital information on a plastic disc,” Dennis simply said with a smile.
When Dennis returned to KVMR, he cornered his good buddy and fellow broadcaster, John Adams. Dennis told John about the mixed reaction to his prediction about the eventual demise of the CD format for distributing music.
John just looked at Dennis and asked, “Well, what are WE going to do about it?”
With that, the two of them launched an experiment to see if they could develop a better way of distributing and storing music on a digital file server—creating an all-digital library of quality music that could replace the huge collection of CDs and old LPs that consumed so much valuable room in the station’s limited space.
The two of them spent so much time getting a KVMR digital library underway that they were part of the initial class of 2013 entrants into the station’s Volunteer Hall Of Fame.
NAMES ON DISPLAY
Later, they were honored by KVMR for their work on planning for the nonprofit radio station’s new building. Their names are now on permanent display in the station’s Studio A.
“That means, of course, they’d gone far beyond what they’d said they’d do for KVMR,” said one station employee. “We think of them, and we think ‘Whew.’”
Get this. Brunnenmeyer says he often put in more than 1,000 volunteer hours in a year helping bring part of the station’s music collection up to digital snuff. More recently, he’s still coming in at 600 or so. Slacker. Not.
And as CD technology does indeed fade away, Brunnenmeyer and Adams are fervent proponents of the lossless FLAC file format. KVMR’s music director Sean Dooley saw the obvious advantages and eagerly began to contribute his time and energy too.
“It’s open source software,” explained Brunnenmeyer. “It’s quality sound, unlike the original Mp3 format and other lossy file formats that sacrifice quality for file size. You can even use the format with high-resolution, multi-channel sound recordings, with all of the quality found in state-of-the-art high-definition theater productions. Unencumbered by closely-held patents and proprietary technology, we consider our approach to be the ideal solution for music distribution and digital storage.”
Brunnenmeyer credits KVMR Music Director Sean Dooley-Miller as a key component in the digital switch. “He enthusiastically participates in the project,” explained Brunnenmeyer.
Meanwhile, Dennis thinks of a simple encounter he was had in a doctor’s office.
“Here’s what a doctor who loves jazz once told me,” revealed Brunnenmeyer. “’When I’m listening to you, I want to know who’s playing the saxophone.’”
So that’s part of the world Brunnenmeyer and Adams are taking on …Who’s that darn saxophonist?
That’s where the world of metadata comes in.
“The ultimate goal of this project is to have the industry deliver music to the user in the format we’ve developed,” said Brunnenmeyer.
According to Brunnenmeyer, instead of a physical disc with printed liner notes, graphics and album credits as part of the CD, there should be digital files with this metadata embedded right in the file so that it can be displayed as you listen to the music. There’s no need to sacrifice the graphics and information found on physical CDs. The same information can be distributed digitally along with the music files in the form of a PDF file “booklet” for on-screen display or, if desired, for printing at home or in the station.
And the waste created worldwide by plastic discs and CD cases can be curbed as well. Furthermore, the near-free cost of distributing music in digital format plummets distribution costs as well, opening vast new opportunities for aspiring musicians and new artists, says Brunnenmeyer.
“Our whole music library could fit in a server not much bigger than a kid’s lunch box like the one I had in third grade,” he recalled. “Imagine having two new off-line production studios that we could create if we were able to free up 800 square feet of physical CD and LP storage space.”
Now that’s food for musical thought.
Just don’t get Dennis started.
Wait, you already did.
On The Air is a weekly irreverent look at Nevada City’s volunteer-driven, eclectic community radio station at 89.5 FM and streaming at kvmr.org. Complete KVMR schedule available at the station’s website, http://www.kvmr.org. The station now features a second stream with indie pop and millenial tastes at kvmrx.org and a second local signal at 105.7 FM with National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and Pacifica’s Democracy Now weekday mornings 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.
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