KYRR keeps rockin’ the Ridge
Special to The Union
As a music lover and child of the ’60s, I grew up believing my pocket transistor radio was a pipeline to the gods. I secretly took it to bed nearly every night, hiding it under the blankets, hoping my parents wouldn’t hear The Supremes, or the Stones supplying the soundtrack for falling asleep.
Radio programming in those days seemed hyper-adventurous, marked by sweet diversity. One could hear new Beatles, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Petula Clark, the Byrds, or Sly and the Family Stone, all within the same hour of Top-40 programming.
As time went by, radio became more rigidly formatted, playlists less eclectic.
Fast-forward to the present day, with radio now playing a much less significant role in people’s lives, replaced by an iPod-armed citizenry downloading iTunes. A handful of large corporations now monopolize the airwaves.
Some true believers still cruise the left end of the FM dial, doing their best to resist the unholy alliance between giant entertainment syndicates and radio promotions companies more than willing to pay what is necessary to get their sound-alike performers precious air time, hoping to discover something fresh and aurally satisfying.
That something could well be KYRR, the all-volunteer station that proclaims itself “the little station that rocks the San Juan Ridge.” Station programming includes 120 hours per week of local music, including pop, hip-hop, punk, classic rock, world, trance, heavy metal and open-mic podcasts, with program names like Lake Vera Analog Hour, Compulsory Trance, DJ Tiesto and Subgenius Hour of Slack, all of it found at 93.3FM on the radio dial.
Station trustee and database administrator Steve Michelsen is amazed at the impact that a low-power station like KYRR can have.
“We’re only 7 watts, which is on the order of a CB radio,” Michelsen said. “Compare that to a station like KVMR with 2,000 watts, or the Eagle (in Sacramento) with 50,000 watts. For us to have the kind of listenership that we do is pretty amazing.”
According to Michelsen, the majority of the KYRR audience is located in Yuba City and North Columbia, with its signal especially strong along Highway 20 in the Sacramento Valley, from the Sutter Bypass to the Yuba River. The size of its listening audience, based upon the Arbitron ratings for the Sacramento area, is estimated to be as high as 8,000 people.
The genesis of KYRR came a little over a decade ago when Michelsen and friends applied for an FCC license, one of 55 applicants accepted from over 1,300 submissions. The process of getting the station to the point where it could transmit a signal took four painstaking years. There were funds to raise, and equipment to buy and install. Michelsen is quick to credit KVMR with having been instrumental in helping KYRR get up and transmitting.
“There was a broad grassroots effort in the community to help us,” Michelsen said. “We could have been on the air maybe a year earlier, but we had to get the emergency alert system and it cost something like $1,300. When it finally came, we were on the air in two hours.”
In the beginning, KYRR was able to broadcast five hours a day and in an effort to fill airtime was quick to accept the recordings of local musicians. Homegrown programming has become a staple of each broadcast day ever since. Michelsen estimates that somewhere between 50 to 60 percent of each broadcast day is filled with music from local singers and instrumentalists.
During that time, KYRR has been involved in a weekly open-mic event, most of the time hosted at the Chief Crazy Horse Saloon in Nevada City and more recently at Coopers. Michelsen records, edits, then broadcasts each installment, even supplying each participant a free CD of their performance. It is also the main source of the station’s revenue, allowing KYRR to broadcast without the help of commercials, underwriters or membership drives.
“In the beginning it was like total mayhem and now it’s like organized mayhem,” Michelsen said. “It’s not like we’ve got committees or anything like that. We’re pretty much open to what anybody wants to do as long as it’s not over-the-top too much. If people submit something, we’ll play it. It could be anything from Christian to hard-core techno music and we’ll still play it.”
Most of the DJs providing content for the KYRR do it remotely from their homes with computer memory sticks. The station’s studio is housed inside a small trailer off Blue Tent School Road. Michelsen is hopeful that a spot overlooking the ridge in North Columbia can be found to accommodate a better-equipped studio and that eventually the station’s power can be increased to 100 watts.
One KYRR DJ who has been with the station from almost the beginning is Roo Cantada. Cantada also hosts a show on KVMR, but is especially grateful for the freedom that KYRR affords.
“My show has a free-form kind of format,” Cantada said “Whatever kind of music I have at my fingertips. I love international music, I love pop music, punk rock and things that are really obscure. We really mix it up.”
Michelsen and Cantada are quick to emphasize the important role that a community station like KYRR can play in the lives of the locals.
“KYRR does a lot for the community,” Cantada said. “It gives a lot of people a free-form outlet for their music, for the kind of music that can’t be heard anywhere else. The randomness of KYRR is what makes it so fun.”
The station is getting ready to celebrate a birthday and the future looks bright.
“We will have been on the air six years Oct. 28, and this year it’s really blossomed,” Michelsen said. We’ve got a lot of people doing really creative shows. There’s a lot more interest in the community. People on the Ridge and North Columbia have become really proud of this little station.”
To volunteer or learn more about KYRR, go to one of the station’s weekly DJ meetings, held at the Grizzly Hill School Library, Tuesday at 3 p.m., attend Cooper’s Wednesday night Open Mic, or go online to http://www.angelfire.com/ky3/kyrr93.3.
Tom Kellar is a freelance writer living in Cedar Ridge.
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