Throwaway Style: Learning Independence from College Radio

Throwaway Style, Local Music
Dusty Henry

Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.

Take a journey with me, waaaaaay back to the year 2009. Every Thursday at 1 AM across campus the Seattle Pacific University campus, a few groups of students would huddle around their laptop speakers. They were listening to maybe the most popular radio show at the time on the campus' Internet radio station KSPU. But they weren't tuned in to hear some great new bands or unearthed jams. The show was called "Numbers" and it featured a guy reading... numbers. Just numbers. The idea was that listeners were to write down every number each week and try to find the hidden code. An entire quarter went by and I don't think anyone ever figured what the numbers meant. The mysterious host was my roommate and even I never got a hint at what it was all about.

So, not every show on KSPU was like that (or I should say "isn't like that," the station is still alive and well today!), but Numbers probably best embodied the spirit of what the station was really about — independence. A theme that extends across college radio as a whole. We had students hosting radio plays, post-punk showcases, 8-bit jams, and variety shows that ran the gamut of genres. Personally, I co-hosted a show called stripped.down which was originally supposed to be an all acoustic music showcase but evolved (or maybe devolved) into some sort of variety show with my best friend Zach — we ended up breaking Numbers' listenership record when we hyped up a live on-air mime act where we pantomimed moving a beached whale back into the ocean; an act clearly destined for the purely aural experience of radio. It fucking slayed.As we've been celebrating National Radio Week here at KEXP, hearing stories from stations that committed themselves to defying any mainstream expectations, I'm given constant reminders of those halcyon college radio days. I know it's not a unique experience to me either. You could ask a number of people here at KEXP about cutting their teeth behind the crusty soundboards of their college's low-powered FM stations and you'll certainly get an earful of stories. Our own KSPU faculty adviser Liz Gruchala-Gilbert would often tell us stories about her own experiences DJing at WRUR AM 640 in Rochester, even meeting her eventual husband while he was putting up posters advertising his own show.

For many, going to college means being on your own for the first time. It's a time to find your way outside of the confines you've known. Giving an 18-year-old kid like that a microphone, a stack of CDs, and freedom to do whatever they want is liberating. I found my voice doing weird shit on the airwaves and met lifelong friends who were doing the same thing. The free-form format was liberating, on and off the air. Sweaty dance parties in the studio, panda suits, bringing in full bands and recording them with two condenser mics, and all the lore of old staff's antics passed down year to year. No one knew what they were doing, but we figured it out on our own. Mistakes were encouraged. When you're confronted with the daunting idea of adulthood while also having no clue what you actually want to do with your life, experiences like that matter. And beyond that, having an outlet where people can share their obscure findings does the community better too. Historically, local bands have benefited from the support of college radio. Breaking an artist means taking chances and who better to do that than kids with nothing to lose and no agenda to serve?

All this to say, college radio is invaluable. If you're a student, get involved. If your school days are behind you, encourage the young people in your life to check out their college's station. It's not about starting a path to working in radio or bolstering your resume for after graduation. It's about learning how to take a blank canvas and creating something uniquely yours. On top of that, you might find other people care about those same weird things as you do. When you hear KEXP DJs talking this week about these historic stations that defied the status quo of radio, know that this could be you too. Even if you're out of college, get involved with a community station. This Sunday you’ll have the prime opportunity to follow through with that notion during KEXP and Brown Paper Tickets’ Community Radio Fair, where stations like Hollow Earth Radio, SPACE, Rainier Valley Radio, and many others will host booths in our Gathering Space, looking for recruits to help keep these stations thriving with new talent and volunteers. The airwaves are waiting for you. Answer their call and get weird with it.

New and News

Stas THEE Boss Returns with S'WOMEN

In what must have been a momentary breach of sanity, I missed including Stas THEE Boss' new album S'WOMEN in last week's column, which is unforgivable because this is one of Stas' most exciting works since the end of THEE Satisfaction. As both a producer and rapper, Stas has consistently exuded excellence and she shines in both roles on this new LP. (Stas also does amazing work as the host of Street Sounds on KEXP, every Sunday evening at 6 PM.) Stream it below or download it for free here.


Seattle Super-Group Who Is She Announce Debut, Shares "Top 8"

Who is Who Is She? You might not know the name, but you might know the group's members. Comprised of Chastity Belt's Julia Shapiro, Tacocat's Bree McKenna, and Lisa Prank herself Robin Edwards, they're a veritable super-group of some of Seattle's best punk and indie acts. Much like Shapiro and McKenna's other project, Childbirth, Who Is She gives us some much needed comic relief in a world where it can be hard to laugh right now. Their debut album, Seattle Gossip, is out October 6th through Father/Daughter records. In the meantime, they've shared their first single "Top 8". The track details all the drama of the eponymous feature of the Myspace era, a veritable Game of Thrones that could tear friendships apart. Gonna put this song on repeat while I catch up on all my mirror selfies.


Seapony Announce Be Here Again EP, Share Title Track

It's been a couple years since we've heard from Seapony, their last release being 2015's wistful and dreamy A Vision. Now they've announced that they're making their return and it's coming soon. The Be Here Again EP comes out August 24th and they've shared the title track to whet our appetites. The jangling guitar lines and the fluttering rhythms against Jen Weidi's hushed vocals are quintessential Seapony in all the best ways. Summer's going to end sooner than we know it, but I can't wait to ride out into the sunset with what's sure to be another excellent Seapony record.


Guantanamo Baywatch Release "Video" Music Video

Portland's Guantanamo Baywatch not only have the best band name in the game, they've got the tunes to match. Their latest video for, uh, "Video" aptly captures the frenzied spirit of the band. We see them pounding away at their instruments in the desert and ankle deep in pond water in the middle of the night. If you've never heard of Guantanamo Baywatch, I truly can't think of anything that better gives you an idea of what they're all about. You can also catch them tonight at Neumos to feel the vicious surf-rock energy yourself.


Silver Torches Announce Let It Be A Dream, Share "If I Reach"

Seattle Americana act Silver Torches is returning with a new album, Let It Be A Dream, on October 6th and they're getting us primed with the nostalgic sprawling of lead single, "If I Reach." Songwriting Erik Walters is in top form, expanding the band's sound to match the mood of driving out into the horizon without a real destination. The soft synthesizer leads humming underneath his steady bellows feels timeless, a slice of heartland rock with the dreaminess of modern longing.


Live and Loud: This Week's Recommended Local Shows

August 17: Guantanamo Baywatch, Steal Shit Do Drugs, and Dreamdecay at Neumos




August 17: Priests, Lithics, Casual Hex, and Sleepover Club at Black Lodge




August 18: Porch Cat, Falon Sierra, and Healthscare at Left Bank Books




August 19: VanFest Seven featuring Charms, Ephrata, SSNACKSS, Fabulous Downey Brothers and more at Royal Arch Masonic Park




August 21: Dummy, Rego, and Thank You at The Sunset



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