This blog grew out of the article Rocks Off wrote Wednesday about Alvin's "Gulf Coast Rocker" KACC 89.7, the last traditional rock station on the Houston FM radio dial and, not coincidentally, a station completely unsupported by advertising revenue. As we were talking to Mark Moss, KACC's only full-time employee -- the rest of the station is in fact staffed by Alvin Community College students -- a somewhat unsettling question slowly dawned on us.
Considering the sterilized, robotic, controlled-playlist environment that has become standard in corporate radio -- especially around Houston -- why should any young person want to be a DJ for a living these days?
Moss, who acts as KACC's station manager, program director, music director and possibly janitor (we didn't ask), admits he's seen a decline in the number of students interested in radio as a career. But that is at least partially offset by what an example the station itself has become.
As he told us Wednesday, many students who work at KACC name it as their favorite radio station overall. As DJs, they're also so well-trained that sometimes they get complaints from listeners who expect KACC to be a commercial station.
"That's one thing unfortunately our listeners don't quite understand sometimes -- that we're a laboratory for the communications department at ACC," Moss says. "So sometimes if we're doing something wrong or if we irritate them, they complain as if we're a commercial station. But remember these are still students on the air, and they're learning."
Other areas of radio are more practical, and perhaps more pleasant, for budding broadcasters than music. KACC also airs high-school football and baseball games, so students can learn the ins and outs of play-by-play and production. It also maintains a news department. But in Moss' eyes, even commercial stations have fallen down on the job in areas where radio used to be most vital.
"Radio is still viable if it's done properly, and that's the problem," he says. "For example, [during] Hurricane Ike - why in God's green earth was I listening to KTRH simulcast KHOU [Channel 11] during Hurricane Ike? To me, that's a great opportunity for radio to shine, because that's all we had was radio. We didn't have power for anything else."
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The only silver lining Moss can see is a little twisted, but it makes sense, and it would put radio back on a much more comfortable footing by making listeners feel like they have a stake in their local stations again. Basically, listeners will keep tuning out until the stations are no longer profitable, at which point "the big money jumps out" (Moss' words) and the corporations are forced to sell the stations - probably at a steal - to someone who will hopefully put them to better use.
That is the best-case scenario, anyway. In the meantime, KACC is already doing it the right way.
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"That's what made radio big," says Moss. "The fact that I knew this guy was on the air, and I could call him up and he could identify with me, he knew my community and he was kissing babies and really I knew that he understood my community, not some guy in Washington or New York pretending to be in Houston.
"By going to all this national automation, we've lost the very thing that's made radio successful," he adds. "It's not hard kissing babies and being local, and that's why we play local music."