FM Stations in San Francisco:
Interview with Carl STONE (part 1)
Interviewer: SHIMODA Nobuhisa (Xebec staff)


Established more than forty-five years ago, KPFA is the oldest non-commercial FM radio station in the United States. Every Sunday, the station airs, "Ears Wide Open," a program produced by the composer, Carl STONE. In this interview, Stone talks about this unique radio program that focus on new music, and other American radio stations.
SHIMODA: How many stations are there in the U.S.?

STONE: If I said a number, I would just be guessing, but there are many. In a major city such as Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco, you might have about thirty or forty FM stations. So if you multiply that you can figure that there are more than a couple of thousand around America. That's not even including AM stations or stations which might be in smaller, more local areas. So there are really quite a few. The vast majority of the stations are commercial stations. The way they do their business is they make the programs and they sell part of their time to advertisers who make commercials. Because of that system, the advertisers want to have the biggest possible audience to hear their commercials, so they always program music which is very popular.

Pop, country-western, "adult-oriented" rock. Usually, even a classical music or jazz format is not popular enough for them. So almost every commercial station has almost the same kind. So as an alternative to that, there is the category of non-commercial stations. These are very few and the system is completely different. They don't get money from advertisers directly, but they get it either from the government or from a kind of sponsor (but not for advertising), or directly from their listeners.


SHIMODA: Who decides the policy or the structure of each FM station?

STONE: Well, sometimes they are owned by big companies and they'll make a company decision. And usually a program director will be hired to do that. You know, a lot of things now with the commercial stations are not decided by anybody human. It's really done almost by a computer. It's a kind of formula. And the computer will say, "O.K., this hour we need two Kenny G.s and one Mariah CAREY followed by...." You know that kind of thing is really done just strictly by a kind of formula.
Carl Stone Image
Carl Stone in situ

SHIMODA: So you mean there is a database?

STONE: Exactly. Sometimes now with automation, there is no human being involved at all. Even the announcements that are done are completely artificial. But non-commercial stations tend to be much more kind of fuzzy about the identity of things. And they can be eclectic and mixed-up and much more interesting.
SHIMODA: Can you give me some examples?

STONE: Well, I mean there is a form of radio that is called "eclectic." And eclectic means everything is all mixed up together. So you might, in the case of music, have a program which will have classical music followed by punk rock followed by jazz, or something like that. KPFA, actually, is the first non-commercial station in the United States. It was founded in1949, so we have built up many listeners. Some have been listening now for more than forty-five years. Because the identity of this kind of station is very unique. There's no other station like it. So we can attract people who want to find unusual kinds of things.
SHIMODA: What are some of the other programs on KPFA besides "Ears Wide Open"?

STONE: i f you are speaking about music programs, there are classical music programs, there is jazz, especially avant-garde jazz, there's American folk music, and also what is called women's music. There's a program about world music that has ethnic music from all over the world. We also have a program made by Don JOYCE. He is a member of Negativland, which is a group that has done a lot of experimentation with live sampling. So he will just come into the studio and kind of improvise with many CDs--there's a kind of New Negativland piece every time.
(to be continued in our next issue)

Condensed versions of "Ears Wide Open" are presented monthly at Xebec from this July. For those living in Japan, More information will be available.
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