Spinning Self-Expression | Ethos
After organizing a pile of vinyl records and logging into Spinitron, the station’s DJ system to catalog the music they play, Jake Beck flipped a coin. He landed on jazz.
“I brought a bigger eclectic assortment of vinyl today, ranging from country to jazz to bossa nova,” says Beck. Then he starts his 10 o’clock radio show. “Hello, Eugene. Thank you for listening to KWVA Eugene 88.1 FM here on this rather disgusting Monday morning. My name is DJ Bean and Cheese, and we’re here in the studio with another take on “No Problem.”
Beck, both a DJ and current programming director for KWVA, always tries to get in the mood for his show by starting with slower songs. His DJ name comes from his favorite type of taco: a bean and cheese taco, a specialty of his hometown of San Antonio, Texas.
After switching to the country section of his show, Beck says he wants things to end slowly.
“I hope each of you cowboys have a good rest from your Monday,” he told his listeners. “To put an end to this country train, we are going to go back to where it started: with George Strait. And I dedicate it to all the women who have wronged me. It’s “All my exes live in Texas.” Hope you have a great day there.
During his show, Beck went through four different genres. Currently, the station plays around 16 genres and tries to expand into all facets of music.
But music isn’t all that happens at the station. KWVA Eugene 88.1 FM is the independent campus radio station of the University of Oregon, located in the Erb Memorial Union, and is part of a nationwide network of college stations that provide everything from sports to news to by music. The students started the station in 1993, the peak era of independent college radio, to give students a public and independent voice.
KWVA 88.1 has been on the air for 29 years. Charlotte Allen, general manager of KWVA, says the station exists thanks to a group of dedicated students in the 1990s.
“They were able to acquire a station and go through all the federal and university processes to get that station on the air,” Allen says. She has worked for KWVA for 16 years and is in the early stages of planning for the 30th anniversary of the station’s first broadcast.
Music has largely shifted to streaming platforms, such as Spotify and Apple Music. College radio is no longer at its peak. Its main advantage of being a way to discover and share independent music has been replaced by the algorithms of streaming services. According to Infinite Dial, a national survey of digital media consumption in the United States, only 9% of people aged 12 to 24 use AM/FM radio to keep up with music. Due to the amount of streaming that has eaten away at its audience, colleges have been selling out their radio broadcast licenses for over a decade. Even still, KWVA continues.
Currently, KWVA has around 70 volunteer DJs. These DJs are alumni, local Eugene members, and University of Oregon students. Each DJ has a two-hour time slot throughout the week to play whatever music they want. DJs like Beck, Kayla Krueger and Isaac Wagoner all use radio as a means of expression.
“My show is so weird,” Wagoner says. He has been on the station since January 2022 and likes to get creative with his show.
“Originally, I called it Good Morning America. I shoot such random comedy bits. One day, I made a commitment that my show would be all about cybersecurity,” he says. “It didn’t make any sense, but I thought it was really funny.”
His show is now called “Good Morning Eugene” and focuses on current jazz, rock and 1960s French pop.
Wagoner says he likes to be as creative and available to the medium as possible. At first, he adopted an “awkward” persona, deliberately telling jokes, then fumbling to the punchline. Over time, he added more of himself to his on-air persona.
He says he loves sharing things with people and KWVA is perfect for that. He was introduced to the station by a friend who had a show and immediately fell in love. Wagoner says it suited him just fine, because he could just be himself without getting in front of a camera. He says he kept running with his weird and over-the-top but honest radio personality.
“I think to some extent it’s a form of self-expression. I also love music and being able to share it with people. For Waggoner, KWVA has become a source of community where he can connect with others through his sense of humor and music.
Krueger fell in love with the station for similar reasons. His show “The Road to Nowhere” focuses on classic and psychedelic rock, funk and mo-town. She was walking near the station in 2021, in her freshman year, and recalled some KWVA alumni recommending checking her out.
She says she likes the way she can play whatever she wants. Krueger is a big fan of Pink Floyd, the Velvet Underground and all the rest of psychedelic rock. Krueger once performed “Echoes,” a 23-minute epic of a Pink Floyd song.
“I think it’s great to impose your music on your listeners,” says Krueger.
After a year of working with the station, she says she’s learned that being a DJ comes with challenges. She tried to have perfect sets while using all the different equipment, but found it almost insurmountable.
“It’s stressful at first, and I’ve definitely had my fair share of nervous breakdowns and sweats,” says Krueger.
But Krueger has learned to never take it seriously and just stand in line to line up and do a few anecdotes about the music she plays between them.
“In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Nobody really cares,” says Krueger.
She says she finds it liberating and exciting to create a character that she can spread to the campus community. Krueger goes through “Penny Lame” on his 10:00 a.m. show every week on Tuesdays. Friends called it Eugene’s Penny Lane, a reference to the 2000 film “Almost Famous.”
KWVA has two studios dedicated to DJing, each wall lined with a historic collection of musical memorabilia dating back to the 1950s. Beck says DJs contributed to the collection of trinkets stacked on a desk on the wall across from the gate.
Each wall in the main office is covered with its own collection of posters and old vinyl covers from the last century. Beck says indie bands and labels send in CDs of their latest releases, which huddle in three unorganized piles of about 15 CDs each in the main office, waiting to be sorted through their already extensive catalog of music.
Beck says it helps connect local bands and small groups with potential listeners. DJs are required to play at least one song from each album submitted. He says he wants their collection to keep growing so they can play as many different songs and artists as possible, even after the whole room has been filled with a catalog of vinyl records. , CDs and tapes.
Beck visits the office almost daily and loves it because of its warmth and hospitality. He particularly treasures an unreleased demo vinyl from Shaquille O’Neal because it represents just how diverse and eclectic the studio itself can be.
“Our mantra here is ‘Music you can’t hear anywhere else,'” Beck says.
Krueger says KWVA is the most welcoming community she has been a part of on campus. Next year, Krueger will take over Beck’s position as programming director, and she’s excited to be more involved with the station.
And Kruger is excited to continue doing what it does, which includes DJing music and handling ticket giveaways.
During one of Krueger’s shows, a call came into the show asking her for a ticket to a Cream cover band coming to Eugene, and she answered enthusiastically. She thanked the caller, gave him the ticket information, talked a bit about the band Cream with the caller, then went back to the song queue on her computer and the two turntables behind her. Krueger says she loves being able to be someone who interacts with strangers about their common interest in music.
Wagoner likes the proximity to the train station. He says he always gets compliments from other DJs about his shows, and he strives to listen to other shows to learn how to be a better DJ. He also enjoys engaging with the community.
“It’s cool to hear from the community, and it makes me proud that people appreciate what I do. I never really thought people listened to the radio, but I average about 200 listeners,” Waggoner says.
Beck says an elderly woman from a local nursing home once asked him to play ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” on her show. He did. A few days later, Beck received a thank you letter from home with over 50 signatures, thanking him for the music he played and how he kept company at the nursing home. Beck says that even though the request was out of the ordinary, he was more than excited to fulfill it for her.
“I was a bit shocked by the artist’s request. Typically when I get requests for this caller ID it was for older songs like Charley Pride or Elvis,” says Beck. “I was more than happy to play disco for this lady.”
Collaborating with other station DJs is just one part of the KWVA community, and Beck says interacting with Eugene is another. During a show, it’s not uncommon for DJs to hand out tickets, take calls from people, and broadcast public service announcements about everything from marijuana use to flu shots.
For KWVA DJs like Krueger, Beck and Waggoner, it’s not just about playing great music. It’s about being part of a community that can share an interest and a passion.
“This job has allowed me to meet dozens of people that I wouldn’t have had without this job,” says Beck. “I have made lasting friendships during my tenure as a DJ manager, knowing that the lasting impact this job will have on me is to always seek out new friendships.”