community radio? It's back... in net form!
For those of you looking for an alternative to the new KRCL format that was launched last week, your web browser has the answer today. Launching at 9AM this morning, Utah Free Media becomes the state's first internet based community radio station. With an amazing staff and tons of support behind it, the station quickly got its act together in building a studio and getting a format finalized, in what is probably one of the quickest station start-up times I've ever witnessed. Before the launch I got to talk with Patrick Commiskey, one of the first supporters for the station and now one of the DJ's set to start off Monday's inaugural broadcast.
Gavin: Hey Patrick, tell us a little about yourself.
Patrick: I'm from Ann Arbor, Michigan. My mother's half American Irish, half Italian American. My dad's an Irish American from Peru. I play amateur ice hockey with The Flying Cupcakes, practice marketing with Vanguard Media Group and perform music with the Salt Lake Symphonic Winds. On the side, I take physics at the University.
Gavin: Of all places, why did you come to Utah to do this?
Patrick: I came here because my girlfriend chose Westminster to finish undergrad. That was two years ago. For the first year I found Salt Lake a heart-wrenching and difficult place to live. I went to South America for two months and returned remarkably refreshed. Public radio on the web in Utah is totally brilliant. I'm thankful that we have it here. We're serving a community function. We're a place for people and ideas. We can be as nuanced as we want, because we have a listenership that both loves particular programs as well as the opportunity to expose themselves to tunes they've never heard before. We can be listened to at work, on commutes via the wonderful public access that people have to WiFi, on UTA buses and light rail, and in public spaces like coffee shops, parks and bookstores. Utahn’s don't like the same boring things. They like some unexpectedness in their lives, some liveliness. Some difference. We're not a station where people all sound alike, or where people are jockeying for first prize or most attention. What's the point of that. For crying out loud, that's what many of us have to do at work, or in other aspects of our lives. This is a place to reach out to people, to make authentic connections, and to reach for things that are truly great. Rocking out is rocking out, and spinning great music is just that, and music is music and so forth. But there's a point where what you're doing is actually meaningful that we're all trying to strive for... not just at Utah Free Media, but at other workplaces, and in other peoples' lives. We're just a small part of that, and trying to do something cool and meaningful and fun. Utah is a great place for this enterprise because, frankly, why not. We're got the knowhow, the good spirits, the energy and commitment. Why not make a station that is exactly what we want and make it great?
Gavin: What's your take on the local radio stations in general?
Patrick: You have three, essentially, that I listen to. Four, if you count 570 AM, which airs Coast to Coast with George Noory sometime around midnight. But the three are KRCL, KCPW and KUER. KRCL is the community radio station, okay. It had volunteer DJs, input from community individuals, a local, grassroots liberal talk show. That's the point of public radio - a non-corporate voice, it really is. KCPW has 3 locally-produced shows, all news, all fairly basic, though they have lofty jargon that evokes everyone in the community coming together and grogging under a roof. They say they don't have commercials, but when you give community-supporting businesses well-produced, lengthy on-air mentions, that's pretty much an advertisement. KUER is great – a well-done, university-based community station that goes into the community and does stuff, and has a thoughtful news and talk program. Well done. There is also KBYU, since I'm a classical fan, out of BYU, that does things right and proper. Utah Free Media is just different. And, in so many ways, freed from the various encumberments of traditional radio. We're online, so people can pick and choose. That allows us to be varied to an extent that traditional radio cannot - KRCL and us both acknowledge this. We also don't have as much overhead or advertising concerns.
Gavin: How did you get involved with Utah Free Media?
Patrick: I heard KRCL was reformatting, learned from Brian Kelm that a new station was forming, donated 50 bucks to the cause and said I'd help out. I work with a fantastic designer named Tracy Nguyen. She and I helped form the look of Utah Free Media.
Gavin: What's the general feeling from the staff about the project?
Patrick: The station went from idea to action in about a month. This is a very energized group. We're all very excited to get going.
Gavin: What's your show and what can we expect from it?
Patrick: I run the Cosmo Show, Mondays 6-9pm. You can expect a little bit of music from here and there including classical, which often receives scorn from indie rockers or a sort of "yeah I grew up on that and then I rocked out." Well it's not true. So we're going to hear some good music from all over. I promise you.
Gavin: Will you feature any local acts that fit into your show's program?
Patrick: Absolutely. UtahFM is currently seeking partnerships with local and global labels. We're open to partnership. On the classical end of things it's been a little more difficult. Ben Fales at Tantara Records has been wonderful in getting us some good tunes from BYU, but we're still working on other major local acts like the Utah Symphony & Opera, Cathedral of the Madeline and U of U's music school. I would absolutely love to have on-hand a repertoire of music that Utah could be totally proud-of. Not just the professional acts, but I'm into the community groups as well. We've got a wonderful music culture in Salt Lake and I'd like to take advantage of that and share that culture with our listenership in Utah and the Internet at-large.
Gavin: While we're on the topic, what's your opinion of the local music scene?
Patrick: I'm a buffoon, really. But I enjoyed a guy named Damien at Alchemy Coffee last night. That was fun. And I get out to the Symphony quite often. Their front six rows are totally awesome and $12.50. It's totally absurd that they're not filled with grungy punks. And that's part of what my show is all about. Getting grungy punks over to classical and some of the crusty classical folks over to the grungier or folksier side of things. There's no reason why we can't all get along. I had a wonderful experience two summers ago in Indiana, a sort of which I have never gotten over or experienced since. I was hanging out then with Early Music students at Indiana University, the type working on a masters in harpsichord or baroque bassoon performance. Well they would hang out at a total hippie campfire and sing Woodie Guthrie songs, integrating their own personal music styles into that of the group. There was a bassist who would play amazing, beautiful, bass riffs, and a fiddle player who could sing, next to an operatic soprano, the most beautiful folks songs you'd ever heard while a singer would croon way out from the middle of a river, on a canoe. It's this sort of musical get-together that inspires me in my own playing, and in wanting to share the music of others with my friends.
Gavin: What's your opinion on the new KRCL format?
Patrick: They're doing what they feel is best. I wish them well with their format but we've got our own thing going on. If people want amateurs they'll know where to find them. Amateur's derivative is amator or love. We don't have to sell our appreciation or joy for DJing or spinning out music because it's wrapped up in the package. So. I'll still listen to KRCL when driving in the car because I don't have an iPod. But - you know, if I had an iPod I'd probably just listen to Ira Glass all goddamn day long and not get anything done and become completely and totally infatuated and in love with him and, you know, who knows, I mean. The iPod. It's brilliant.
Gavin: Do you feel KRCL fans will come on board, or stick with what they've got?
Patrick: Independent music is like independent film. People don't care what theater they're at as long as the show is good. (Given that the theater is in keeping with good taste and standards.) So I think the fans of the programs that were on KRCL are still going to love those shows, whether they're on Utah Free Media or wherever else. Utah Free Media has a major advantage over like-ventures in that we already have a wonderful staff and wonderful listenership. And, yes, we feel that folks are going to be interested in the station and interested in our programming. Or else we wouldn't do it. Or we would. And it would rock out regardless.
Gavin: What can we look forward to from you over the rest of the year?
Patrick: Good music. League championship for the Flying Cupcakes. Wonderful performances from the Salt Lake Symphonic Winds. A massive pay increase from Vanguard Media Group.
Gavin: Any predictions for Utah Free Media?
Patrick: Yes. Operation Freedom Media will shock and awe audiences the whole year 'round. We'll be even Freer a year from now.
Gavin: Anything you'd like to plug while we're here?
Patrick: Yes, my workplace. It has afforded me so many opportunities for adventure and learning, while paying me to do so. I feel incredibly grateful that I have a job and that I love (occasionally) what I do. Working with so many talented people, including Utah's fittest executive over 50, is doubly an honor.