Local KSDS 88.3, on the campus of San Diego City College, broadcasts commercial-free jazz.
Another victim of the Coronavirus was San Diego’s all-jazz radio station KSDS 88.3. The station, which operates on the campus of San Diego City College, had only 48 hours to totally retool into an automated format in order to stay on the air. General manager Ken Poston was in the Dean’s office on an unrelated matter last March when that hard reality materialized. “She said, that we might need to be prepared to send everybody home. I remember thinking that we might get to stay on the air, because we’d be the only ones on campus. But then we found out that the whole state was shutting down.”
Like everyone else a year ago, Poston figured that the lockdown was temporary. “We thought we might be down for a couple of weeks,” says Poston. “We had no idea that we’d be down for almost a year.”
Fortunately, the station had worked out an emergency contingency plan just in case of an unforeseen disaster. “We had this plan that would enable Chad Fox [Operations Manager] to remote in and set up an automation every day so we could continue to function. So we had the structure in place. I know some stations didn’t have something like that, so they were scrambling to figure it out.”
Like most modern radio stations, KSDS employs software called ENCO Systems and their music library is digitized, so remote or even automated programming is possible. However, jazz radio programming is not congruent with such a robotic approach, and the listening audience wouldn’t be fooled.
“Chad was doing all new programming every day. It wasn’t just some bot that was automatically pulling tracks from the library. The system wasn’t just running itself.”
As the downtime months piled on, Poston and the City College administration got busy working on a solution that would facilitate a return (or at least a partial return) to live deejays doing their own programming. “We wrote a proposal after figuring out how we could make it safe, where people wouldn’t interact, we could alternate studios and sanitize the vacant one. Then, around mid-January 2021, we got back on the air with [limited] live programming. “We’re just operating with four deejays, from 7 am to 3 pm. Joe Kocherhans comes in first in Studio A, then Gary Beck takes the next shift in Studio B. Claudia Russell takes the helm in A, and Ron Dhanifu wraps it up in Studio B. Each studio gets sanitized while the other is on the air. Nobody crosses paths with anyone else. There are other minor things like wearing gloves and each deejay brings their own microphone and windscreen.”
All of this would be impossible without the assistance of the folks from SDCCD Facilities Services, who are on campus during those hours, allowing Kocherhans, Beck, Russell, and Dhanifu (all long-time Jazz 88 personalities) to produce abbreviated versions of their regular daytime shifts. After 3 pm, the station reverts back to the programming designed by Chad Fox.
The Covid-19 shutdown has changed almost everyone’s lives. What has Poston come away with? “Well, I learned how to work from home, which I wasn’t used to. I think it’s been a wake up call for everybody to not take anything for granted. We’re hearing from tons and tons of people that they’ve been missing the station horribly and wanting to know when we’ll be back. I think many people have come to realize that the station is a big part of their daily lives.”