NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – From jazz to country to heavy metal music, you can probably find it on Bethel College’s student-run radio station, KBCU FM 88.1.
For most of the station’s existence, the listening audience has been limited to “greater metropolitan North Newton” (not a large geographical range). But new technology in recent years, and a just-launched branding campaign by a Bethel graphic design major, aim to change that.
Tim Buller, Newton, a 1996 Bethel graduate, is in his 13th year as KBCU general manager.
“I was involved with KBCU as a student when Thane Chastain was the GM,” he says. “I started as GM myself in 2002, and I’ve taught Radio Practicum every semester since then. It typically averages around a dozen students per semester.”
Radio Practicum students make up the bulk of programmers on the station.
Seniors Shianne Defreese, a social work major from Goessel, and Luke Loganbill, an elementary education from Moundridge, share the Sunday 8-10 p.m. slot.
“We try to do a little bit of everything,” says Defreese. “We play music and sometimes have conversations to make it more interesting for those who are taking the time to listen. We look up different topic ideas online [and chat about] whatever comes to our minds. [We recently] had a trivia quiz on a movie quote, with the winner getting a Mojo’s drink.”
They also invited Moundridge poet Dan Pohl on the show to talk about his writing, and hope to have more guests throughout the semester.
The show’s music format is mostly country, although “we try to play a little bit of every kind of music, oldies and newer stuff,” Defreese says. “It’s country when we don’t get requests.”
Defreese has a friend who is a radio host at 102.1 FM “The Bull,” a country station in Wichita.
“She seems to have a really good time with it,” Defreese says. “I wondered what it would be like to do a radio show. I had the opportunity, since I only need a few credit hours for my major. I figured this was my last chance, so I should go for it.”
She enjoys Radio Practicum because “it’s the only class I’ve ever really taken where you have dominant control of what’s going on. Tim doesn’t suggest what you should play. It’s our own thing. You feel good because you have ownership.
“How well you do is up to you. I like that. I love music and it’s fun to be able to play different songs and hear what other people have to say about what music they like.”
While Defreese had never done radio before, sophomore Storm Myer, Miltonvale (usually on-air from 6-10 p.m. Thursdays, first with Colton Watkins, freshman from Lowell, Arkansas, and then with his own show), is in his second year in Radio Practicum and came to the class with experience.
“I’m FCC-licensed for amateur ham radio [since I was 10],” he says. “I was one of the youngest in the state of Kansas at the time. I got into it because my grandpa does ham radio. Also, my dad has always done DJing for events such as parties, weddings and proms – on the side, for fun – so I’ve helped him out with that.
“I got to Bethel and learned there was a radio station and decided to get involved. I was enrolled in the class last year and plan to do it all four or five years.
“What I like is that you get to share a piece of yourself. I play a lot of heavy metal and rock, stuff I’ve grown up listening to, gone to concerts and met the artists. You get to share a part that not everybody’s going to see, to put your own twist [on the music and] how you enjoy it.”
Myer particularly enjoys audience interaction and wants to play requests, so he takes advantage of the KBCU Twitter feed to expedite that – easier to find and use thanks to Jesse Kaufman’s redesign and upgrade of the KBCU website, kbcu.bethelks.edu.
Kaufman is both a senior graphic design major and the college’s fulltime web developer.
Kaufman did the KBCU project to fulfill a design internship requirement for his major. It included, in addition to the completely redone website and the Twitter feed, a new KBCU logo, updated online listening options, a dynamic program guide and a design that scales to all modern electronic devices.
Kaufman designed the logo “to create a modern, friendly visual identity for KBCU that is appealing to students in the day and age of apps,” he says.
When Myer is on-air, “I give out the phone number and ask for requests, and I also promote the KBCU Twitter page religiously for requests.”
Friends and family who listen online tell him “the [web] player is a lot better. It has easier navigation and is more user-friendly.”
“KBCU has had a lot of different visual identities through the years,” Buller notes. “When I was a student, it was known as ‘U88’ and the ‘U’ was prominent in the graphics.
“We did a visual identity redesign early on in my tenure [as GM]. Ian Huebert sketched the tower logo and then I digitized it and added text.
“I was really excited about the opportunity to re-work the visual identity again. I knew Jesse to have strong design skills, and we went through a relatively formal process.
“He was very responsive to my input as the ‘customer,’ and I am really pleased with the final product. I am looking forward to using the new design for T-shirts, giveaways, and so on in the near future.”
Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.