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Left of the Dial 

KXCI opens new downtown studio, asks for donations to the 'Library of Congress'

click to enlarge KXCI executive director, Cathy Rivers.

Julius Schlosburg

KXCI executive director, Cathy Rivers.

Sure, it's a state-of-the-art broadcast studio, but the folks behind KXCI's new digs at Hotel Congress want people to think of it as a musical clubhouse.

And to stock all those brand new shelves, Tucson's independent community radio station is inviting everyone to bring in their own personal faves, to build out the "Library of Congress."

On Saturday, Sept. 2 and Sunday, Sept. 3, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., KXCI will welcome donations (of gently used or new) CDs and vinyl records to build out a collection that on-air DJs can pull from and play on the commercial-free station's 91.3 FM frequency (also streaming online at kxci.org).

"I had this vision years ago and as we started the build out, we got even more ideas. People started getting excited, people in the community who I didn't think would get excited, and every time I'd bring people in for a tour of the studio, they'd turn into teenagers, both men and women. It was a riot," says KXCI Executive Director Cathy Rivers. "But my vision was a very small part in comparison to all the amazing people who worked to make this a reality. From the KXCI Board of Directors, donors, staff and volunteers to the designers Baker-Hesseldenz, engineers, managers and staff at Hotel Congress. We all did this together.

"It's that fantasy you have as a kid," she continues, "putting your mixtapes together to express yourself or tell someone you love them. We're really building a clubhouse, a musical clubhouse for the community. That's when I thought: Let's bring people in to bring in their favorite record."

For the first community submission, KXCI reached out to Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, who donated his copy of The Motown Story: The First 25 Years and from the compilation selected Martha and the Vandellas "Dancing in the Street" as the first song broadcast from the new studio.

"This is a moment of celebration. This is a moment of bringing music to our street, literally," Rothschild said as he introduced the tune during the new studio's ribbon-cutting ceremony. "When downtown is happening at night, KXCI will be here. KXCI will not just be part of the community over the airwaves, but part of the community physically. This song is a song of celebration, but it's also a song about how a community comes together."

Bringing the KXCI studio to live in Hotel Congress is the culmination of years of dreaming and planning for the station, and it marks a return back to the area where it began nearly 34 years ago. KXCI configured it with the capability to switch the station's broadcast back and forth at any moment between the Congress studio and the station's main headquarters in Armory Park, Rivers said.

"The first time I had the idea was years ago. I put it on Facebook about how cool it would be to have a radio station in the window, either downtown or on Fourth Avenue," she says. "The space at that point that was my dream, even though it was already being utilized, was Café Passe. That's been a dream for a long time and I started thinking about it again when I became the executive director."

DJs and in-studio guests—like Rothschild or musicians brought in to perform live on air—will be able to look out on Congress Street, while outdoor speakers pump the music directly out to the street.

"We keep saying it's like the Today Show on Congress," Rivers says. "For an artist like Michael Franti, who loves KXCI and is a huge supporter, he'll be thrilled that he'll be in the window and kids waiting for the show across the street at the Rialto can see him. He's the kind of artist who will really enjoy that."

Rivers expects that KXCI's two midday music mix shows—from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.—will typically broadcast out of the new studio, as will "The Home Stretch" with Hannah Levin, which features the local and classic picks of the week and regular in-studio guest performances and interviews. Other shows—like the Friday night programming of "The Wire Service," "Electric Feel" and "Under Surveillance"—will likely connect well with the nightlife energy by broadcasting from Congress.

"The main reason we're here is to have a better connection to the community," Rivers says. "We're always talking about inclusiveness and there's a whole segment of this city that doesn't even know we exist. The thing that's amazing about our organization is not just the incredible music programming that you get all day long, it's also the mini programs that we offer and the specialty shows."

KXCI offers year-round DJ classes—including a summer youth classes and a teen DJ showcase—as well as podcasting classes for people to learn how to tell their own story. A partnership with BRINK and WaveLab Studios in Creative Tucson extends the community involvement even more.

"The idea is to get us down in the community so the community is more aware of the services," Rivers says. "It's a great teaching opportunity. One of the things I've really wanted to beef up here at KXCI is the educational part of what we do. I was fortunate enough growing up that there was a radio club in my high school. There was drama club, and choir and music classes, so I had the opportunity to receive a really well rounded education and find out where my strengths were. I feel it's our duty to offer those opportunities for kids."

By blending traditional broadcast radio with online streaming and audio podcasts, KXCI is well positioned to capture media trends, says Rivers, pointing to a recent Neilson survey finding that 37 percent of Millennials listen to podcasts at least once a week.

"Even though it may not be the golden age of radio, I really do believe it's the golden age of audio," Rivers says.

When not broadcasting, the new auxiliary studio (built with donations from the Warden Family and designed by the local firm Baker + Hesseldenz) will be available for DJ and podcasting classes to extend the station's stable of mini programs and podcasts. For now however, the focus is on stocking those shelves.

"If I'm going to ask people to bring in their records, what would I want to bring in? I chose an album that was really specific in my life. It was the time when I stopped listening to my dad's music and stopped listening to my older brother's music and I started listening to my own," she says. "I'm bringing in Yaz's Upstairs at Eric's. That was the first album I really chose on my own."

Rivers expects many KXCI listeners will put careful thought into a selection, just as she and Mayor Rothschild did with theirs. And for those unwilling to give up a treasured personal copy of a favorite album, KXCI is part of Amazon Smile, so purchases made via the online retailer can earn the station a little extra benefit as well, Rivers says.

"I'm really excited to see what everyone is going to bring. I really want everyone to contribute and to feel like it's truly theirs," Rivers says. "I love the idea of parents walking by someday with their kids and saying 'I put a record on that shelf.'"

More by Eric Swedlund

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