Interview – Sky Daniels, Music Director for The New 88.5FM

 “Some naysayers proclaim radio is ‘dead’. They are dead wrong.” – Sky Daniels

On Tuesday, September 12, KCSN, based out of Cal State Northridge in the SFV, joined airwaves with KSBR, based out of Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, to create The New 88.5FM. The expanded station will now serve a potential audience of 11.5 million. Stephanie Meade from tHeARTofla asked KCSN Music Director, Sky Daniels, about the challenges of bringing the two stations together, and discussed what new programming and projects are on the horizon. 

SM: What are some of the challenges you have faced/will continue to face of condensing program content from two stations, especially with KCSN being the more prominent of the two? Will the new 88.5 provide more online-exclusive programs or podcasts?

SD: KSBR had considered utilizing a Triple A (Album Adult Alternative) approach when KCSN first launched this iteration of programming in 2011. Terry Wedel, the GM at the time, saw the buzz we were creating and immediately recognized that we were getting great traction. That was seminal in forging this partnership, from day one.

There have been enormous challenges in consummating the partnership. There were times when I did not think I had the strength to continue. Wanting to create an influential supporter of artist development always fueled the drive. The challenges were many, institutional, technical, legal, and financial. We had four different regime changes at both institutions. Resilience was definitely required.

We also have been extremely fortunate to have made connections with the innovators in broadcast technology over the last few years. John Kean at NPR Labs. Chris Devine and his Maxxcasting team. Bert Goldman. We are the first entity to utilize a new iteration of broadcast transmitters from Nautel, Gates Air’s new IP Link technology, and Orban’s new flagship Optimod 8710i processor. We have the first ever units of these tech advances. Our Chief Engineer, Mike Worrall deserves a ton of praise for his tireless effort in bringing this super team together. Recently Tim Schultz and Dick Vosper joined into to complete the task on the KSBR end.

The great thing is that, by combining forces, we will become a self-sufficient entity. Universities have severe funding challenges. We will not only eliminate burden of expense, we will be a revenue-generator for artist development. Both institutions leadership value our devotion to performing artists.

SM: Will there be any particular new opportunities for CSUN and Saddleback College students with this merge?

SD: As the size of the coverage area expands, our need for tactical engagement has grown enormously. We have great need for student engagement in content development online, events, and engagement. We also continue to mentor students love for the MEDIUM of radio. Some naysayers proclaim radio is ‘dead’. They are dead wrong.

SM: Are there any exciting prospects for new programs – either music or talk related?

SD: We already have a lineup populated by the likes of Nic Harcourt, Jed the Fish, Julie Slater, Robert Hillburn, and other great public radio hosts. We carry World Café, the most successful music program in public radio. We also have entered into a partnership with The Bluegrass Situation Hour, which will help us to cross promote events more actively. We continually seek intelligent, compelling programming. There is a high bar of professional talent here. Sometimes, people apply the misnomer of ‘college radio’ to us. We are a non-commercial professional station, so greatness need only apply.

SM: How do you hope to engage the larger audience that the merge brings in order to compete with larger stations?

SD: 88.5FM, has, by design, forged a singular path in this market. No station offers a 24/7 devotion to artist development as we do We are the most aggressive new music station in the market, more so than KCRW, KROQ, or Alt 98.7. We also have the deepest library of songs by legendary artists, so you might also consider JACK, The Sound and KLOS in the equation.

We do not view them as competition, though. If anything, we would welcome being recognized as the agent of change that inspires those stations to become totally devoted to the well-being of performing artists, as 88.5FM is. In that case, we would become a leader of a new coalition in the market. Everywhere in my commercial radio career, I was confronted by the dread, “you can’ts.” You can’t play new music. You can’t play deep cuts. You surely can’t play BOTH new music and deep cuts. When I went to Chicago in 1979, an AM Top 40 station was dominant in the market. A year later, The Loop was. When I went to Seattle, I was told “Seattle is not a new music town.” Two years later, Time Magazine declared Seattle “the new music capitol of the world.” 88.5FM will be the most satisfying success I have been fortunate to be part of, however. This station is singularly devoted to artist survival.

SM: How does the new 88.5 plan to impact/support the communities which it serves?

SD: An estimated 95% of musicians say they cannot financially survive as a performer. While new media has its wonderful capabilities, it unfortunately had a great impact in the devaluation of music. Peer-to-peer sites initially were born on pure piracy. The music industry suffered from offering a 3 minute increment of entertainment. In the initial dial-up era, that allowed a song to be transmitted. A movie, a TV show, an online book was not threatened.
The streaming services, to date, offer compensation only to a small cadre of artists—the superstars who can negotiate a fair rate. The record labels see revenue, but that has not been disseminated to developing artists. Radio needs to pay its share, as well. I will be the first to sign a fair pay for fair play covenant. Without thriving musical talent, we are nothing.

We are fortunate to be in one of the “power centers” in music. We work with the heads of both the major and indie label rosters. Artist Management, Agencies, Concert Promotion firms are all based here. They listen to, work with, and are encouraged by 88.5FM’s devotion to artists.

SM: I know you’ve got support from Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. Can you tell us about some of the support you’ve garnered for the station from established musicians? Why do you think they support the station?

SD: When we first launched KCSN, having worked as an executive at record labels, I was aware of how many artists called L.A. home. I told the staff, “If we can demonstrate our commitment to artists over the air, everything will fall in place.”

We were fortunate that within 60 days of that launch, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers offered to play their first show in 5 years at a 500 seat theater to support us. That put us on the industry map. Jackson Browne was at that concert—he volunteered that night backstage to play our next benefit. Stephen Stills, Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, Sarah MacLachlan, Conor Oberst, David Gray, Bonnie Raitt, Sting, and others loved what they heard, and believed in what we stand for. They all offered their support to us. Sheryl Crow and Gary Clark Jr, are the next to do so. We have many HUGE surprises to come, as far as artists appreciating and helping 88.5FM

It’s amazing what being truly devoted to a musician’s well-being in a time of struggle, as well as offering a compelling curation of music, will do for you—no matter how much of a “David” you are to fading “Goliaths”