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Breaking Radio Silence: Students, staff speak on KDIC

Wesley Carne `27 was conversing with a friend when an idea struck him. 

“I was sitting with my friend Michael … and I was like, we should do radio together,” he said. “And he’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’” Though they sent an email to KDIC inquiring about its status, they never received a response

The fall 2023 semester marks a year and a half since Grinnell College’s official radio station, KDIC, fell silent. However, active radio at Grinnell goes back 70 years. Started by the College in 1948 as KGRW, a lack of funding for better equipment and a stronger broadcasting signal caused a shutdown in 1961. In 1968, upgrades were finally made and the station returned as KDIC. Over the years, students, faculty and staff have taken turns contributing to the program with weekly talks, interviews and music selections. 

“They had this whole room full of records and actual recording equipment, and a whole radio station set up in the JRC,” said Ali Levine `24, who DJ-ed for KDIC in the spring of 2021 and 2022. According to them, the environment was casual and uninhibited. Students were given full creative control over shows or setlists they wanted to host. “I remember getting my show pretty easily both times,” they said.

DJ-ing allowed Levine to share a part of themselves in a “beautiful, remarkable” way. “It was really fun to share my music with other people and have people get to know me through these means,” they said. “My friends could come listen to me, people who wanted to be friends with me could come and my parents too.”  

KDIC was significant in Grinnell’s culture. According to Lucia Finkelstein `24, the College capitalized on this in promotional products and was “a big part” of why she applied to Grinnell. She first joined as a host, before getting hired as an assistant manager. But then, COVID happened. 

“There was a long stretch where no one was allowed into campus facilities unless of an emergency,” Michael Sims, dean of student involvement, wrote in an email to the S&B. This forced a switch to unstaffed, automated programming in March 2020. Then in August, a derecho hit central Iowa, destroying the antenna on the broadcasting tower – which was needed for KDIC live shows – “beyond repair,” Sims wrote

In their two semesters with KDIC, Levine never once broadcasted from the JRC studio – Grinnell switched to the digital “Mixlr” platform so DJs could go live from anywhere. But despite best efforts to revive the station, Levine said that working with administration proved frustrating. 

“They were trying to get the tower back up, administration was resistant to that. They tried to get the money for the subscriptions [for Mixlr], again administration was resistant,” they said. “I know a few upperclassmen … who used to be really involved in the radio at some point gave up because it was just so hard to get … the resources back in.”

We were told that we had to reapply for our positions on Handshake, but our Handshake was locked … But we weren’t allowed to take any actions because we didn’t have a staff.

— Lucia Finkelstein `24

Finkelstein said that the station managers had tried to think of ways to revive the station. “We came up with a lot of cool ideas … We wanted to collaborate with Freesound or concerts and do interviews with the artists; we wanted to create a lending library.” However, she said that staff in the Department of Student Affairs were “extremely difficult” to work with. 

“We would walk into their offices because they wouldn’t respond to our emails, and then, of course, they were busy,” she said. She revealed that in the fall of 2022, station managers struggled to obtain clear answers regarding their official job titles and status, as well as the nonpayment of prior logged work hours from College administration.

“We were told that we had to reapply for our positions on Handshake, but our Handshake was locked,” she said. She said they lost access to the KDIC email and could not table at student organization fairs. “But we weren’t allowed to take any actions because we didn’t have a staff,” she said. Finkelstein said that essentially, the station managers’ efforts went unpaid for three years. 

“So many first and second years reached out to me about KDIC, and I just had to keep telling them ‘I don’t know,’” she said. “I feel terrible about it. I wanted nothing more but for the radio to be revived.” 

According to Sims, however, the College has never “wavered on its commitment to restore and continue a presence of KDIC on campus.” He wrote that all was done to fix the antenna. However, he added that experts had advised that it would take more than a replacement to fix the tower. It had become obsolete in the face of new broadcasting technologies. 

“I immediately started the process to report the situation … with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC),” he wrote. Due to health issues, however, he wrote that he could not work, exacerbating KDIC staffing stresses. Near the end of the spring 2022 semester, the FCC decided to cancel KDIC’s license for inactivity – ultimately halting live broadcasts for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, he wrote that since Aug. 2020, much time was spent to return KDIC to its previous broadcasting format. College leadership even hired a law firm to represent the station in appealing the FCC decision. 

The root of the problem, Sims wrote, was the stalling that took place around the maintenance of the tower. He wrote that first, they had been told KDIC would “be operable” by February 2023. Then, it was shifted to October. “This regrettably also did not happen,” he wrote. 

Levine, however, said they believed the problems in getting KDIC off the ground were simply the “lingering” effects of the “distinct time of disconnect” they felt characterized 2020. Now, they are unsure if underclassmen in the post-COVID era understand KDIC’s past significance on campus culture.  

“Other liberal arts colleges that Grinnell claims to be very similar to are much more accomplished with their radios … we just haven’t seemed to have landed on that,” said Levine. “I don’t know if it [KDIC] would ever be missed.”  

Finkelstein expressed that three years was far too long to continue to blame the derecho. However, she shared similar sentiments with Levine, “By the time I got to the radio, it was already kind of fading … I don’t really remember the heyday.”

Other liberal arts colleges that Grinnell claims to be very similar to are much more accomplished with their radios … we just haven’t seemed to have landed on that. I don’t know if it [KDIC] would ever be missed.

— Ali Levine `24

Similarly, despite Carne’s interest in KDIC, he acknowledged there was a decline in popularity of the radio, stating that people would, “rather just turn on Spotify … than have to listen to all the songs someone else turns on.”  

Sims, however, is hopeful. According to him, the College is in the process of hiring a new station manager, with hopes of going live once more in the spring. Now, he believes the goal at hand should no longer simply be restoring KDIC to what it was.  

“Traditional broadcasting … isn’t reasonable for us today,” he wrote. “Many college stations in Grinnell’s category … now use streaming platforms. This is where we are headed.” 

“I think the station is a lost cause,” said Finkelstein, adding that a digital platform would be “better than nothing.” However, she emphasized that the station managers had truly “fought” to bring KDIC back.  

“At a certain point, there’s just very little you can do,” she said. “It’s probably my biggest regret of my time at Grinnell, not having successfully revived the radio station.”

Traditional broadcasting … isn’t reasonable for us today. Many college stations in Grinnell’s category … now use streaming platforms. This is where we are headed.

— Michael Sims, dean of student involvement

Update 12/07/2023 9:46 pm: A sentence in this article has been revised to more accurately represent the details regarding Finkelstein’s individual employment situation. The previous version may have inadvertently conflated hers with that of other former KDIC staff members.

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Natalie Ng, Staff Writer
Natalie is a first-year from Singapore who intends to major in anthropology and biology. She never suffers from jet lag because her sleep schedule is messed up in all timezones. Once, she rolled down a hill and survived.
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  • S

    SavvaDec 6, 2023 at 1:47 pm

    I worked at the station from 2019 to 2023, Lucia and I were the last registered employees before the college became so incredibly unresponsive that we no longer understood if we were employed or not. We were accepted and given official roles after interviews and handshake applications, provided payroll codes and instructed to log our hours, but often our paychecks simply did not arrive. Lucia’s wages were stolen more than mine, but it was a significant number of hours for both of us. We received backpay, but it took involvement with the union and an article published in the S&B about wage theft before Grinnell was willing to pay up.

    We contacted many people other than Sims for help reviving the station, and while we were always promised commitment to the station’s continued existence, we were told to hold off on launching active broadcasts due to vague barriers such as ongoing union bargaining and derecho damage. They won’t admit it, but Grinnell does not value this station, they see it as a drain on the budget and an FCC obscenity violation liability (they think students might cause a radio sex incident again). Most of our interactions with admin were frustrating and characterized by vague and placating reassurances.

    After practically begging for it, we were restored our station Pcard access and keys to the mailbox and vinyl storage, but the passwords we had set for the email and computers in the past still do not work. Emails have been left unread because Grinnell took away our ability to check them, but still expected us to do work for the station in the form of researching and advising on internet streaming and potential future plans. All we could do that last year was express our frustrations to admin, advocate for the station to not be shuttered indefinitely, and open the doors to the vinyl storage for people wanting to borrow records. We tried applying for permission to table and advertise so that students interested in hosting a show could at least get mixlr access, but we were told that KDIC is “not a student organization” so we could not have presence at org fairs or have our own tabling events elsewhere. We ran shows over the internet until fall of 22, then we were no longer provided the budget to renew our mixlr license, and our passwords to the station computers, website, and email suddenly stopped working.

    The story of KDIC’s silence is inseparable from that of Grinnell’s abhorrent labor practices. During my last year as manager, we planned to pay out of our own pockets or crowdfund for licensing, but we were told we weren’t allowed to do this or perform volunteer work because it would be a labor violation. I thought this school loved those, at least we could make the violations super cool and productive??

    Anyways everything I said here is alleged, false, and written in collaboration with my cat and all my friends, etc. If you’re thinking about coming to Grinnell and involving yourself in radio please do it. This article says we “gave up,” but I don’t think that’s quite fair–we tried hard behind the scenes, every year we really did. We were repeatedly emailing and meeting with admin to pressure them into giving us the green light to broadcast, offering to work for free, all the way up to my graduation in spring 23. I’m confident Lucia and whoever comes next will continue our efforts to restore KDIC and I wish you all the best of luck in dealing with the college!

    Reply
    • A

      Ali (the interviewee lol)Dec 6, 2023 at 5:32 pm

      Hello!
      Sorry I didn’t mean to say y’all gave up it was not really what I meant to convey in my interview lmao. I more so meant admin was allegedly a nightmare to work with and that it went nowhere. Thanks to you and Lucia for being troopers. I wish it was back

      Reply
  • D

    David BairdDec 6, 2023 at 12:16 pm

    I’m a parent of a ’25 Grinnell student. I’ve worked in the radio industry for more than 25 years, and this story breaks my heart. I attended Indiana University in the early-90s and working at my college radio station was a big part of my experience. We didn’t have a tower. Instead we were FM cable, which meant we had to giveaway devices to students so they could hear us by connecting their radios to the TV cable connection in their dorm or apartment. So the barrier to listenership was pretty high, but people tuned in. We hosted on campus music festivals, a haunted house, dances, etc. We were an important part of campus life.

    The magic of college radio is listening to your follow students talk about what is happening on campus and share their passion for genres and artists. You can’t do that on Spotify. To those involved, I encourage you not to give up. The method of delivery airwaves vs. internet is unimportant. Community engagement is what is critical, and KDIC can be a huge contributor to that.

    Reply
  • J

    Joel GoldsteinDec 5, 2023 at 10:09 am

    Back in the late 50s to 1961 KGRW was active. I had a show. So did Herbie Hancock. We had a Associated Press news wire we used for rip and read news. Sorry it is gone.

    Reply