Story and photos by ALLIE PEOT
It has been 28 years since Tucson’s community radio station, KXCI, crackled onto the airwaves with a test broadcast that ambitiously tracked the history of sound itself.
“The Big Broadcast of 1983,” as it was called, grew from mere static, to a live performance at the station over the course of three weeks. Since its official debut on Dec. 6, 1983, KXCI has continued to evolve as a voice from the heart of Tucson.
Most commercial radio waves are saturated with strict playlists and scripted personalities. The idea is to attract the greatest number of listeners possible by playing likeable and generic music.
KXCI, 91.3 on the radio dial, delivers a soundtrack that is as diverse as its listeners. Dislike one song? You might like the next one. The song after that could be your new favorite band.
From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. each weekday, the music mix is the core sound of KXCI.
“It’s typically rooted in rock and pop, but includes local, blues, jazz and world,” station manager Randy Peterson said.
DJs create their own playlist, but draw from a rotating collection of 50 core albums that have been reviewed and selected by the music director, Duncan Hudson.
Having this central collection helps the daytime sound be predictable. The rest of each program is hand-selected by the DJ, and filled in with warm personality.
The specialty programs, on evenings and weekends, play whatever they like.
“What we often say is no commercials, no playlists, no rules,” Peterson said.
Hudson and volunteer reviewers sift through boxes of albums sent to the station from veteran musicians and upstart bands. When they find one worthy of airtime, it gets passed along to the DJs.
The specialty shows are the gemstones of KXCI’s hyper-local programming.
From “Blazin’ @ 3 in the AZ” (a two-hour underground hip hop spot on Tuesday mornings) to “Rosie’s Rhythm Room” (featuring honky-tonk and roots-rock each Tuesday night), one can tune in and turn on to a slew of sounds every day.
Other programs include two renowned blues programs, “Bat Country Radio” featuring grunge and punk, and a Sunday morning gospel broadcast that has been on air since the station’s beginning.
Listening to the programs is like having friends with excellent taste and a great music collection.
“Our DJs are very passionate about their music,” Peterson said.
In addition to music broadcasts, KXCI airs talk shows. “Democracy Now!” is an investigative news program on each weekday at noon, syndicated from the Pacifica group. It covers international human rights issues.
On the other end of the news spectrum, Amanda Shauger, the community outreach coordinator at KXCI, hosts a 30-minute local public affairs program on Sunday afternoons.
“I like getting other people’s voices out there,” Shauger said.
Programs can also be found on the KXCI website, kxci.org, and the station can be streamed online.
What you won’t hear on KXCI are commercials. Instead of corporate sponsorship, KXCI accepts underwriting in exchange for supporting announcements on air. All of the underwriters are locally owned businesses, mostly restaurants and arts affiliates in the downtown area.
Because KXCI operates with 340 watts of power from a tower just behind Mount Lemmon, you might also hear static on 91.3. Often, the signal isn’t strong enough to go through building walls around town.
Being a community, as opposed to a commercial station, means many things are different for KXCI.
In addition to giving music geeks space to share sounds and a lack of commercials, KXCI has a presence at many of the concerts and events in Tucson. Examples include the Blues and Heritage Festival, the Festival of Books and the Fourth Avenue Street Fair.
Weaving a web of support around music and the arts, KXCI has created a platform for the active and creative citizens of Tucson. As the station continues to evolve, it will remain a voice of reason and a source of soul among an array of commercialized broadcasts.
Call numbers: 91.3 FM
Volunteers are crucial to KXCI. Check the website if you’re interested in becoming a volunteer.