Music Director interview with Thurston Hunger formerly of KFJC
Thurston Hunger was the music director at KFJC for several years. I think they were the first radio station to seek out to be serviced by Silber.
QRD – Why did you want the position of music director & why do you think you got it over all the other applicants?
Thurston – Since the first day I stepped into KFJC I’ve been spurred by discovering music there, I welcomed the chance to help turn other folks on to music as well. It was a humbling honor...
QRD – What do you think the job of a good music director is?
Thurston – Setting an example of insatiable discovery. Encouraging fellow DJs as well as artists & listeners to explore.
QRD – What did you initially think you could accomplish as music director that having obtained the position became obviously impossible?
Thurston – To reach out to as many labels & artists as I had hoped. Apologies to folks I failed to connect with, or connected with but not regularly enough.
QRD – How much did you let your personal taste in music effect your station’s music?
Thurston – You’ve got to trust your ears, but stretch them. & if you spot a sonic blindspot, then borrow someone’s ears that you respect.
QRD – How have streaming online radio stations affected the purpose & competition for your station?
Thurston – I would love to see KFJC embrace the archiving of shows, I think meeting listeners on their terms & time zones is crucial.
QRD – What are some things bands/labels can do to get on the fast track into rotation & to eliminate themselves from getting into rotation?
Thurston – I always recommended sending music directly to a DJ whose show you had heard & dug, or at least in looking through their playlists thought that they might resonate with your sound. At KFJC, we’ve posted playlists for over a decade & some reviews as well, so that might also help to find a specific target for your sound.
QRD – Did you read the charts of other stations & if so how did they affect your charts?
Thurston – Before, during, & after
my tenure as KFJC’s MD, I’ve enjoyed an excellent friendship with Brian
Turner at WFMU. I always welcomed input from him, & in turn would
be pleased if I turned him on to a band or project that he had not come
across yet. WFMU gets a lot of deserving accolades, but KFJC ain’t
too shabby. WFMU was honestly the only other station that I would
watch the tops of... & loosely so. CMJ has gotten to the point
that a hit there almost works against a band at KFJC.
QRD – Did you solicit labels for servicing or just generally stick with who finds you?
Thurston – Definitely seeking out labels & artists was crucial to KFJC. In addition to electronic, sonic panhandling... we worked out deals to purchase music from some outstanding independent record stores. I wish we could have purchased more music from artists themselves, but alas we have to pay for the frayed shoestrings the station runs on.
QRD – Did you like to deal directly with labels or did you prefer to deal with some sort of radio promotional team about what is going into the station library & rotation?
Thurston – I have a slight preference for the label, if not the artists themselves; however, that being said it won’t work for everyone, & there were some decent promo reps out there. Much respect to those for whom it is as much a passion as a profession.
QRD – What’s the longest time you felt comfortable keeping a record in rotation?
Thurston – KFJC had a long-standing policy of 8 weeks in rotation, we were adding about 45 items a week, which led us to consider 6 weeks ins, but there is something about having a record get a splash, & then work its way back into the sound stream that 8 weeks was conducive towards.
QRD – Did you listen to & review the majority of records you receive yourself?
Thurston – I sure tried to, but had some excellent ears for assistance. Two of them, “Anthony Fremont” & “Justin Outlier” were rock solid!
QRD – How much control did you let individual DJs have over what they play & how did they deal with requests?
Thurston – At KFJC DJs call the shots.
There is a 35% “rotation” requirement for most shows; but with roughly
360 items to choose from, I don’t think anyone had any problems with putting
their own sonic signature on their own show.
QRD – What’s the importance of specialty shows at your station?
Thurston – Very important, often these are listener favorites. I loved (& miss) KFJC’s Spiderman for being a hip-hop show that could also drop the Flying Luttenbachers or Jimmy Castor into the mix. Any time a noted specialty DJ at KFJC, like Robert Emmett or Joed showcases an idiosyncrasy into their show, it can really open a window for listeners.
QRD – How is your station involved in the local music scene?
Thurston – I think at one point, there
was a stigma of playing local music at KFJC, I’m talking over a decade
ago. But the creativity of the Bay Area is an unstoppable force,
& KFJC has certainly helped to champion a lot of local artists.
I’ll forever fawn over Faun Fables! Again it’s one of those things
you wish you could do more... Mills College is the great resource that
KFJC sort of bats earlashes with.
QRD – With your experience in radio, are you jaded or hopeful for the music industry?
Thurston – I’m eternally hopeful for music... & yet typically suspect of all things industry.
QRD – What do you plan to do with your interest in music in the future?
Thurston – I hope to orbit KFJC as long as I’m seen as a positive force... I’d like to find time to make more music myself again at some point, as “priorities” sort themselves out, & start shaving, & form their own bands.…
QRD – What were the best & worst parts of your job?
Thurston – By & large I loved being
KFJC’s MD, but doing it on top of a paying job & raising kids was a
study in sleep deprivation. Still, at 3am hearing something amazing
that you cannot wait to share with your fellow DJs & listeners is the
best. Also hearing people take stuff you’ve added & fit it into
a musical mosaic that blows you away, that too is quite a reward.
Encouraging artists, labels, & DJs is something I enjoyed, & strived
QRD – I imagine a lot of the younger generation of DJs pretty much exclusively use MP3s over CDs (much less vinyl). How do you feel about the situation?
Thurston – Music wants to be free, &
not just jazz. Musicians, however, are not nourished by the starving
artist syndrome. If it can work out that musicians get their due,
& less raw materials are consumed with packaging & stuff; MP3s
work for me. That being said, I do enjoy the totem... sprawling out
with a gatefold record will be missed.
QRD – Did you try to get your entire catalog digitally encoded on a hard drive for radio play? If so, at what compression rate do you feel is appropriate?
Thurston – We’ve done some encoding, went with MP3 just as a diving-in point. Rarely do we play from that archive live to air at this point. Having the catalog online helps with show prep & discovery by DJs; it also serves as insurance against !@#!@$ theft. Does anyone like saying Ogg Vorbis, it sounds like a character from Dr. Who? Honestly, I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t followed the varying formats that well & frequently flirt with sonic infidelity, blame it on Guided by Voices??
QRD – How do you feel about automation for overnight or unfilled DJ slots? What program do you use for automation & how does it decide what to play?
Thurston – We are 24x7 with human beings (or reasonable facsimiles) manning the controls at all times. I’ll take a KFJC graveyard over an autobot any time. I’d actually like to see KFJC grow to have 100 active staffers & two shows on at any time... one to the air (& web) & one to the web alone.…
QRD – I know that some labels & promotional teams are pushing towards digital download links over physical copies. How do you feel about this?
Thurston – This was just happening at the
end of my tenure, & at that point they realized that us dinosaurs do
treasure our totems. Again, I guess it makes sense from the point
of view of environmental impact, & 47 years of age make the KFJC library
bust at the seams of storage, still... I like KFJC’s library as a museum,
QRD – When I worked in radio, there was a big problem with theft at the station. Since so many people these days just use MP3 players, do they just steal the music rather than the physical disc & do you feel as a DJ they have a right to personally access any music from the station library at any time?
Thurston – Theft in a museum kills me. & it just bodes poorly for civilization, like a highway restroom; I mean come on other people will need to use this too! So yes, high availability access is important; but use it for a higher purpose, like turning your audience on to an artist. That really is our purpose, we come in peace. Please tell the RIAA.
QRD – Anything else?
Thurston – Much thanks to the staff &
audience of KFJC & the artists & labels who’ve connected there.
It was my humble pleasure to be the monkey in the middle of your creativity.