Radio Station Spotlight: KEXP (Interview)

Is this new segment, we will be spotlighting some of the many interesting radio stations that are currently broadcasting around the world.

We want to put a face on some of the many stations that WARM monitors and show just how much quality and variety still exists out there when it comes to radio programming. We will especially be looking at stations who do a lot to support emerging and ‘alternative’ music.

A perfect example of this is KEXP which is based in Seattle, Washington. KEXP is a nonprofit arts organization which operates one of the most influential listener-supported radio stations in the world.

Each week, they reach over 200,000 listeners globally and also operate an extremely popular YouTube channel that gets millions of views per week and where you can find live sessions by many of the most respected and talented artists in the world.

We talked to KEXP about the continued importance of radio and their music programming philosophy which is dedicated to helping emerging artists not typically supported by other outlets.

How long has KEXP existed?

KEXP was founded in 1972 by four University of Washington students. It was known from 1972-2001 as KCMU. In 2001, KCMU was re-named KEXP, and the organization moved off of the UW campus to become an independent non-profit broadcaster.

How do you see the station’s role, both in your local community and beyond?

People have always turned to music for inspiration, a sense of belonging, and to bring new perspectives into their worlds. Our role is to champion music – to bring it into more people’s lives in more ways.

Here in Seattle – and around the world – we operate with the intention to allow music’s life-enriching qualities to help people feel more bonded with their community, and more connected with the world.

We also serve artists and feel a deep responsibility particularly to emerging artists. We see our role as connector and convener for artists – we bring artists together with music lovers to seed lasting artistic relationships.

We seek to create a growing community of music lovers worldwide that depend on KEXP to identify, showcase, and champion music that entertains and inspires them. By creating meaningful music experiences on air, online, and in person, KEXP harnesses the emotional power of art to strengthen our communities and serve the greater social good.

Do you have a certain listener demographic you cater to?

We cater to the listener who loves music, and who loves discovering new music. KEXP’s audience is culturally curious, well-connected with their community, and believes in the power of music to make the world better.

You say that you champion artists not typically supported by other outlets. Do you have a specific music programming philosophy?

Our programming philosophy is very simple: we hire people who love music and trust them to program their own shows. We also believe very strongly that amazing new music is being created all of the time, and we seek to elevate new and emerging artists.

We believe that all good music, spanning all eras, styles, and cultures, should have an opportunity to be heard, seen, and experienced. We emphasize new music and emerging artists to yield a richer, more rewarding experience. We specifically uphold music of the Pacific Northwest to enrich and strengthen our region’s music ecosystem. Because so much of this is about the curatorial perspectives, we seek, nurture, and promote music experts from all cultures and communities to provide a deeper, richer experience.

How do you pick music for your shows?

At KEXP, each DJ has the power to choose which songs to play. The result is 45 different perspectives on what music should be heard at any given time.

Can artists reach out to you directly to be considered for airplay or other exposure on your platforms?

We encourage artists and labels to send music to our DJs or our Music Director and have even put together a handy guide at https://www.kexp.org/about/getting-airplay/ for artists seeking to submit their music for airplay.

What does your business model look like?

KEXP is a listener-powered non-profit arts organization. Our funding comes from 18,000+ individual donors, and over 400 local and national businesses who support KEXP through underwriting. We are also supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and several other government, foundation, and corporate donors.

Finally, nothing we do would be possible without the support of over 700 volunteers, who contributed over 35,000 volunteer hours last year.

How has KEXP developed and adjusted in the changing media landscape?

We have long embraced using the internet and technology as a way to create and share more experiences with music and music discovery.

Our YouTube channel, for instance, now has over 1.5 Million subscribers, which is a primary route for serving a global audience. We also were the first station that we are aware of with a full-song podcast, and the first station to broadcast online with lossless, CD-quality streams.

We also feel responsible to monitor how the changing media landscape impacts emerging artists, which has led to our participation in the discussion around net neutrality.

Do you think radio will continue to play an important role in the future?

Absolutely. Ultimately, I think that human beings are wired to experience music collectively.

For tens of thousands of years – maybe hundreds of thousands of years — from the time that music was first created by our distant ancestors up through the first widespread use of recorded sound just over a hundred years ago – we have primarily experienced music in community, alongside other people.

To me, this is why radio, including online radio, is still compelling in a world of instant gratification through unlimited on-demand streaming.

We want to experience songs together, even if we’re only subconsciously aware that other people are listening. As our Executive Director Tom Mara said in a recent letter to our donors “We don’t need to be in the same area code―or on the same continent, for that matter―to be dancing to the same song.”