Longtime DJ wears many hats at college radio’s KSPC

Include Erica Tyron on the short list of folks who are “living the dream.” Ms. Tyron, Director of College Radio at Pomona College’s KSPC 88.7 FM, has been on the job since 1992, when she received her diploma from Scripps College. 

“When I graduated I essentially lucked out and took over,” Ms. Tyron said. She had been on the air as a KSPC DJ since 1988, and had “pretty much done every job you could do before I graduated.” During her senior year, KSPC’s previous director, Julie Frick, announced she was stepping down after 11 years at the station. “I said ‘She has my dream job,’” and after a round of interviews the self-confessed music nut and journalism junkie was hired. Then 21, Ms. Tyron has been stewarding KSPC—aka “The Space”—ever since. 

Ms. Tyron, now 45, was raised in Highland Park and has been a Claremont resident since 1990. She is KSPC’s overseer, creative consultant, talent nurturer, music supervisor, advisor to fledgling journalists, television producers and filmmakers and the keeper of the flame for Claremont’s own fully independent, commercial-free community resource. It’s a big job, and she clearly enjoys the challenge. 

“I wouldn’t have been here as long as I have if it weren’t for the students,” she said. “I love everything about what we do. As far as work being fulfilling and being something that’s meaningful, watching students develop over the four years that they’re here, and seeing what they go off to do, that part of it is what has really kept me here. And clearly I’ve learned a lot from working with them.”

Part of the gig involves raising awareness in the community about KSPC, and another involves raising cash. 

To that end, this Sunday KSPC is holding its semi-annual Expo. The event takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Pomona College’s Smith Campus Center Ballroom. It includes more than 30 vendors selling new and used CDs, DVDs, vinyl, posters, music memorabilia and more. The lion’s share of KSPC’s operating costs come from Pomona College, but the Expo, along with student fees and the funds from the associated students of all six colleges, also provides a portion. 

Being at the helm of an institution as beloved as KSPC—which has been on the air in Claremont since 1956—is a job Ms. Tyron takes very seriously. When the COURIER caught up with her in the basement studio from which the station has been broadcasting since 1972, she was cerebral and insightful. The atmosphere is a music fanatic’s dreamscape: concert and promotional posters line the walls, interspersed with photos and memorabilia from throughout the station’s 60-year history. 

Viewed from the outside, one might think of KSPC as a creative utopia, where earnest college students share their musical passions—and record collections—with listeners over the roughly 35-mile radius where station is heard on the terrestrial FM dial, and worldwide on the internet.

But this perception is only partially true. KSPC is also home to several longtime community volunteer DJs who have become institutions with listeners and KSPC staffers alike. And while its well-known for showcasing cutting-edge music, the station is also an incubator for newscasters, sportscasters and radio producers. Still, KSPC’s bread and butter is music. And its rich history of eclectic programming is something of which Ms. Tyron is justifiably proud.   

“I think KSPC, even before I got here, took a very strong stance in not worrying about what was happening in the commercial world,” she said. “We’re playing the stuff you haven’t heard anywhere. This is the underground.”

Championing the musical underdog is part and parcel of KSPC’s legacy. And it would be logical to think that things would likely continue along that path. But Ms. Tyron, like much of the community and indeed the country, is reexamining the old ways and wondering if she can do better.

“There have been a lot of conversations amongst our staff about what is the history of college radio?” she explained. “Has it been a bunch of white dudes with guitars that have been dominating [the airwaves]? Are we representing the community that we live in? Is it elitist?

“It’s a huge conversation and we’ve only started scratching away at it.”

Fans of KSPC’s current format need not worry about a sudden sea change, however. “It’s going to be an ongoing conversation. It’s going to change as the world changes and the music changes and the industry continues to change.”

Ms. Tyron remains committed to pushing KSPC forward, technologically and otherwise. She wears several hats at Pomona College, and hopes to use her position to help foster cross-pollination among students and programs with which she works. “My hope is that we will have a much stronger ongoing relationship to not just Claremont, but all the cities in our broadcast radius,” she said.

“There are such a wide variety of students who walk through the door. As best I can, I’m trying to help them get the experience that they are looking for, and maybe challenge their ideas.” 

She’s been at it 24 years now, working one job since graduating college. Could she see KSPC, her “dream job,” lasting her entire life? “I don’t know,” she said. “You’ll have to ask me again when I retire in 20 years.”

KSPC’s Expo is this Sunday, September 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Pomona College’s Smith Campus Center Ballroom. Admission is free for Claremont Colleges students and $2 for all others. More information is at kspc.org/cd-record-expo. 

—Mick Rhodes



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