POSTED: Monday, October 05, 2009

KTUH-FM calls itself “;Hawaii's Only Alternative,”; and considering the current state of corporate commercial radio, the claim rings true for the University of Hawaii at Manoa college station.

Made up of a rotating lineup of volunteer student and community deejays who spread their knowledge of music over the airwaves islandwide and online 24/7, KTUH-FM has been celebrating its fourth decade of existence with a just-completed radiothon and a club event showcasing some of its deejays. It continues with Friday concerts on campus starting this week and, later, a downtown screening of the latest version of the film documenting the station's colorful history.

“;KTUH, A History in Progress ...”; is just that, a film that, even after a couple of campus screenings, is still being worked on by station staffers Tony Phonpituck and Travis Tokuyama. The project started when Phonpituck, who hosts the Friday morning big-band and swing jazz show “;It Don't Mean a Thing,”; learned that KTUH is the only 24-hour, student-run station in the nation while working last year on his thesis comparing commercial radio with college radio.





        Month-long concert series at the University of Hawaii's Manoa Gardens (free, 18 and older only):

Friday: Jazz and blues with the Howard Nett Band, Darby Slick and Friends, Jon Canazarro, and Boogie, 5-10 p.m.


Oct. 16: Hip-hop with Tassho Pearce with the Spacifics, the Deadbeats, No Master Backs featuring Kavet the Catalyst, the Audible Lab Rats, KTUH DJ TKO and special guests, 5-10 p.m.


Oct. 23: Indie rock with Painted Highways, Haberdashery and Kings of Spade, 5-9 p.m.


Oct. 30: Reggae with Ooklah the Moc, Go Jimmy Go and the Ionz, 5-10 p.m.


Nov. 3: Screening of the hour-long documentary “;KTUH, A History in Progress ...”; at thirtyninehotel, part of the weekly Kaleidoscope event for 21 and older; admission free before 10 p.m. showing




He said that “;99 percent of commercial stations in the U.S. are automated,”; meaning that the music is formatted by a station's corporate owners, with local deejays assigned drop-in times to speak, with no music input.

“;Considering that management and their staff can't even determine what music they can play for their own particular regional markets, I think that's sad.”;

He and the rest of the group of deejays who assembled a couple of Saturdays ago at the station all agreed that KTUH attracts a unique and active listener base, “;all looking for something else they don't usually get on the FM dial.”;

“;Our station is not about selling air time to sponsors, or witty banter and catchy songs,”; said general director Nick Yee (aka DJ Mr. Nick of Wednesday nights' “;The Jet Set”;). “;As Michael Titterton of Hawaii Public Radio once said, we're selling passion as music. We and our listeners may be in the minority in terms of radio in general, but it's a truly wonderful group.”;

“;Because we have the freedom to program whatever music we like, the training makes it pretty tough to get in,”; said station alumnus Ross Jackson, “;but when the deejays finally make it on-air, they have the unparalleled opportunity to do the best show possible.”;

Once a deejay gets a time slot, he or she gets to play and say pretty much anything they want within legal parameters set by the Federal Communications Commission.

Jackson, who hosted the popular “;Daydream Nation”; indie rock show, said musical expertise is “;so important”; in giving any KTUH deejay credence with the listeners. “;They have to know their stuff, like Tony with jazz, and G-Spot with house, trance and drum-and-bass.”;

G-Spot's (Greg Dehnert) long-standing reputation as a club and dance event promoter in Hawaii started, in part, with his years as a program director at KTUH and his Friday night “;Underground Sound Show.”; Even though there's now a port for iPods installed in the station's on-air studio along with the turntables and CD players, “;G”; still occasionally uses KTUH's “;vinyl vault”; of 12-inch singles and albums accumulated through 30 years to augment his show with “;stuff that you can't get off of iTunes.”;

“;We also have a big commitment to showcase local bands,”; Dehnert said. DJ Catwings, another station alumnus now known as a member of the Cherry Blossom Cabaret burlesque revue, helped book bands for the “;Monday Night Live”; show that's on hiatus.

Catwings also played local band releases on her “;808 Wonderland”; show, “;coming from all different genres.”;

“;One of my favorite things from doing the show was when listeners would call asking, 'What are you playing?' When I would tell them that it was a local band, they would be amazed and want to find out more, even to the point of maybe going to a show and buying a CD of theirs,”; she said.

KTUH DEEJAYS have also received more public exposure, thanks to monthly First Friday gigs promoting downtown art gallery walks.

“;It's a chance for them to get direct feedback from listeners. It's a way to match the face to the show. It's also a good platform for deejays to spin their music in a live setting,”; she said.

Through the Internet, KTUH-FM's reach has also exceeded Oahu's boundary. “;We recently asked Internet listeners to send us a sticker from their home city and country, and we got stuff from like Munich, Germany, and from people all over the world,”; Yee said.

Besides getting feedback from places like China and Sweden, Catwings said she used to “;get calls from the East Coast from people listening to my show while they were waking up before heading to work.”;

“;It's not our intention to provide comfortable, familiar music,”; Yee said. “;We're trying to push you to try new music, and as a deejay, that's sometimes a daunting task.

“;We cannot stress enough the importance of the station,”; Yee said. “;It's wonderful that we have the ability to take students and community members off the street and, after a month and a half of training, give them a mic and empower them with the courage of playing their own kind of music and the ability to think for themselves.”;

Yee said the recent radiothon brought in more than $10,000 in pledges. “;The station has always run on a shoestring budget,”; he said, with the help of a portion of UH student activities fees.

The station has made steps to modernize, but “;sometimes it feels like we're holding the place together with dental floss, and a wing and a prayer,”; Yee said. “;Somehow, we've gotten by all these years.”;

As for a 50th anniversary 10 years down the line, Catwings said, “;So long as the community support is high, we'll keep doing what we're doing.”;

KTUH-FM can be found at 90.3 on the radio dial in East Honolulu, 89.9 on the Windward side, 91.3 on the North Shore, channel 866 on Oceanic Time Warner cable's digital service, and streaming online at www.ktuh.org.