NATCHITOCHES – Two weeks into the fall semester found Daniel Thiels and his staff at KNWD 91.7 FM the Demon coordinating radio show schedules, training new DJs and settling into their renovated studio, a space that feels double the size since massive shelves of vinyl albums and CDs are now gone and walls formerly coated with album covers are fresh with paint. Thiels, station manager, said his DJ schedule is a diverse roster of students majoring in music, theatre, nursing and business. “They are not necessarily communication majors.”
“They need to be creative and driven to do it,” he said. “We do look at GPA because that can be an indicator of reliability.” If DJs skip out on more than a couple of shows, there are plenty of others waiting to replace them, but Thiels is willing to give anyone interested a shot. On a recent visit to the station, Programming Director Tajh Derosier of White Plains, N.Y., was training new DJs, teaching students to work the soundboard, explaining the new software and audio system and going over FCC rules. The shows broadcast from KNWD, Northwestern State University’s student-run radio station, are as eclectic as the DJs with contemporary alternative music, new and classic rock, gamer tracks, country and world music.
Kristle Sowells of DeRidder, a mass communications major, stopped by to submit samples of the music she will play on her show, L.I.G.H.T., a Christian/gospel program that will air from 3-4 p.m. Wednesdays. Sowells is a returning DJ who began her college career majoring in social work and early childhood education, but changed her major after a friend asked her to co-host a KNWD show and she discovered a love for radio. She uses her Facebook page for self-promotion and hopes her show will expose listeners to the many genres of contemporary Christian music.
Justin McNear, who arrived at Northwestern State from Chicago by way of Grambling Lab is a senior business administration major. Also a returning DJ, he hosts a talk show addressing sports, current events, music and topics relevant to students. With KNWD’s new phone system, he looks forward to hearing from listeners who call to weigh in on the discussion.
KNWD has a core team of five directors, including Thiels, Derosier, News Director Micah Pickering of Merryville, Music Director Paxton Britt of Shongaloo and Director of Campus Relations Dillon Roy of Baton Rouge, who brainstorm and plan ways to get listeners engaged. Pickering hosts a daily “News at Noon” program, often with studio guests, broadcasting information gathered by Assistant News Director Damian Glover of Carencro and reporters Kimberly Gallow of Lafayette and Matt Lingle of Grand Cane. The rest of the staff includes Janet Parfait of Houma, assistant music director; Dominique McLemore of Dallas, graphic designer/webmaster; Katelon Ramos of Hurst, Texas, graphic designer/photographer; Executive Producer Taylor Furr of Boyce and Brittany Farrish of Jena, freshman intern.
The station has a new webpage, knwdradio.org, with a mobile version and is now streamed on-line, broadening its reach – previously a small radius around Natchitoches – to listeners everywhere. Announcements are also posted on Facebook.com/KNWDnsu.
Renovations in the studio, located on the first floor of Kyser Hall, began late last spring when the station cleaned house, hosting a vinyl and CD giveaway that drew collectors, art students and a few KNWD memorabilia seekers. Over the summer, nearly two decades worth of posters and paraphernalia were peeled from the walls to reveal sheetrock covered with graffiti from the mid-90s when the studio moved to Kyser from South Hall. New carpet and custom countertops lend the station a modern professional air and space is better configured to house the DJ booth, a recording studio, offices and meeting space. Thiels oversaw the remodel and praised the work of the NSU carpentry shop for the high quality custom appointments.
“With the renovation, we have a lot of new capabilities and we’ve upgraded a lot of things. In the recording studio, we now have a completely digital recording setup where students can have the opportunity to come in and have a professional-quality studio session,” said Thiels who envisions recording invited musicians during live broadcasts, similar to Tiny Desk Concerts on NPR. Remote broadcast capabilities enable the station to announce football games from Turpin Stadium and a new speaker system in the studio allows those outside the booth to hear the FM broadcast in other parts of the station.
Thiels said the KNWD staff plans to open up public service announcements to organizations on campus and area non-profits with PSAs modeled after commercials to give students real commercial production experience. There may also be opportunities to collaborate with Northwestern State’s new music business program, a concentration of the bachelor’s degree in music offered through the School of Creative and Performing Arts, or in broadcasting and/or recording CAPA concerts.
He hopes to keep his audience engaged through ticket giveaways and a series of free outdoor concerts, all building towards DemonFest, the station’s annual spring music festival. Live music is one way to keep students in Natchitoches on weekends and entertainment downtown doesn’t always appeal to college students.
“There is a lack of student-focused events downtown, where events tend to be more geared towards tourists,” he said. “Students want to hear live music on the weekends. We would like to make Northwestern less of a suitcase college and give students something to do. It’s about getting students excited and being a part of something, getting involved and countering apathy.”
The on-campus concert series began Labor Day weekend with a Back to School Bash at Iberville Field, former site of Sabine Hall, with positive results. A second unplugged concert was staged at Iberville Field Sept. 27 featuring singer/songwriter Alexandra McCullough (facebook.com/AlexandraMcCulloughMusic), a 24-year-old Shreveport native whose new album “Coming Home” was released on iTunes earlier this month.
Another concert is schedule for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12 at Collins Pavilion, jointly sponsored by KNWD and the Louisiana Scholars’ College. Admission is free for students and $5 general.
Natchitoches listeners may be familiar with Thiels, who reports morning news for KZBL 100.7 FM and KDBH 97.5 FM where he hosts a daily morning show. The Boyce native was a music major for three years and a general studies major for a semester before switching to mass communications.
Radio, like other media, is in transition, but the relevance of a local station that covers local news and events will always be important and Thiels believes KNWD can motivate students to get out and involved with other people.
“The future of radio is evolving with stations going online, but a station like this is broadcasting to a specific local community. We have to evolve with it.”