- Luke Davies
This week, City Weekly starts a brief investigation of the small world of college radio stations—and more specifically, their pandemic survival strategies. We kick off this week with a conversation between CW and Luke Davies, the Local Music Director at K-UTE, about how he and his fellow student-radio aficionados are working to keep college radio—and their own goals—thriving through the pandemic.
Davies talks fast, but maybe only because the voice practiced on his new K-UTE podcast Loco4Local is one that tends to be quite measured. Though quick on his feet, he still speaks in the clipped, enunciated way that radio people usually do as he begins to explain the complicated situation that is being a student and a radio director during a pandemic that just won't quit.
One of those students floating in the double-major limbo with graduation somewhere indistinct on the horizon, Davies has been with K-UTE since last year, though this is his first semester as a director. A lifelong music lover and player, his background in the business program prompts him to ask not just "how are we creating this?" about music programming, but "how are we financially managing things like this?"
It feels like talking with an experienced peer as he outlines not just the problems K-UTE faces from the pandemic, but those faced by the music and journalism industries at large. He accurately points out that the industry's already a tough one, overrun with never-ending content that's all-too-often expected to be gotten for free. It's surely a stressful view to take in from a position as a novice yet still-invested media worker and student. But after all, college campuses are a kind of microcosm of the larger world: Students at big universities like the U often live, work and go to class on campus, absorbing the culture offered by student organizations like K-UTE.
Beyond the usual uncertainty around career paths, though, this year is notably a tougher one for the K-UTE staff and students. "It's been really difficult because I think everyone on our team is trying to stay dedicated and stay focused," Davies says of the year so far, which also finds some of its staff moved home to study remotely. "There's been a pretty significant loss of passion across all human beings I feel—over the past couple of months, and weeks especially."
Like the campus's own shift away from the "normal college experience," K-UTE has changed, too. "With a lot of people being in school, doing stuff online, there's a lot of people who are really just bummed out, because you're not really meeting a lot of people, the content doesn't feel as engaging," he says of student and staff morale.
But Davies notes that his colleagues at K-UTE strive to stay positive, balancing work meetings with diffusing activities like playing video games together on a discord server. "I'm very lucky because I'm focused on the local stream, which is very engaging," Davies says. "I get to meet new people all the time through that. We're very passionate about local music, music in general."
That appreciation for local music has resulted in new podcasts, like the one Davies hosts, Loco4Local, where he recently interviewed Will Sartain, owner of Kilby Court, and also local TikTok star cmten. There's also the new local-leaning hip hop 'cast hosted by Jameson Williams called Dripcast, which recently featured the Los Angeles-based Utah native Phobia the Greatest. More written content for the site is also on the station to-do list.
Although Davies admits that K-UTE's budget hasn't been as "luxurious" as semesters past for obvious reasons, they've still been able to invest in software to make things like podcast production easier to do remotely. This was a necessary move after their studio was shut down over the summer, only to re-open with a capacity limit of two people at a time in-studio—a stark shift from their usual easygoing setup. But the loss of the studio has come with helpful additions like remote-friendly software Radiojar, which helps them monitor analytics on who's listening to their online radiocast (which is their only cast, since K-UTE isn't on traditional airwaves), and they can interact with the stream live while they're on, which makes transitional moments like talking about music between tracks easier, too.
"We've been able to retain a pretty decent following since this all happened," Davies notes, which may be due in part to these adaptations. "We've been trying to figure out how to maintain ourselves as a significant cultural aspect of the University of Utah and Salt Lake City in general."
That approach has included advertising their new podcasts on their social media, reaching out to local artists to be on them and putting their casts up on media streamers like Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Yet they've gone back to analog in a way, too, Davies notes: "The goal is that we can engage with our audience by word of mouth; that's our biggest goal right now."
And though lately word-of-mouth passes over Zoom conferences and FaceTime calls, or at a distance in the park, it's safe to say the word du jour is "connection"—something that K-UTE is working on keeping strong for the U and Salt Lakers alike. Tune in to their radio streams or listen to their inspired podcasts at kuteradio.org.