Local radio stations are an integral part of a city’s music scene and an important part of its cultural identity. They are deeply woven into the urban fabric of city life and are important touchstones for local lore, oral history, emerging trends, and counter culture. However, a public radio station’s most important value is that they exist not for the welfare of producers, but for the benefit of their audience.
This month, San Antonio celebrates the 50th anniversary of one of its radio treasures, KSYM 90.1 – San Antonio College radio, one of the oldest college radio stations in Texas.
Just last week, KSYM completed their annual pledge drive, where supporters could contribute to the station to say “thank you” and to help keep the station alive. As a dedicated listener, I went online and gave a small donation and during this process, it occurred to me how much our city would lose if KSYM did not exist.
I stared at my computer and wished I could do more for this station that in the last 50 years has greatly impacted San Antonio and helped cultivate a unique music culture. My budget doesn’t’t allow for a huge donation, so a financial donation commensurate with my gratitude was out. Thus, this ode to KSYM was born, a testimony of my feelings that I am sure many listeners can relate to.
Inside KSYM you’ll find students, teachers and an abundance of volunteers. They provide hands on training to individuals interested in a future of radio and television, and they also offer a place for music aficionados of the community to share their knowledge.
KSYM operates a dual platform, the college radio for the students, and Third Coast Music Network, a volunteer-run program whose genre stretches from rockabilly to zydeco, not leaving out jazz, blues, or rock and roll. Third Coast Music Network is San Antonio’s source for radio that is soulful. And to take a cue from the Third Coast website, “no matter where people are, they recognize soulfulness, and they know what Third Coast means.”
In today’s world of Spotify and Pandora, KSYM continues to keep alive a dying art: the human DJ in a radio booth. An actual person selecting songs from their own experience and understanding of music, pulling albums from shelves with their bare hands. They fill the airwaves with music hand-picked for our listening pleasure and share their embodied knowledge of this art form.
A typical show at KSYM runs anywhere from two to four hours. During this time period, the DJs at KSYM offer us more than just music, they share their personality, knowledge and dedication to music. They bring to radio an authenticity that the algorithm on your digital music source cannot duplicate.
KSYM also offers San Antonio another fading craft: live, in-studio performances and interviews of local, regional and national artists. The booth is a welcome center for musicians who live in our city or who come to visit, a place where they can talk to the community about new albums, new songs, and share the stories of their lives. They give San Antonians a chance to experience the artist one-on-one, and delve deep into the relationship the artist has with their music. Over the years they’ve brought us priceless question and answer sessions from the likes of artists like Willie Nelson, Sam Baker, and Eilen Jewell, to name a few. Countless local artists have taken the mic at KSYM, sharing their talent hoping to generate a buzz about a new album or upcoming show.
So here’s the thing: what KSYM brings to our cultural stage is important, and we’re ever so lucky that this radio station is in San Antonio.
And because of that I say – turn off your satellite radio, ditch the iTunes and check these humans out, San Antonio. You won’t be sorry. To KSYM, I say thank you; without you, we’d be a lesser city. Here’s to 50 more years.
*Top image: Inside the KSYM studios. Photo courtesy of Alamo Colleges.