A radio station needs to stay on air, yet the notion of DJs sharing a booth on a campus that's closed down due to concerns over coronavirus didn't make that task simple.
Facing that quandary, two Sundays ago, KBGA — the student-run, volunteer-driven station at the University of Montana — decided to close its offices and have its DJs work remotely.
At the time, general manager Noelle Huser said, "We know KBGA provides DJs and our community with great comfort, especially in an isolating time, and we want to maintain that platform as best as possible, just without the risk of spreading this disease and causing harm to the community."
About 70 volunteer DJs do their thing in the course of the week for the station, which is live on air 24/7 except for the 2-6 a.m. block. The majority of the DJs are community members, according to Natalie Schmidt, the program director.
"We know how many people in Missoula love and care for our station, and we love and care for it, too, and I personally couldn't handle the idea of not having KBGA on the air because so many people that I've ran into, that I've met, talk about it what it does for the community," she said.
Erin Gillet has DJ'ed for KBGA for a decade. Last Friday from 6-8 p.m., he logged in from home for the latest installment of "The Ashen Grove with Nameless Ghoul," his on-air moniker.
An archaeologist by trade, he's continued his show because "music for me is more than entertainment. It is a real escape for me, and for the kind of music I play on my show, it is not … it's pretty rare for someone to be playing on the air."
"I felt like it was kind of my own duty … for my own mental health, and for people to be exposed to new things, to keep at it," he said.
His playlists zero in on extreme metal genres, such as black metal, death metal and doom metal, that won't be heard on the radio most anywhere else in the vicinity. Metal is a diverse genre, with entire online encyclopedias to help navigate it, and so he hopes to stretch people's minds some.
"I know that maybe for some people that kind of stuff is pretty scary for right now, but that's not what all of it is like. There's a lot of it that's in my opinion quite beautiful and soothing, and it is not, you know, holding the stereotypes that a lot of people think of with that stuff," he said.
Compiling music for a show might take six to seven hours. He's done theme shows that look at a particular country's metal scenes, for instance.
He has an immediate family member in a high-risk category, and felt for months now that the Missoula would enter into a phase something like this.
"I'll do remote DJing from now on until something changes," he said.
The transition has at times been "rocky," Schmidt said. Not all DJs are as comfortable with technology, so she's fielded calls at all hours of the night to help them trouble-shoot. Many DJs prefer spinning vinyl, which can't be done from home right now. Huser said the very idea of home DJing excludes people who don't have a computer, so they're thinking of ways to include them as well. She said they could still use volunteers, particularly ones who have already been trained.
They're still working on ways that DJs can get their voices on air — right now, there's a workaround that involves pre-recording banter, but no option for live commentary.
They want to consider ways to get into live-streaming, as the station had been building momentum by hosting shows at venues like the VFW, Huser said. Podcasting and news shows are also elements they could explore.
"We have the time to rethink everything, and what is important, and how we can be involved and stay connected as a community, and I want to apply that to everything," Huser said.
On Mondays from 10 p.m. to midnight, "Rock on Mars with Nat and Lars," gives listeners a taste of rock 'n' roll deep cuts from the '60s through the '80s, artists like Deep Purple, Tommy Bolan, and Jethro Tull and Bob Dylan, but usually not the hits that classic-rock radio has played ad nauseam. They specialize in B-sides and live cuts, going on three years now. They've done the ABCs of rock 'n' roll. Sometimes it's more fun to just wing it from their collections.
Last Monday, hosts Nathaniel Solberg and Lars Engelhard did their show from home — they're roommates, so the social distancing rules aren't an issue.
They didn't know how to record any banter yet, but they're looking at the possibility for a future show.
"It was a little strange, not your traditional show," Solberg said. They posted about the songs on their Instagram instead.
They've been following the suggestion to avoid crowds, only hanging out with people they're close with, or going to the grocery store. They've gone folfing up at Blue Mountain but kept their distance from other players.
"We're not going to the homies' house, and we're sure not going to any parties or anything," Solberg said.
So in that sense, it was fun to still be able to do their show.
"Finding new music is always refreshing," he said.
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