Stanford’s non-commercial student-led FM radio broadcast, KZSU, is slowly regaining its footing after almost eighteen months of virtual production.
Early COVID-19 safety protocols did not allow so-called “external community members” to access KZSU production spaces unless accompanied by a student. In an effort to restore access, KZSU members underwent what they consider to be a series of strenuous interactions with the Stanford administration, leading the student staff members to fear for the future of the radio station.
As of Oct. 8, University COVID-19 safety protocols began phasing in autumn quarter voluntary student organization (VSO) gatherings, allowing for indoor gatherings and parties.
Today, KZSU is finally back open to the public, and some programs are resuming live production.
“We have just started the process of transitioning deejays back into the studio. We worked with the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) to develop a plan that allows students and the Stanford community access to the production spaces while undergoing safety protocols,” said co-general manager of KZSU Anna Toledano Ph.D. ’22, who has been part of KZSU for seven years and produces her own weekly show called “I Like to Dance: Shake Off Your Pants.”
The station is planning to resurrect the programming that they featured in the past. One of these projects includes “Wednesday Night Live,” a special that showcases a live performance.
“A band will come and perform live at the station, Wednesdays from 6 to 9 p.m. It’s usually a local artist, student artist or student group. We’re excited to have this start back up again,” said KZSU co-general manager Omar El-Sabrout ’22.
While production is slowly regaining iotas of normalcy, student staff members indicate that external community member access to the station remains limited, identifying this as a remaining point of contention.
“So KZSU is finally back open to the public. Students are allowed back into production spaces, but community member involvement is on a limited schedule,” said El-Sabrout. “The hours are limited to thirteen-hour slots which can either be 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., or 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. That’s either five days a week or two days on the weekend.”
Mark Lawrence, chief engineer and one of the “dinosaur drivers” of KZSU, has been diligently serving the station since his freshman fall at Stanford in 1963. As a seasoned member of the organization, Lawrence views the external community members as constructive and integral to the success of the station. He also considers the current University restrictions on VSOs to be an awkward compromise.
In the case of KZSU, Lawrence indicates that these hourly restrictions directly conflict with station protocols; if deejays need to find substitutes to host a show, the designated time slots immediately eliminate other deejays with different authorized hours.
“It’s the amount of overhead in all this, setting up the schedules and updating. I’m hoping that the administrators in Student Affairs will try to open it up soon. That’s what we’re dealing with right now, but at least we’re getting people in,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence says that recent interactions with OSE have been friendly and helpful, and considers these developments as evidence that the University wants to increase community member access to VSOs. However, he also attributes the VSO restrictions to what he considers the University’s grander changing perspective on “outsider” involvement.
“I’m not sure exactly where the policy on restricting outsiders comes from but it’s clearly from higher up in the University management. It affects a lot of areas unrelated to KZSU, even before COVID. It would be worth exploring the roots of this policy of restricting outsiders from the University,” stated Lawrence.
In response to these concerns, a University spokesperson declined to elaborate on how the situation has changed, but maintains that it is “grateful that community members are following the University’s re-opening and health requirements, including COVID testing and keycard building access,” and that their previous statement from early October still stands.
“Community members enrich the student experience in many of our student organizations and are a welcome presence on our campus. In addition, the University is gradually restoring community member access to indoor spaces on campus,” said senior director of the Office of Student Engagement Snehal Naik in response to The Daily’s inquiries in early October. “Many spaces are being assessed on a case-by-case basis, including KZSU.”
As part of the plan to phase in more access over time, Toledano and Lawrence said that the University will soon extend weekly Color COVID-19 testing services to community members. Lawrence also said that after a long negotiation process with the OSE, the University is restoring full 24-hour access to KZSU’s critical engineers.
According to Toledano, KZSU just renewed their Federal Communications Commission license, which is valid for 8 years, signaling that they intend to be around for a long time. Moving forward, the station representatives are eager to resume production in full force, but for now, they are focusing on increasing student involvement with the station due to campus limitations.
“We’re trying to get more students involved, that’s the main thing we’re doing. We have a low volume of student deejays at the moment and we really want to up our numbers by training more people,” El-Sabrout said. For more information on getting involved with KZSU, contact [email protected].
According to Toledano, KZSU is the right place for any students interested in news or listening to music for hours on end.
“At KZSU, anyone can have an idea or start something new,” Toledano said. “People will be on board, and that can cut across boundaries, silos that exist at Stanford and in every other place too.”