10 Questions with ... Mike Dronkers
April 7, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I came to Humboldt State in 1995 for their Marine Biology program but wound up with a college radio show. That led to an office job at KHUM -- traffic, billing, accounting, promo, etc. Pam Long happened to resign shortly after I graduated college in 1999, which is how I wound up with the midday show that I still do to this day.
Shortly after that, we launched an Alternative station, KSLG. I eventually PD/MD'd that for a decade while doing the same for KHUM. Sean Demery graciously spent a lot of time coaching me in the Alternative format. Ten years of playlist radio was a truly useful yin to the yang of KHUM, which is proudly free-form.
1. How did you become interested in radio?
Radio was never the plan. But as a kid growing up in the Bay Area, I'd sometimes go watch Alex Bennett's morning show on Live 105; he'd have people such as Bill Hicks and Greg Proops stop by. He had an early version of a studio webcam back in the early '90s. Bennett treated his audience like they knew what he was talking about, and if they didn't, he assumed they were smart enough to figure it out. As a kid, I just assumed that's what radio is supposed to do.
2. How long have you been at KHUM?
Going on 17 years. I have my 6,000-day anniversary coming this month.
3. The station serves a variety of markets in Northern California, how do you balance the on-air presentation?
We have terrestrial listeners in three different counties, two of which are larger than some U.S. states. That said, we focus tightly on our hometowns of Eureka and Arcata.
Even though our Internet listenership is often a double-digit percentage of our overall audience -- our Internet listeners seem to love our small-town sound. There are KHUM listeners in places like Wichita and Guam who could easily name Humboldt's best new local bands and burrito trucks.
4. What are some of your biggest challenges as an independently owned station?
I've never known anything else. It works really well, in my view. We don't have any syndicated shows; our ads don't have to be exactly :60 ... it's pretty great.
5. How would you describe the music on the station?
Tough question. KHUM is a free-form station, so it really could be '50s gospel and Henry Rollins in the same quarter-hour. That happened today. We have a blues show that leads into a Zappa show, so it runs the gamut.
Each host stands behind their sets, which are usually improvised. That said, you'd find about 1/4 of our currents on either the public or Triple A chart. We have automation in place, but air staffers are strongly encouraged to override it. I nudge hosts toward new records I think they'll like, but it's their call. And it's better that way.
Music is an important part of KHUM, but genuine enthusiasm is our most important asset. We're musical tour guides, and sometimes it's a pretty weird tour. I'd rather have a DJ explain why they're about to play John Cage's "4:33" than have that same host lamely introduce a smash that they don't understand. To me, the goal is more "do something interesting" than "make good radio."
6. What new bands are you most excited about?
I'm loving Josef Salvat, Bear's Den, and even though it's not that new, both Alt-J and tUnE-yards are baking music from a difference recipe than everyone else.
7. What do you like best about your job?
The people who work here are exceptional. KHUM has really low turnover for good reason -- the free-form magic is powerful. We enjoy risky programming, and we're willing to fail triumphantly. Both on and off-air, we're all on the same page when it comes to community service. Same for music. Same for technology. I love this crew.
8. Of all the skills you have gained through the years, is there an area you'd like to improve?
Back-end web programming. Drupal, Django, Python, HTML5 ... all that stuff. We have a friendly genius handling that for us, but I still feel helpless. If I had to choose between fluency in web programming versus fluency in transmitter repair, that's a no-brainer.
9. If you could add any one full-time position to your budget with no questions asked, what would it be?
Multimedia web producer, without doubt. It's fun to DIY, but at the end of the day it takes time to turn video, graphics and podcasts around ourselves. We gape at the majesty of what KEXP and WFMU are able to do.
10. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ....
... These days, it's Reddit. Once I got my account fine-tuned, it cut my show-prep time in half.
Last non-industry job:
Video store. As in, VHS rental.
First record ever purchased:
NWA, Straight Outta Compton. (Sorry, mom. You had to find out someday.)
John Denver, 1982, at the Berkeley Greek Theater. All the denim on Earth was at that show.
Favorite band of all-time:
Either Clem Snide or Phish.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
In order of affordability: running, surfing, traveling, family.