KRCL uses music exploration to connect communities

Story and photos by LIAM ELKINGTON

When tuning in to 90.9 FM, it’s usually hard to determine exactly what you’re going to hear. Depending on the time of day, you might hear lively conversations with activists, updates on local events or a varied, eclectic selection of carefully curated music. KRCL aims to provide a place where Salt Lake City residents can get connected with their community through programming that promotes exploration of culture, music and politics.

Located at 1971 W. North Temple, KRCL was founded in 1979 with the goal of providing Utahns with a community platform for discussing ideas that were important to them. With over four decades on the air, KRCL is still community owned.

KRCL has been broadcasting since 1979.

Part of being a community-owned platform is representing those community members. “Salt Lake City is growing and culturally diversifying, and as a community radio station, we seek to be a reflection of the people who call this place home,” said Tristin Tabish, general manager of KRCL, in an email interview.

Diversity is represented on KRCL through its programming, especially the music that gets played over the air. A far cry from typical Top-40 hits, KRCL’s music ranges from classic to obscure with genre-specific shows that focus on exploring the depth of styles that don’t often get heard on public radio. “Smile Jamaica” highlights reggae artists both old and new, and the “Fret ’n’ Fiddle” program celebrates the authentic American sounds of bluegrass.

Deciding what gets aired usually starts from a place of passion for a specific style of music. “Oftentimes a new show starts with a deep love and knowledge of music. Someone who has been collecting vintage surf rock records for decades might pitch a show that features music from their collection,” Tabish said.

Shows can feature genres like psychedelic, bluegrass, heavy metal, world music or even just a mix of music that the KRCL staff find to be compelling. This dedication to providing a platform for unique music has garnered KRCL a reputation among listeners for being the place to go when they want to experience new music. “It’s important that hosts are able to connect with listeners through their love of music,” Tabish said.

Aside from being interesting or entertaining, the music played on KRCL aids its mission of representing the voices present in Utah communities. Tabish discussed how it is important to have a radio station that can represent the growing diversity of Salt Lake City. “The voices you hear on the station are everyday folks who are passionate about sharing their love of music and they’re invested in helping to build a more vibrant and inclusive community. That means you’ll hear music from bands living here in Utah alongside emerging artists from Mexico City and beyond,” she said.

KRCL recognizes that there are more ways to connect a community than simply through a shared love of music. The station features several programs designed to bring to light issues facing the people of Utah, and spotlights those who are invested in addressing them. One of these programs is “RadioACTive,” a show that airs daily and strives to encourage civic involvement through hosting conversations that deal with topics important to local listeners. “The conversation ranges from urban farming and food security to poverty and human rights,” Tabish said.

KRCL uses music to connect with the community.

With it being an election year, “RadioACTive” plans to increase the number of shows that focus on things like voting as well as participating in the 2020 census. “RadioACTive” airs every day at 6 p.m.

After all of this, merely playing diverse music and talking about community issues isn’t enough for KRCL. It is constantly using the platform to promote local nonprofit organizations, events and businesses. The “KRCL Presents” series is used to promote up-and-coming artists through concerts, as well as on-air events. Tabish recalled a specific instance of KRCL’s community involvement. “A few years ago, we held a rally at the Utah State Capitol to commemorate International Women’s Day,” she said. “That gathering was incredibly meaningful to women and their supporters who have ever felt silenced or inferior.”

Being a community-owned and -operated radio station doesn’t come without its challenges. With a lack of traditional funding, KRCL relies almost entirely on donations from organizations as well as individual listeners in order to keep things running. “As an independent radio station, funding is always a challenge — almost 80% of the station’s yearly operating budget comes from our listening community,” Tabish said. 

KRCL annually hosts a “Radiothon” with the goal of raising funding to support the station. This event among many others that support KRCL rely heavily on volunteer support. Those with an interest in contributing time to the station are encouraged to contact volunteer coordinator Eric Nelson (ericn@krcl.org) to learn more about how they can help out.

KRCL is more than a place to discover new music and listen to talk shows. As an independent, nonprofit and community-owned station it aims to represent all aspects of Utah life. The programs are designed to explore ideas and bring attention to issues that are facing the places where we live. KRCL occupies a unique space in Salt Lake City’s media landscape that isn’t filled by any other radio station.