Behind the Curtain with Ken Frye: Getting to know Michele Myers

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Today, Ken Frye interviews the one and only Michele Myers, KEXP radio DJ, music editor and producer. Michele started out as a DJ at KALX in Berkeley after graduating from the University of California. In 1995, Michele joined the staff at KEXP and since then she has been a well-known radio personality. Michele can be heard every Friday night on a show called Nite Life, which features Michele’s favorite artists plus some of her carefully hand-picked selections from the new artists bin. Michele has recently landed a full-time job at KEXP producing short radio documentaries about art and sound and the history of popular music. One of the last series, Punk Evolution, was about punk rock music and featured one of Ken’s favorite bands, the Clash. Michele is currently working on a new documentary series called Masters of Turntabalism, which outlines the development of hip hop and the history of turntable art.

Ken Frye has been an avid radio listener and broadcaster for years and over that time Ken has looked up to Michele for inspiration and guidance for his own radio shows. Now, Ken Frye is here to ask Michele Myers just what makes her tick and what makes her shows so bad ass. Let’s now turn it over to Ken and Michele…

Kf: How did you get interested in broadcasting?

M: When I was about 9 years old I had a phonograph that I could play my dad’s 45 records on. I recorded these early DJ attempts with a tape recorder. When I was 12, my dad took me to his friend’s radio show in Hawaii and I was entranced with how the DJ switched from record to record to create a seamless listening experience. Later when I was 22, a friend of mine at Berkeley took me along to his radio show and within 2 months I had my own show with the college station. The rest is history.

KF: How did you first hear about KEXP?

M: I have lived in some pretty exotic places like Alaska and Berkeley. A lot of my training in radio and my knowledge of alternative music came about at the University of Berkeley, California radio station KALX. After I moved to Seattle in 1995, I asked around to see if there was a non-commercial radio station that played truly alternative music and the receptionist at KUOW that I talked to said to give KCMU a try.

KF: Was it a magical fit for you?

M: I wouldn’t say magic. It’s been a long hard road and lots of hard work. I love the music and the people but getting hired here takes a lot of time and dedication.

Kf: I think you have found your niche. They call you a documentary producer. What does that mean to you?

M: Being a documentary producer means I handle the project from start to finish. I research every subject and try to make myself an expert in that subject. I spend hours and hours reviewing audio and video plus reading. My team of assistants assemble chronologies, find audio and promote the series. I choose the best audio and then make a story map. I double check all of the facts myself and then I write a script and voice the narration. Then, I edit the piece and make it beautiful.

KF: How did you get started producing documentaries?

M: I am always looking for an idea, series, and or subject that will speak directly to the KEXP audience. It’s important for me that the subject matter reaches down to the core of the music they love.

KF: What is your inspiration for doing these documentaries?

M: For years I was fascinated with the NPR radio show, “This American Life.” The way a story can be so potent when told with just voices, sound effects, and music. I think radio is one of the most potent mediums for stories because it sparks the imagination and the listener has to create along with you. Not like TV or movies where everything is done for you.

KF: I think I have found a link to all of your shows online.

Michele: Yes, you can learn more about these documentaries by going to http://www.kexp.org/learn/documentaries.

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KF: I know you are producing a series for KEXP, called “Masters of Turntabalism”. How long does it take you to produce one of these programs?

M: Every episode takes on average about 20 hours to make. I usually research material first and then I start to edit the sound components to create a narrative for the program.

KF: How many days does it take to do this?

M: It takes about 3 days to produce a weekly feature.

KF: Where do you see turntablism going?

M: Hip-hop was created by a dj using two turntables to extend the break. The break is the part of the song where the singer stops singing and the drum and bass go wild. This is the essence of hip hop. The break is the part of the song the dancers love. I think hip hop is important because it encompasses all kinds of music and therefore has limitless potential. This series that I am doing now for KEXP is a tribute to the DJ’s who have used the turntable as an instrument.

KF: What are you working on right now?

Michele: I am editing a piece on Grandmaster Flash.

KF: You’re also on the air every week. How did your Friday night show got started?

M: I was a night shift DJ for 3 years. It was grueling. 7 years ago I quit the night shift and started subbing for DJ’s during prime time hours. In that 7 years there have been 2 openings for non-night shift variety shows on KEXP. (Variety shows are the day or evening shifts where you play all the genres of music.) Kevin Cole got the first one and I got the second one.

KF: How do you see the focus of broadcasting changing in the future or do you?

M: Radio changed dramatically about 10 years ago with radio consolidation, where big corporations bought up 75 percent of all the radio stations in the United States. So, what happens is that you get basically the same set of music across the entire country. You could be in Boston listening to the same songs that are being aired in Seattle and all of this is powered by advertising. This is not the case with KEXP which is powered by the listeners and the community. And KEXP is special because the DJs choose the music. Radio continues to exceed our expectations with technological advances like hi-def, podcasting, on demand radio and streaming media. KEXP will always be popular because I think there will always be people who are interested in hearing real humans interact with the music.

KF: Do you see stations like KEXP becoming obsolete?

M: Hell no!!!!

KF: Michele, I love getting a chance to work with someone like you because you and I share so many of the same ideas about broadcasting. Most importantly, together we are sassy and opinionated about KEXP! We like to keep people at the edge of their seats.

Michele, you are the best thing to happen to Seattle radio and the best thing that ever happen to me because over the years you have come to exemplify a metaphor. This is the metaphor of brother and sisterhood that I have developed with radio and you have made this connection possible for me. Thank you!

Ken Frye is a volunteer at KEXP. He helps write band reviews, tracks logs for DJ’s and writes about the daily life at the radio station. Ken will be posting periodically to the KEXP blog and taking a behind the scenes look at just what makes KEXP such a damn cool place to work. Don’t worry -- Ken will answer everything you wanted to know about KEXP but were afraid to ask.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted January 10, 2008 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed this interview with one exception. Michele did not actually address the question “Where do you see turntablism going?” Although she mentioned the “limitless potential” of hip hop, rather than answer the question of where turntablism, specifically, is headed, she talked about where it came from. It’s odd that she would avoid the question and that you’d choose to print this non-response.

  2. DJ Michele
    Posted January 10, 2008 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I wasn’t clear enough. Turntablism is the root of hip hop. So in that sense the answer is fine. And accurate. And I’m answering the part that I can define.

    But in another sense Philip is right...as far as DJs playing with the decks - turntablism continues to defy expectation by new DJs’ addition of moves, sounds and techniques. But honestly I can’t really predict where it’s going.

    Better?

  3. CUZ
    Posted January 19, 2008 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    I beg to differ with Michele, in that she could predict where things are going to go, because that is what she has done on her show from the beginning. I’ve witnessed her instinctively search through the expansive living library of music at KEXP prior to going on the air, picking music like a conductor in front of an orchestra.

    She does know, Philip. But if she did give you the answer you ask of her, that would leave out all the fun of discovery.

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