South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

KSDJ Radio celebrates 30 years

Brian Stemwedel
Catherine Jones and Samanth Richert host a halloween special podcast at the KSDJ Radio station located in the University Student Union basement Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023.

KSDJ has been on air and run by South Dakota State University students since 1993, but current staffers say the best is yet to come, as the station adds more podcasts and sports broadcasting.   

In 1990, the Student Advisory Council for KSDJ was formed with hopes to be on the air within a year. It ended up taking much longer.  

The idea for a student-led radio station started because, “College radio had become a big thing in the 1980s and SDSU had not had a radio station for decades,” said Brian Stemwedel, a student member of the station from 1992-1994 and current faculty adviser.  

Before KSDJ, there was KAGY radio station, which was run out of Pugsley Hall. KAGY started out as a low power AM station, according to Stemwedel. But, KAGY soon lost the students control due to applying for an FM license which resulted in the state taking control over the station, according to past Collegian articles.  

The KSDJ radio station club first applied for an FCC license in March of 1992, but had issues obtaining it. The tower the team wanted to install on top of Wagner Hall was denied multiple times by the FCC. The rejection was due to its perceived height and the belief it would require a light on it for air traffic safety.  

But students Mark Sebert and Rhead Smart, who were the “brains behind the operation,” proved that the tower was not high enough to need a light, and soon after obtained the license for KSDJ radio.  

After being built in January 1993, the tower still stands on top of Wagner Hall and, “It represents a single point of contact for everyone in Brookings,” said Eric Erickson, program director for KSDJ from 1990 to 1995.  

Students’ Association approved their grant of $68,000 needed for equipment after the application for the license went through. KSDJ produced their first radio show in the Student Union Dec. 13, 1993, and has been on air ever since.   

“Once we got it going, it took off on its own,” Erickson said.  

KSDJ radio gained popularity quickly because students did not have Spotify, Apple Music or any digital downloads at the time.  

“The concept of being able to play any song, anytime, anywhere, that just wasn’t a thing, so students tuned in to hear new music and hear their friends on the radio,” Stemwedel said.   

The music DJs played at the time was mostly college rock, now known as alternative rock, and any song suggestions by people who would call in. There was no internet, so KSDJ subscribed to the College Music Journal. Each month, they would receive a magazine where it showed the top 150 songs being played across the country and incorporate those songs into their music lineup.  

All throughout the 90s the focus was on music, until early in the 2000s there was a push to make KSDJ sound more like a commercial radio station by the student management. After this change, “The students did not have as much leeway as to what they could play and they had a stricter format,” Stemwedel said.   

This change in the radio station caused student engagement to fall off because there were more limitations and digital media like mp3 players were increasing in popularity.   

In summer of 2010, the FCC visited KSDJ.  

“The FCC actually came and looked at all of our logs, and we were pretty compliant, but there were definitely some opportunities we improved upon,” said Jon Berg, station manager from 2009 to 2012.  

One of the improvements they made came in Berg’s junior year. They replaced the original radio transmitter from the 1990s which was a big investment.  

“The transmitter is essentially what puts your voice and your music over the air so that people can hear it,” Berg said.   

In the late 2000s, social media started to become popular. KSDJ had its own Facebook group and began finding different ways to share content.  

At this time, KSDJ had about 10 to 12 DJs and four to five people helping run the station. While this is a steady amount, when the station first started there were about 50 DJ volunteers.  

Looking at the future, KSDJ is transforming into more of a talk radio station because of lower demand for music on the radio because of streaming services. That said, students can still come in and play any music they want because KSDJ, being a student led radio station, is held to different standards than other stations.   

Students are welcome to host a podcast with their friends or come on air and play music for an hour. The opportunity to become a part of the station is open to all majors.   

“It takes the shape of the student body, and we want to represent that as the college radio station,” said Brayden Byers, the station’s current program director.

KSDJ also wants students from different clubs and organizations to come on air and use the station as a medium to inform more students about their groups. 

The station also offers opportunities for students who are interested in broadcast journalism, since SDSU does not provide that as a major, to commentate sporting events live through the station. The benefits are not limited to that.   

KSDJ teaches communication skills that are helpful for the future no matter what major you are.   

Erickson, who is now an underwriter for South Dakota Public Broadcasting, said, “I would have never gone into this business had it not been for KSDJ radio…There’s the pressure of live broadcast that you cannot get anywhere else.”  

The goal for the future is to include more podcasts and have more participants. If you are interested in joining, reach out to [email protected] or drop by Room 57 in the basement of the Student Union. You do not have to have any experience in radio to join.

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