Over the past five decades KCPR, the student-run campus radio station, has served as the musical voice for Cal Poly. Nestled on the third floor of the Graphic Arts Building — flanked by classrooms and Cal Poly TV’s broadcast room — San Luis Obispo’s 93.1 FM offers students a Learn by Doing opportunity to experience the duties and functions of a working radio station.
During the heyday of college radio culture in the 1980s and early 90s, KCPR was a powerhouse in the scene. “We were at the top for sure,” says alumnus Bruce Flohr, a former student DJ who went on to a successful career in the music industry. “We had a national reputation for being one of the best college radio stations in the country.” It was a reputation based on both the groundbreaking music the station played and the hard-working students who sat behind the mic, contributing their voices and shaping musical tastes for generations.
Cal Poly Magazine spoke with six former DJs who all credit their time at KCPR with more than mere skills learned behind the microphone.
Blair Helsing (Broadcast Journalism, ’75)
Years With KCPR: 1972-1975
Current Job: Senior consultant at M Squared Consulting
Helsing started with KCPR because he frequented the Graphic Arts building for classes. “I had been a DJ in high school and wanted to build on that experience,” he said. His roles at the station, a three-year progression from typing traffic logs to becoming the station’s music director and general manager, gave him many of the critical tools for his future career and life — effective leadership, goal and policy setting, community relations and the ability to lead a diverse group.
“Being on-air was totally thrilling,” he said of his time in the booth. “My favorite thing was playing great music that was under-exposed.” Helsing eventually moved on to complete his degree at San Jose State, but he never left the music industry behind. He went on to work at several radio stations including Gilroy’s KFAT-FM and San Jose State’s KSJS, and he has led a Bay Area jazz band since 1991. He has also stayed connected to Cal Poly and KCPR by serving on the Journalism Department Advisory Board and mentoring current KCPR staff. “I feel tremendous loyalty toward KCPR and the opportunities it offers to students.”
Bruce Flohr (Journalism, ’89)
Years With KCPR: 1984-1989
Current Job: Senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Red Light Management
Before his admittance to Cal Poly, Flohr knew he wanted to attend the university specifically for KCPR. “My first day on campus, I ran right over to the station and started trying to figure out a way to get involved,” said Flohr, whose dream at the time was to be the next Howard Stern. He hosted “The Thursday Night Soiree” each week from 9 p.m. to midnight, grounded in up-and-coming bands of the time like REM, U2 and The Cure.
Flohr credits his time at the station for being formative to his professional career, due in large part to the way students operated it. “We treated the station as a business,” Flohr said of the 30-plus volunteers that made up KCPR. “I don’t think we realized it at the time, but we were building a brand.” Flohr is still actively involved with Cal Poly, and was the keynote speaker at last year’s fall commencement. As an advisor to KCPR, he makes an effort to remind current students that although they may not want to be a DJ or pursue a career in music, they can still learn important business, marketing and promotion skills — all while turning people on to good music.
Scott Carter (Math, ’90)
Years With KCPR: 1986-1990
Current Job: Senior vice president of marketing at Epic Records
“That’s where I spent all my time,” Carter said of his four years at KCPR. “It was the time when alternative music was really starting to break through the mainstream.” The station played a role in bringing those tunes to listening ears, in some cases as the only station in town playing an emerging band. “It was sometimes controversial, because we were definitely accused of selling out,” he says, when those bands landed at major record labels. Having these alternative bands come on the KCPR airwaves opened doors to him meeting a large number of people in the music business. But still, he says, “The thing I loved most was playing my favorite songs on the radio.”
Neal Losey (History, ’93)
Years With KCPR: 1989-1993
Current Job: Music director and host of “The Morning Cup” at KCBX
Following graduation and a five-year stint as a KCPR DJ, Losey worked at Boo Boo Records and began volunteering at KCBX, San Luis Obispo’s public radio station. Three years later, the station offered him an on-air position. “I did not have a vision of what I wanted to be until it fell in my lap — all because of the experience that I got from doing something that I loved at KCPR,” says Losey, who is now coming up on 20 years at KCBX. He credits Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing philosophy for the skills he applies to his profession. “Learning how to run that station, plus the enjoyment of being able to share music with others, is important,” he said. “It’s really more than just people sitting around playing music.”
His hope is that past and present students realize the value of KCPR. “I want everybody who’s been part of it to realize how important it’s been, and that it needs to be around in the future so another generation of Cal Poly students can get an experience that will help them in a variety of ways.”
Stacey Anderson (Journalism with Music Minor, ’06)
Years With KCPR: 2002-2006
Current Job: Pop listings critic for The New York Times
“My fellow DJs were my family and my role models. They were the friends I’d longed to find at college,” Anderson says of finding her “tribe” at Cal Poly through the radio station. The journalism grad originally had eyes on another university prior to her freshman year, but changed her mind when she stumbled upon KCPR during a tour of Cal Poly. “I spied the radio station down the hall and snuck off to pester the DJs with a million questions,” she said. “An hour later, my parents tracked me down, and I’d already decided to attend Cal Poly and spend every waking hour of my life at the station.”
Over four years spent at the station, Anderson worked as a DJ, promotions director, publicity director and general manager. “Even if I hadn’t gone on to talk about music as a career, I would still say with certainty that KCPR was one of the most wonderful, most educational experiences of my life,” she said. “It taught me to be more curious, open-hearted, experimental, poised. I learned about the person I wanted to be.”
Haley Brown (Graphic Communication, ’15)
Years With KCPR: 2011-2015
Current Job: Talent payments coordinator at AM Only
Brown first entered Cal Poly as an environmental management major but graduated with a graphic communication degree and four years of DJ experience. “What I liked most was having a platform to share things I was really excited about and things that weren’t part of what you would normally hear around San Luis Obispo,” said Brown, who appeared on the air as “Lady Ladie.” “I got so much out of that radio station outside of being a DJ,” she says, crediting the job with granting her a community, confidence, resourcefulness and leadership skills.
“Being a part of the radio station made me realize that not only was music a passion, but it could also be something that you do,” said Brown “I wouldn’t be in the job that I have today or the career path that I’m in today without KCPR.”