BACKSTAGE ACCESS: Music and public radio

KEXP's' vinyl collection. Photo courtesy of Susan James.

KEXP’s’ vinyl collection. Photo courtesy of Susan James.

This week on Backstage Access, I spoke with Susan James of the Seattle public radio station, KEXP – 90.3 FM to be exact. Whether you listen to the radio or not, radio stations still play a large role in the music industry and do much more than provide new and current music to its community. Many stations, which are typically non-profit organizations, work to provide educational opportunities to their communities, and KEXP is no exception to that.

Volunteer Services Coordinator at KEXP, Susan James, spoke with me about her job, what it’s like to work at a radio station and offered some inspiring words for those who would eventually like work in the music industry.

Featured Professional: Susan James – Volunteer Services Coordinator @ KEXP

What does being KEXP’s Volunteer Services Coordinator mean?

James has been working in this role at KEXP for two years now. Her role started as managing the volunteer and internship programs at the station, but she said she has grown into a much larger role at the station.

James manages guest services, community and educational tours that come through the station and provides musicians and bands that perform live, in-session studio performances at KEXP.

James also does educational outreach for the station, such as providing job shadows for students and creating internships who might not normally have the opportunity to do so.

James said a typical day of work requires a lot of customer service correspondence and working with the community.

“I also spend a fair amount of time with the staff finding out what their needs are, what they are looking for, how volunteers and interns can help their work,” she said.

Best & Hardest part about James job:

James said that her favorite part about her job at KEXP is working with the community.

“Whether it’s people wanting to get involved by volunteering, or by touring the station, or they have an idea,” James said. “Using the station as a way for students and the community to learn, that’s really rewarding.”

On the other hand, James said that her job has a large workload with limited resources, a problem that is typically shared among employees of non-profit organizations.

To work around this obstacle, James said she works to be very organized. “Focusing in on what you can do in a day, and do the best that you can and as much as you can,” James said. “When the day is done, that’s what you can do.”

What is KEXP’s environment like?

“I work with some really fun, creative and intelligent people,” James said. [James, 7:26] Work at KEXP is causal, fun and laid-back, according to James. “We listen to music all day.”

James said she and all of her fellow employees are really passionate about working towards the station’s mission: help people learn about new music.

Advice from James:

James said that volunteering is a great way to get involved. In fact, James started volunteering at KEXP in 2007 and continued to do so for six years before she landed her current job.

“Here in Seattle, the music scene is a tight-knit community,” James said. “Once you start to know people, it doesn’t take long to know more.”

James also emphasized the importance of being organized and detailed-oriented. “Organization is key, and details are super important” James said. “In fact, that is the number one thing I tell students interested in internships: we are looking for people who are detailed-oriented people.”

Lastly, James encourage individuals aspiring the music industry to not be afraid of putting yourself out there. “Be open to anything,” James said. “You never know where it can lead.”

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