interview + photography / JORGE PEREZCHICA
Alternative media can create social change and you can solve injustices through creating dialogue.
— Michelle Ann Rizzio
Can you tell us about yourself and background in radio?
I am considered the program coordinator for the entertainment and technologies program at Smooth Transition Inc. But as far as what I think of myself, I am probably just like a force more than anything. I grew up in Desert Hot Springs, graduated from Desert Hot Springs High School in 2009, went through the entire school system here. And then went off to college at University of San Francisco. My focus has always been on being able to equalize the music industry, especially for getting exposure for local musicians. As I got to college, I signed up for KUSF which was 90.3FM at the time and I did my training and volunteering, so I could get onto their radio station. I had a blast just getting to understand this amazing terrestrial world that I had only ever listened to on the other side of the radio dial. In 2011 the school had sold the license, and I got escorted off the premises by these men in suits. I was like, “what’s going on, is this a bomb threat?” I was sitting inside of the lobby with a band that was supposed to be interviewed that day and all of a sudden my phone rang and I got this email saying that the school had sold the license of 90.3FM to Entercom and Clear Channel. I was like “what in the world, how can that happen?” It was my first experience of understanding social injustice in our media world. I just became obsessed with the idea of mass influence, and how people can reach out and get attention.
What was it like transitioning from Desert Hot Springs to San Francisco?
It was a huge culture shock. I just I went, I didn’t I didn’t even go up there with my family for a tour. I just went by myself and I saw everything, I fell in love and I was like, “This is where I gotta be, you know. I need to learn from here,” and I totally did… I became pregnant my senior year of college, I literally became pregnant like my first day of my last semester. So I was in my first trimester going through my last semester of college and it was difficult. I was like, “Am I gonna graduate, am I gonna do this, what’s gonna happen to me?” I ended up graduating in 2014. After many months and years of helping to build up the KUSF org, I came back here, had my son in October of 2014 up at Joshua Tree.
For a while, you hosted your own radio station KDHS from home in Desert Hot Springs. Tell us about it?
Ten years ago, my dad was disabled and confined to a wheelchair. He was at home all the time, and he did not like what was playing on the radio. He purchased a license for 98.9 FM in Desert Hot Springs, set up an antenna and his own micro FM station, and listened to it in the car. When I had come home from university, my dad encouraged me to take the ball and run with it. I was figuring out how to use this resource and turn it into a community opportunity. How can we train people to have shows and get them to have professional diction, professional pronunciation and create really quality content. We went into construction from 2015 to March 2016 for a private in-home studio and then in the beginning of 2016, we opened our doors to volunteers to come in and start pre-producing 3 hour programs for 98.9FM. At one point, it was brought to my attention that our license was not valid. My dad had been a victim of a scammer and we took the frequency off the air immediately. After two years of building our brand, we suddenly didn’t have a frequency anymore. Feeling pretty irate, I asked myself “How am I going live out my vision?” I went and meditated with myself and I asked, “What am I gonna do?” It became very clear to me that KDHS was an acronym for something much larger than simply a frequency — it was “Knowledge, Desert Hot Springs.” And it needed a home away from our home.
How did KDHS and Smooth Transitions Inc. come together?
I started looking for a public production space for KDHS after realizing that my home studio was not going to work for bringing volunteers off the street, especially with a little tiny infant turning into a toddler running around. So I started putting the word out that I needed a public production space and I ended up finding Robin and Elsa who are the executive directors of Smooth Transition Inc. which is a post-secondary accredited vocational school in Desert Hot Springs. I ended up meeting them in September 2016 and they were like, “We need you, we need you to come over and be a part of our school.” So they got me involved with Smooth Transition Inc. I ended up becoming a partner with them at KDHS, Knowledge Desert Hot Springs and now we are a transmedia broadcasting lab for the Smooth Transition Inc. entertainment and event technologies program. So we offer volunteer opportunities for DJs to learn how to create podcasts, how to learn how to do post-production with Adobe Audition. I teach them how to use videography programs such as Premiere Pro, so that they can truly be prepared to go out into the scene out here and create transmedia productions. Since we’ve partnered with Smooth Transition we are now a non-profit educational non-commercial radio station. We create transmedia productions that go on our Mixcloud, we do a lot of podcasts as well. I will be teaching how to do live broadcasting and how to do on-site broadcasting all from your phone as well as whatever media device you have. And I will be soon teaching a course here called transmedia broadcasting which will go into the history of broadcasting. My goal is to attract a sponsor to donate an FCC license to us, so that we can get on the radio airwaves again and really get that terrestrial feel and terrestrial content being disseminated to our local citizens here in Desert Hot Springs.
You helped build KDHS lab from the ground up — What has that experience been like so far?
This was just an empty room when I came into it and I was told to just do what I could. I got a lot of donations the school gave me, a small budget to be able to get some content and some equipment in here. It’s been a slow start for sure. I’ve been throwing shows here for two years now and my analytics are all over the place. But for me, I can’t lose my gas, I can’t lose my fuel because I know that there are kids here that will benefit so greatly from my all-ages events. Smooth Transition Inc. has allowed me to create our entertainment and event technologies lab as a full all ages place. We can have all ages music here. We can have all ages theater happening here. We can have all ages everything, and that’s the only all ages place here in Desert Hot Springs. I decided to shift my focus to the youth and create these all-ages events and create this hub that’s safe for these musicians to come and showcase their music, showcase their art showcase their poetry and be able to get the recognition that they want from an intimate setting.
Explain transmedia to someone who’s never heard of it before?
Transmedia is being able to take a story and tell it over various media platforms, tell it over SoundCloud, tell it over mix cloud tell it over Twitter. It’s taking the person looking at them holistically as DJ and saying you know what, you have more than just a voice you also have a brand. It’s no longer about being confined to the regulations of the FCC or any sort of governing agent, it’s about learning how to be your inner authority all the time and being able to express that on multiple platforms. Transmedia is something I say all the time and I get a lot of looks for it because it’s not something that’s said often but really it’s the postmodern answer to broadcasting. It’s taking what we’ve learned for the past 50 years of broadcasting from television and radio and you know all these amazing different avenues that we’ve had in the past that have now no timeline associated to them no audience that’s going to be fixated on them and learning how to grasp people. I think that the way that you do that is through multimedia content. With transmedia you give them pictures to look at, you give them videos to look at — and that leads them to all these different avenues.
What do you love most about radio?
What I love the most about radio is being able to take an idea and turn it into a production. So watching these DJ’s come in here and being on the other side now and training instead of being the DJ myself is super rewarding come in here, these volunteers who have no idea what they’re doing, some of them don’t even know how to operate a computer, like I’m sitting here helping them take this idea out of their mind, of how they want to portray themselves to the world, how they want their ethos to be shared with the world and creating a really awesome content out of it. I have been super rewarded by hearing the podcast that have been produced here. I think radio can change the world and I think that’s why corporate media has completely monopolized the frequencies. I’d like to create a brand new kind of motif for what radio is, like the storytelling that goes involved with it, how do you see it online, how do you see how that fits into all the other choices. Especially with people’s attention spans right now.