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KXCI to offer window on live radio at new Hotel Congress studio

Local community radio station KXCI plans to open a new broadcast studio inside Hotel Congress. Scheduled to open in the fall, the studio will give passersby the chance to see DJs conducting interviews and catch a glimpse of special shows by touring and local musicians.

The indie station has partnered with another local go-to for music, Hotel Congress, to install the studio on the north side of the building, with windows facing onto Congress Street and the hotel lobby.

The studio will offer Tucsonans a look at broadcasting that is normally unseen by listeners at home or in their cars. It will be located across the lobby from the Copper Room, in what was previously the Hive Hair Salon.

Disk jockeys with a view onto the street might be common in movies — such as Minnie Driver's character in "Grosse Point Blank" or Samuel L. Jackson's DJ Mister Señor Love Daddy in "Do the Right Thing" —but most real-world song-spinners are stuck in windowless rooms.

“I was thinking about a radio station being on the street where people could walk by and see the DJs in the booth interviewing local community members and musicians,” said station Executive Director Cathy Rivers. “A true community station in the heart of the community.”

Rivers said the idea has been on her mind for a few years, as she envisioned something everybody could become a part of.

“I thought that the mayor could stop by on his lunch break and play a song or two, or when one of our great local musicians walked by they could drop in and talk about a show they were playing or maybe their new record. If a dog went missing an announcement could be made,” she said.

“Radio should be just as much by and about the listener and the community as the DJ in the booth,” she said.

Some of the station’s regular broadcasters will take their shows to the new studio, and KXCI plans to feature guest DJs, interviews and plenty of live performances. The steady flow of touring and local acts at Club Congress will furnish the studio with special on-air sets and exclusive interviews after bands perform.

One of KXCI’s staples, Hannah Levin, will see many of Congress’s bands on her weekday show, The Home Stretch. Before joining KXCI last year, Levin worked at independent Seattle radio station KEXP.

“Independent, locally-anchored radio has the potential to illuminate the best of what Tucson has to offer in ways that no other medium can, especially when it comes to adventurous, groundbreaking artists who may be working in the margins,” Levin said.

She's most excited to reach a broader audience through visual storytelling, she said.

“We have so many wonderfully loyal, longtime listeners to be grateful for, but I really want to see us extend our reach to include a younger, diverse audience of music lovers.”

The opportunities for visual storytelling don’t stop with the intimate shows and the bright “On Air” sign gleaming out to passersby. KXCI is planning to incorporate more videos onto their website and expand on their current podcasts and mini shows.

Levin talked about how successful she has been in the past adding a visual element to KEXP. 

“We’re a visual culture now, there’s no question,” she said. “We did it successfully in the Northwest and I know we can do it here in the Southwest. It’s a game-changer for the better.”

KXCI’s recent partnership with Brink Media and Wavelab Studios will prove crucial in the video aspect. Creative Tucson brought the three media organizations together in 2015 as an alternative to “existing, outdated public access television infrastructure,” according to Brink’s website. Rivers said the organization exists to provide media education and original content to the community.

Hotel Congress was a clear choice for the new studio with its proximity to music venues and defined place in Tucson’s entertainment scene. For Congress’s owner, Richard Oseran, the studio is a perfect fit.

"It really connected in many ways. KXCI wanted to have that community presence, that street presence,” he said.

Soundproofing and other construction for the Congress studio are set to begin later this summer.

KXCI will continue to broadcast from its nearby home in Armory Park, which will be freed up to provide more educational opportunities for the public. According to Rivers, the goal is to provide classes year-round for adults and youth, including teaching DJ skills, public speaking and podcasts.

“I was fortunate enough to have broadcast classes, drama classes and a great debate club in my high school,” said Rivers. “These courses and clubs shaped my career and my future.”

“As these programs diminish in our public schools, I believe it is the responsibility of the community to make sure there are opportunities for our youth who may not fit into the traditional mold of education to find their own voice. With the power of a microphone anything is possible,” she said.

Levin calls music’s role in Tucson a vehicle of history telling and a reflection of the landscape.

“It can be politically galvanizing, a source of comfort or inspiration, and a soundtrack that promotes a sense of community. It can also be just pure entertainment and that’s as vital as anything else to an arts-loving city. Ultimately, it has the potential to touch everything.”

KXCI will host an open house at their Armory Park location, 220 S. 4th Ave., on Friday from 3-7 p.m. to answer questions about the project.

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Jamie Verwys/TucsonSentinel.com

KXCI's new studio will be located in the former Hive Hair Studio, right next to Club Congress.