Antagonism, indifference--in the early double-naughts, N.C. State's student-run radio station was met with little else. It was common practice for the Triangle's music faithful to harp about the station's all-metal-all-the-time(-unless-it's-techno) operation of the mid-to-late '90s.
Today, however, things have changed.
Today, Nathan Asher's voice--nervous clumps of syllables raging through the busy verse of "Turn up the Faders"--rings out clear and proud on KNC 88.1. After that, it's "Seventeen Years": a glossy guitar extravaganza supported by hot air balloon beats and elbow grease, courtesy of indie darlings Ratatat.
Welcome to the new WKNC.
Over the past several years, the revolving cast of characters tucked away in Witherspoon Student Center--the facility from which the station broadcasts at 25,000 watts--have been tinkering away at a winning formula, slowly fashioning themselves into a local radio juggernaut, a transition that is just now beginning to sink in across the Triangle.
"A rock station" is how The Prayers & Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers wunderkind Perry Wright thought of KNC. "Jamie Proctor, station manager a couple of years ago, did some work to mainstream the format. When I started Prayers & Tears, Jamie became a great contact and a good friend. Subsequently, as the station embraced more of what I would call an 'Indie Top 40' sensibility, our music found a pretty welcome home."
Quick to praise KNC--and namely Proctor--for their work over the past few years, David Karsten Daniels, also of the Bu Hanan collective, shares Wright's sentiment.
"They've been very kind to us, allowing our label's bands to come in often for on-air interviews," says Daniels. "We're glad they're around."
Natch, Proctor is far too humble to take the bulk of the credit, pointing to former music director Ghassan Hamra as an equal and underrated force in shoring up KNC's daytime ship. But it's his name that comes up most often when discussing the station's resurgence with locals.
"People who had been paying a little more attention had noticed the change in the sound of the station over the years. Some liked it, some didn't," says Proctor, from the Chicago offices of Thrill Jockey, where he now handles publicity for bands like Giant Sand, Tom Verlaine and Tortoise. "It [took] the station some time to find its new identity, but as that developed so did the audience."
Axing the "heavy rock" format, The Revolution focused its musical energies on the nebulous world of independent and non-Top 40 artists--or as Wright put it, an Indie Top 40. Rock was still the name of the game, but nü-metal took a back seat to capital-I Indie and all of its arty offshoots.
But more importantly, in the overhaul of KNC, local rock found a new and welcoming spot on the Triangle dial.
"I remember thinking of WKNC as metal and techno," says Dan Abbate, drummer for Asher and his local Infantry, who are as decidedly un-metal as they are un-techno. "Now it's playing really good underground local bands. I think they do a lot for local music by giving plays to us locals."
KNC's local music director, Steve Salevan, talks about the Triangle's music with unchecked enthusiasm: "I believe that the most important function a radio station can serve in its local music scene is to scout out relatively unknown artists and give them publicity," says Salevan.
In addition to the format shift, it's this approach that's won The Revolution so many converts--connect the public with its artists, and love doing it.
"The radio's still a very important source of music dissemination," says Salevan. "And if someone hears an artist that they like on our station, they'll be more inclined to purchase one of their CDs or come out to one of their concerts."
For that, artists all over the Triangle are grateful.
"We haven't been here long enough to notice a transition with 88.1, but having our music played on KNC has been a great help in introducing our band to this area," says Brad Cook of Wisconsin transplants DeYarmond Edison, a pastoral folk four-piece set to play this year's Double Barrel Benefit, a three-year tradition at KNC in which the station showcases local talent and offers some padding for its student-fee funding.
Joining DeYarmond Edison this year is a mix of established Raleigh talent, out-of-towners with connections, and newcomers to the Triangle scene like The Capulets, whose Strokes-y guitar rock reached larger audiences last year in thanks to KNC's support.
"I like to think that when a local band is putting out some good music, we shouldn't treat them any different than your bigger names on Merge or Matador. Mix them right in and let people know that Raleigh is vibrant, too," says Sam McGuire, organizer of the two-night event. "What the Double Barrel Benefit has become is a place where people from campus and people from around the listening area can come to see what our new bands are all about."
And while some critics still lodge "rockist" complaints against the station (their non-rock shows are relegated to mostly late night slots), as KNC continually evolves, McGuire promises increased devotion to genres beyond rock, kicking around the idea of a possible hip hop benefit, and more frequent local showcases.
"The bottom line is the more involved we can be with whatever is going on in local music, the better it is going to benefit both parties," says McGuire, who hosts Monday evening's Wash Behind Your Ears as DJ BigFatSac. "It's a mutual admiration society." x
WKNC'S Double Barrel Benefit happens at Kings in Raleigh on Feb. 3 & 4 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5 each night.