ITS RANGE is only a couple of blocks, but KCHUNG Radio sure makes a lot of noise.
The Los Angeles-based community radio station has operated above a strip mall in Chinatown since 2011, broadcasting live music, talk shows, experimental performance art and whatever else its 100+ members care to on any given day.
KCHUNG’s fast-and-loose organizational structure and commitment to non-hierarchal collaboration has garnered national attention for its ability to amplify a diverse set of voices, and while its low-power transmission only reaches from one end of Chinatown to the other, its online streaming has amassed a large following.
The group has also partnered with various non-profits, schools, galleries and festivals to bring attention to various causes and exhibitions, including the L.A. Public Art Biennial, and an ever-morphing cast of participants has created interactive installations at L.A.’s Hammer Museum and the Vox Populi gallery in Philadelphia. This March, KCHUNG will bring its anything-goes audio extravaganza to the Jepson Center of the Arts.
KCHUNG representative and DJ Michal Kamran visited Savannah last week to explain the concept and drum up excitement for the project, which she envisions taking place in the Jepson atrium.
“This is a different kind of radio broadcasting,” said Kamran, who hosts her own eclectic show and helps out with station logistics. “We’re all volunteers, and everything is DIY. Anyone can do what they want as long as they don’t set the station on fire.”
Savannah’s site-specific studio may include a live broadcast from a transparent “bubble” on the main floor, where visitors and participants can be part of the creative flow.
“Participants can see the transmitter and each other in this open and horizontal broadcast model,” she described. “The listener is visible.”
This is KCHUNG’s first full-scale residency outside of L.A., and the group may be in Savannah as long as six weeks. They’ll center their stay around a host of other community-based activities, including workshops on documentation and audio archiving.
Other programming might include “lunchtime discos” in the Jepson atrium, live “whisper reports” from the galleries and collaborations with Jepson staff. There are also plans to employ KCHUNG’s mobile broadcast cart around town for a ghost tour and the St Patrick’s Day Parade.
“This feels very timely,” says Rachel Reese, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Telfair Museums.
“I’m really drawn to radio as a democratic platform and a way to build community. I think this installation can bring attention to the importance of freedom of speech and having your voice be heard as well as activate the Telfair in new ways.”
Unlike the Savannah Soundings community radio station WRUU that has signal radius that reaches a several miles, KCHUNG does not operate on a Low Power FM bandwidth and therefore doesn’t need an FCC license. But it’s not exactly pirate radio, either: The extremely limited transmitter is covered by what is known as the Part 15 Rules, a class of radio that broadcasts at less than 100 milliwatts and can only be heard within a couple of blocks.
But that hasn’t limited its audience, and KCHUNG has grown a reputation as a “hyperlocal” platform for issues, activists, artists and musicians.
Such a model elicits different outcomes in different locations, and what KCHUNG’s presence in Savannah might yield is anyone’s guess. Kamran says a call for local artists and collaborators will be put forth in the coming weeks.
“KCHUNG is sort of the seed,” she said of the possible permutations.
“We don’t know exactly what this project is about until all the pieces come together.”