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Out of the Blue: A great year for radio

A year ago, I stood in the KX93.5 broadcast booth with the honchos of the station, ruminating over the impact "the little station that could" had on the community. The three men came to Laguna to launch a nonprofit station with the dream of disrupting corporate by-the-numbers radio with independent music.

So far, so good. Each honcho had a time slot and played their own music. But they really didn't know the town.

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That's OK. The station was only six months old and had already amassed a comprehensive roster of volunteer, local jocks. The community was beginning to notice, and the station was planning its first fundraiser, a Casino Night at the Surf and Sand.

Now it's a year later, and KX93.5 once again faces the Sisyphean task that curses public radio — fundraising. This time it's Craft Brews and Views, to be held Saturday night at a swanky local mansion with a view that will have everyone swooning over the Laguna coastline while they listen to live music and enjoy craft brews paired with gourmet plates.

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Only this time it's a different station.

"I think we've come to understand our role in the community," station principal Tyler Russell told me. "We are an open promotional source for locals in the community to get exposure they couldn't otherwise."

Indeed, when the original three came to town they had no idea of the fiercely protective character of this community, where so many pride themselves on telling you how long they've lived here or how many generations of Lagunans they hail from, as if that should carry extra clout.

"Our first goal was to simply launch a radio station that was more artist driven, and while I knew Laguna lacked a radio signal, it was never our sole focus," Russell said.

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It was their good fortune that a dormant signal from a Laguna Niguel church was available. And a radio town was born. Not just because a tower was installed here but also because of the flowering of dormant local talent in the broadcast booth, hosts and performers.

Take Ida Mae on Saturday mornings, for instance (great on your way to and from the farmers market). She puts the roots in rootsy-ness. Like someone you might meet in a Biloxi bar. She spins Americana music, specifically bluegrass and alt country. Think Austin meets Nashville, with a stop in New Orleans.

But there's more. She breaks all the rules of radio. She has 20-minute conversations with girlfriends and kibitzes with friends, but somehow it's a circle that draws you in. You won't get that at Live Nation.

And then there's O Canada with Earl Jive, a paean to all things Canadian. Can't imagine 60 minutes of airtime with Canadian music? Neither could I. (It's kind of like a 14-course meal of Canadian cuisine.) But you'll be delighted by Earl and his wacky banter, as well as the random and eclectic pop artists he plays who actually hail from the land once described by Robin Williams as "standing on a balcony overlooking a really great party." I kid.

There's also a show on music from South Africa, all things reggae, classic and alt rock, jazz, blues, electronic and the latest entry, a rockabilly show from longtime Laguna resident and Stray Cat bassist Lee Rocker. Plus lots and lots of local music, with on-air band appearances all the time. It's fun and spontaneous, and it's all ours.

Last year there was practically no live programming on the weekend or past 10 p.m. Now both periods are nearly full. It gives us a wonderful snapshot of the community and what a colorful and eclectic lot we are.

But the biggest, seismic change has been the addition of Jason Feddy as midday jock, the hottest rookie since Mike Trout. From the minute Feddy started with Full English Breakfast on Sunday mornings, a radio mutant was born.

It's more than his poignant and lightning-quick wit, brutal honesty, self-deprecating charm, British irreverence and Jewish guilt that makes him so hilarious. It's that he's having a conversation with you, and you get deep inside the mind of a madman.

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"Most deejays struggle to get a conversational tone and not sound like announcers," Russell said, "but it's innate with Jason. You can't teach this. Plus he lives and breathes Laguna, and everyone knows him. He changed the station in the biggest way possible."

Simply put, Feddy is the answer to our traffic problems. Just put him on and you'll want gridlock. I just hope when the inevitable call comes from Hollywood — let's not forget he is an extraordinary singer-songwriter — Feddy remembers where he came from and gives Laguna an occasional shoutout.

So how's all this hype and boosterism translating to dollars?

"We're break-even," Russell said.

With an annual budget of only $300,000, it would seem a cinch to cover that in this affluent, philanthropic town, but Russell reminded me that with more than 200 nonprofits in Laguna, it's tough to compete with more urgent and lifesaving nonprofits.

Still, Russell is having a great time and is committed to growing the station. He's living the dream and loving the Laguna vibe and wants to further the station's prominence in the music industry, and to a global audience of Internet listeners. The new music shows on Friday and Saturday nights are drawing notice from the music industry, and they are being swamped with demos. And ever the entrepreneur, Russell has ideas for web productions and broadcasts from the studio.

But right now he's focused on Saturday's fundraiser, which promises to be a good time for a great cause. You would be helping one of the most dynamic cultural enhancements we've see in town since, well, the Senior Center.

Buy a ticket online at http://www.kx935.com/craftbrewsandviews.com, stop in, have a beer, meet people from the station, and know that while you're not curing terminal disease, you are curing terminal boredom in Laguna.

And don't forget the marvelous fifth annual Kelp Fest at Main Beach on Saturday as well. The perfect one-two punch of fabulous Laguna iconoclasts.

BILLY FRIED has a show on KX93.5 from 9 to 10 p.m. Thursdays called "Laguna Talks. He is the chief paddling officer of La Vida Laguna and member of the board of Transition Laguna. He can be reached at billy@lavidalaguna.com.

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