Opinion: For the Love of Low Watts – Part 3

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It was 10 years ago that a then audacious 21-year-old Tyler Russell McCusker—staked by his entrepreneurial dad—launched Laguna’s KX community radio station. We were all struck by the vision, but somewhat skeptical that a town of 23,000 could support not only two community newspapers and a monthly lifestyle magazine, but a listener-supported radio station as well. Yet serendipity rained down upon young Tyler. How could he have known that our hills were brimming with enough radio talent to fill the airwaves every afternoon, night, and weekend?

Sure, there were bumps along the way, like any startup. The weekday jocks were from other markets, decidedly younger than most Lagunans, and spinning unfamiliar alternative music that skewed more Pacific Beach than Laguna Beach.

But Tyler listened to his audience, and over time “added more classic deep cuts, more surf/reggae, and a ton more local bands,” he recounted. “We also over the years have spent more time covering local politics, city council meetings, hot button topics, etc.”

Then in 2018 Tyler found the hardest working, most dedicated morning jock south of the 91, Ed Steinfeld. Born in the Bronx and raised in Las Vegas, Ed got his start as a nightclub DJ before launching an overnight show on KLAV back in 1983. From there he spent 17 years in radio before going to work for Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Productions. Now he’s here, building, crafting, and refining his show on the daily, bringing a wide range of content, including news and interviews with local and national dignitaries like Adam Schiff, and spinning music from his personal stash of 60,000 songs.

Why at his age would Ed wake up early every morning to be in the chair by 7 a.m.?

“I am not the retirement type,” he told me emphatically. “The best part of the job is the satisfaction of a flawless segment, or interview… or a listener sending thanks because of something I said, or a song I played touched them deeply. I work hard because I love what I do.”

Tyler added, “I admire Ed’s dedication to his craft. He is constantly preparing for his show, he wakes up before the sun rises every day to do it, and he stays late to edit, recap, and work on the next day. He loves radio more than anyone I’ve met.”

Then there’s Music Director Erica Delamar, who came to KX straight from college radio at UC Santa Barbara. She began at the station as an administrative assistant. Six months later she debuted her own Tuesday night show, “Global Spins.” And when Alyssa Hayek leapfrogged from Music Director to General Manager, Erica was once again promoted to the vital role of programming the station’s music.

“I get to curate music for this station and support independent & up-and-coming artists, simultaneously working closely with the Laguna Beach community in providing entertainment, news and building a strong community. I am very grateful for this opportunity,” Erica said.

And then there’s the hero of this story, General Manager Alyssa Hayek, a New Jersey transplant who found her career path her freshman year at Monmouth University, when she first saw the radio station.

“That was when I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to work in radio, picking music and being the host that people call in to request songs.” And that’s exactly what she’s done ever since. After college she worked in commercial radio for a decade, but gradually became disillusioned with the constraints put on programming.

“KX was my dream opportunity and I knew I would do everything I had to in order to make it my reality,” she said.

With that kind of chutzpah, Tyler knew he had found his successor, and he stepped back from day-to-day operations in 2020.

“She has the tenacity that is required of wearing all the hats to make this place run,” he said.

Between her management responsibilities and hosting her own weekday show, Alyssa easily logs 12-hour work days, with constant interruptions to her weekends as well. Having a problem with the air conditioning? Lost your front door key? Forgot your login? Having a problem with the board? Call Alyssa. Chances are, she’s listening anyway. And will respond within minutes. She’s there to make all the jocks look better.

As for what makes Alyssa tick, it’s simple, she says.

“To this day, I still get nervous every time I crack open the mic. It goes away after 10 seconds and the excitement kicks in. I just love sharing music with people. It is the happiest I can be when I find the cool new song and introduce it to someone who has never heard it.”

Don’t we all wish for that kind of career fulfillment, when every day we do something that touches someone? That’s what makes radio such a wondrous and immersive medium. But this nonprofit station cannot do it alone. Please keep your dial tuned to 104.7 to hear some great music, and consider making a pledge to keep it going. The station has a terrific group of passionate custodians to shepherd it into the future, with the goal of making a bigger global impact, and making us all giddy when we hear those immortal words, “Broadcasting live from Laguna Beach, it’s KXFM radio.”

Billy hosts Laguna Talks on Thursday nights on KXFM radio. He’s also the CEO of La Vida Laguna, an E-bike and ocean sports tour company. Email: [email protected]

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