KOXY’s corner room in the Johnston Student Center stands in stark contrast to the labyrinth of studios within KPCC, yet Ben Bergman ’04 calls both stations home. Bergman is now a senior reporter for KPCC (89.3, Southern California Public Radio) and contributor to National Public Radio (NPR).
In 2000, Bergman was part of a team led by Kristian Katz ’01 that revived the KOXY. It had been inactive for years due to lack of funding and interest. But, according to KOXY’s website, the group ushered in a renaissance within six months which breathed new life into the student radio station.
Upon arriving at Occidental in 2000, Bergman was struck by the muted presence of campus radio. After meeting Kratz, who had been hired to oversee KOXY’s revitalization, Bergman quickly joined the team as the only first year. He brought a passion for politics and journalism to a team of upper-division students more concerned with music.
A native of Los Angeles, Kratz is the 32nd member of his family to study at Occidental. As an economics major with a focus in business, he approached KOXY as an aspiring entrepreneur. During his time at KOXY, Kratz visited the University of California, Irvine, taking notes on their campus radio and adapting their model to fit Occidental’s smaller campus.. According to Kratz, over $30,000 was spent installing FM radio transmitters in all of the campus dorms. Though Kratz explained that KOXY also had a website and was one of the first stations to stream online, their focus at the time overwhelmingly centered on securing an FM radio station since it was the popular medium of the time.
Bergman reflected on how different the station had become since he started working there.
“It is funny looking back now, because our big focus was on getting, spending all this money, tens of thousands of dollars, on what was called ‘leaky FM,’ because we wanted people to be able to listen on their radio,” Bergman said.
Yet after their hard work, KOXY was born again. According to Kratz, there was significant interest in the station, with over 80 students fighting over time slots during their first semester of operation.
As the freshly minted KOXY news director, Bergman said he had “grand plans” for on-campus news broadcasting. Though he tried live streaming Associated Students of Occidental College debates and play-by-play sports coverage, the coordination and resources required for these broadcasts made them difficult to manage.
“Tiger Talk” was one of Bergman’s programs that did succeed. During their first semester, Bergman and his friend Andrew Pappas ’04 discovered they were on opposite sides of the political spectrum when they took Politics 101 with the then Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA) professor and current Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti. Following this revelation, Bergman approached Pappas to create “Tiger Talk,” a “Crossfire”-esque radio show that ran until his graduation in 2004.
“We debated a lot of tough issues, frequently disagreed with each other and often brought on guests (friends, professors and so on) to disagree with us, committed as we were, and are, to the free, open and vigorous exchange of ideas,” Pappas said via email.
Though KOXY preserves Kratz, Bergman and Pappas’ legacy, the station has changed dramatically. Now streaming all of its shows online, it forgoes the FM system entirely. Current KOXY Station Manager Soraya Sebghati (senior) reflected on how the station has evolved demographically since 2000.
“When I got to Oxy, KOXY was a predominantly white, straight, male organization. When I was hired, I was the only girl and one of two people of color,” Sebghati said via email. “Now straight white males are the minority of the staff. It’s mostly women, and it is run by two [people of color].”
Rounak Maiti, also a current KOXY station manager, added that the station’s programming has reflected its management evolution.
“Whereas we used to have mostly small, indie rock bands (also white male performers) we now have all of that, plus more RnB, rap, electronic and other genres to try and make KOXY more accessible,” Maiti said via email.
As it did in Bergman’s day, the station struggles to secure adequate funding and maintain student interest. Sebghati and Maiti expressed regret that they cannot afford to host live shows featuring popularly known artists. Yet Sebghati said she enjoys serving a consistent, niche audience. Maiti agreed, adding that KOXY readily facilitates events important to the college experience, such as their free monthly shows that welcome everyone.
“I’ve always been someone who’s really interested in media, so I thought it was important to have this collective voice, and this collective channel that people could tune in to to hear from their fellow students,” Bergman said.
Pappas, Kratz and Bergman said that they are all indebted to KOXY for its influence on their lives and careers after graduation. For example, Pappas, now a lawyer in the litigation department of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in Los Angeles, said hosting “Tiger Talk” with Bergman forced him to understand all sides of an issue and reconsider his own views.
Kratz explained that he was initially interested in KOXY because of his commitment to serving the community and leaving a legacy, something he hoped to continue as an entrepreneur. Three years after he graduated and passed KOXY’s management to Bergman, Kratz fulfilled his entrepreneurial ambitions when he started Pacific Coast Hydroponics in 2004.
Meanwhile, KOXY’s role in creating a direct path from college to career in broadcast journalism has been instrumental in Bergman’s success. He met his mentor, former Ambassador to Finland and current DWA Professor Derek Shearer, through an interview on KOXY. Shearer later helped him secure internships with the New York Times and Times Magazine and wrote a recommendation for him for NPR.
Bergman joined KPCC in 2012 as the Orange County reporter and later as business reporter. Now, besides reporting, Bergman hosts programs like “Morning Edition” and “Take Two,” SCPR’s two hour newsmagazine. He also contributes to NPR on the national level, frequently appearing on “Marketplace” to report on the Southern California economy.
“For me, it was really a defining time of my life, which sounds kind of corny, but I mean it was when I was able to start all those things and really become involved in it, be far away from home, meet some of my best friends for life and really find out that journalism was the thing for me,” Bergman said.