When Karen Burdick ’72 was on the air at Reed in the late ‘60s, she played a lot of blues, mainly because she loved the music, but also, perhaps, because she was somewhat overwhelmed.
“I came to Reed from a small town in California, and I found myself in the company of a lot of people who were both very well educated and aggressive about it in a way I wasn’t used to—it was a world for which I wasn’t prepared.”
Burdick left Reed in 1970 to join the Learning Community in Portland and eventually became the program director at the local and rather legendary community radio station KBOO. In 1978 she moved to New York City.
“You quickly find out how much some people know in this town,” she says now. “I didn’t think I had the expertise to program a station here.” So she took a new direction, attending trade school to become the person who keeps a radio station on the air: the technician. She was one of the first, and still one of the very few, women to do it. “I’ve never met another woman radio technician,” Burdick says. “I’ve heard there is someone in Boston.”
The mechanical knack she quickly discovered is something they don’t teach in trade school, which centers on theory. She has worked at New York’s WNYC for nearly 14 years, fixing and maintaining most of the recording and editing equipment. Not to mention the studio equipment that keeps this, one of the largest radio broadcast facilities in the U.S., on the air. There is so much mechanical and electronic redundancy at the station that it is very rare for something to happen that she can’t work around.
One of those moments came shockingly and sadly on September 11, 2001. “Our main FM transmitter and our back-up were on top of one of the World Trade Center towers,” remembers Burdick, “and our studios are close enough that we could see the hole the first jet left in the building. When the tower fell, we thankfully only lost equipment, not people. We managed to keep the AM signal on the air—the FM was down for a few days—and our news reports were among the very first on the radio. We were all so busy trying to get and stay on the air that it took a while to realize the terrifying history that was being made right in front of us.”