Interview: KEXP Vinyl Archive

Posted on May 30 2016

Photo by Amber Zbitnoff

Its no secret that I love getting lost in a little bit of in-depth organizing, especially when it comes to other people's collections. I view collections a bit like miniature personal museums- they are the physical evidence of an individual's life. A collection is a person's memories, their interests, passions and their impulses. 

I think a physical collection (no matter the content) says so much about a person's values and interests-- I am delighted to be "invited in" to other people's collections to help organize them. Collections can be full of regrets and passionate emotions, they can be a window into someone's experiences- which can be both puzzling and illuminating in sometimes equal measure. Collections can be evolving or static, but above all, they are personal. 

One very public collection that I have both admired and had the benefiting of enjoying for many years, is the media library at KEXP. If you aren't famililar with KEXP, GeekWire has a great write up by Kurt Schlosser about KEXP's project to digitize and preserve the library.

Late last year we helped KEXP organize their 7" and 12" vinyl collections with a couple of custom sets of record dividers to celebrate the move into their new home. The 10" + 12" vinyl is organized by both genre and alphabet, with impressive floor to ceiling shelves to hold the collection. We worked with KEXP Librarian Dylan Flesch, to make all custom dividers- about 9 custom genre dividers, 2 sets of vertical A-Z 45s dividers, as well as a custom matching set of tabbed horizontal A-Z dividers.  

45s record dividers at KEXP

alphabetizers at KEXP vinyl library

record separators at KEXP

We recently caught up with KEXP's Dylan Flesch, and he shared some background on the collection, and shared a few of his thoughts about the archive. Very big thank you to music photographer Amber Zbitnoff, for all the amazing photos of the KEXP library! 

photo by Amber Zbitnoff

Photo by Amber Zbitnoff

Photo by Amber Zbitnoff

The Vinyl Collection at KEXP

Size of collection:
Current estimate is that KEXP’s physical music library holds 41,000 optical discs and 12,000 microgrooves. I saw a new addition recently that was optical disc on one side and microgroove on the other though. Whoa.

Biggest genre at KEXP:
The biggest category is rock/pop, which comes in at just less than half of the music library. Second largest category is our local music collection. Local is fun because as a category in the library it supersedes all other classifications, so local rock/pop goes into the local category as well as local electronic, local roots, local hip hop, etc.

 Photo by Amber Zbitnoff

Rare, interesting album from the collection:
Kurt Cobain's hand delivered Love Buzz 7” is probably most the frequently mentioned rarity, but nobody has seen it in years. I’d love to get Starlee Kine from Mystery Show on the case to find out where it may be now.

Levi Fuller

Levi Fuller has been featuring albums from KEXP’s vinyl collection with his Review Revue articles on the KEXP Blog for nearly a decade now and it is SO much fun to go through them. There’s one in particular that he brought my attention recently that really stood out. It’s a Seattle compilation called Deep Six that features Green River, Malfunkshun, The Melvins, Skin Yard, Soundgarden, and U-Men. It came out just before another influential compilation around that time, the more widely known Sub-Pop 100. It’s probably the most commented on record in the entire library and it’s an entertaining view into all of the opinions of DJs at the station when this new sound was really coming to life. The DJ comments are a living, breathing conversation and act as a great reminder that trolling existed a long time before YouTube.

How long has KEXP had the collection?
Since ’72. Cliff Noonan, one of the University of Washington students responsible for the start of KCMU (KEXP’s call letters of yore) is responsible for building the foundations of the collection, he wrote letters to his label contacts asking for their young, up-and-coming and unknown artists and that’s where it all began. 

Photo by Amber Zbitnoff,

Where do you hunt for vinyl?
Personally I like a little record store that’s super close to where I live called Spin Cycle. It’s small, but the new and used selection are very well curated and always have something I need. I spent a few years working at Silver Platters record stores around Seattle and still love shopping at their SODO store. I also visit Easy Street, Jive Time, Bop Street, and Everyday Music regularly as well.

How do you organize your collection?
First by genre/category and then by artist sort name. The local category supersedes all others, but local releases are also tagged with color coded stickers to note if they would otherwise be located in the electronic, hip hop, roots, or other categories. Various artist releases are housed at the end of each category and arranged by release title rather than artist sort name.