Collins Brings Kalw Public Radio Into the Future

Collins Brings Kalw Public Radio Into the Future

Nov. 02, 2022

With the endless number of playlists, podcasts and live streams we carry around in our pockets, the idea of listening to a "radio station" feels antiquated. But many of us make an exception for our local public radio station, because they capture what can’t be recreated by a line of code the pulse of the community we live in. Instead of artifacts of the past, our public radio stations are usually the first to understand and express what it means to live in our city at any moment.

For the past 80 years, KALW has been that radio station for the Bay Area as well as a pioneer for many public radio stations around the country. They were the first FM station west of the Mississippi; the first FM broadcast training program in the country; one of the first to train women in radio broadcasting during World War II; and one of the first to bring NPR and BBC World News to the west coast. Fiercely dedicated to all nine Bay Area counties it serves, KALW is still at the forefront of what a public radio station can be producing local talk, news and music shows that are socially-minded, solutions-oriented and community-focused.

The Challenge:

KALW came to COLLINS for a new identity to celebrate their 80th anniversary and propel them into their next 80 years. However, their audience's listening habits had changed 180º since they went on the air in 1941. Now, everyone especially people as tech-savvy as those in the Bay Area can listen to anyone and anything from anywhere in the world.

It became clear that team needed to create more than just a new logo for the station had to find a visual language and voice that gave a local, terrestrial, public radio station with a small budget a way to stand out and remind their community why they matter.

The Solution:

COLLINS is no strangers to KALW they've had a studio in San Francisco for a number of years. They know first-hand the one thing they have that AI-driven algorithms and global podcast celebrities don’t is a history, knowledge, and personality that distinctly reflects the Bay Area. They’ve always captured the diversity and forward-looking ethos of the region by keeping their ears to the streets they serve.

A bold voice travels far, so agency wanted a symbol that is as powerful as KALW’s and expresses the vibrant future they want to build with their community. The star created between the "k" and "a" represents the epiphany of a new idea as well as the intersection of people where those ideas happen.

They also wanted a logo that could act as the main source of imagery in KALW's communications. This would allow their brand identity to be the hero, and help them stretch their marketing budget which is a big deal for a local public radio station.

Relying on the type, color, and the abstract letterforms of the logo called to mind the arresting simplicity of jazz and classical concert posters from the 1950s and 1960s. Thinking of these applications and our use-cases led us to a bright color palette to draw people's attention, a clean display typeface to counterbalance the logo, and a tone of voice that conveys a sense of KALW's progressive attitude.

Working closely with KALW's team, we were able to craft an identity and system that could grow with them as they continue to reimagine and redefine what being a local radio station means.

Some thoughts from COLLINS Designer Barney Stepney:

"COLLINS has had an office in San Francisco for a number of years now. It's a city we love and owe an incredible amount to, so we aim to work to support our community as much as we can. In 2016, we began our work with the remarkable people at the Exploratorium. In 2019, we started our work with the great San Francisco Symphony. In a large part, San Francisco's vibrancy and perpetual sense of possibility is due to its many music and cultural scenes. KALW is a critical voice for those spaces. They also happen to be one of the most pioneering radio stations in the US. So, it was a unique opportunity. At COLLINS, we’ve worked with Spotify, Warner Music, SF Symphony and Bose, too. The internal well of language and experience in crafting design solutions for musical or music-adjacent organizations is deep at COLLINS. With KALW, we had a special chance to further that experience by working with a station that was such a Bay Area fixture."


He continued: 

“In our research we came across a logo that KALW used in the late 70s. It was strange, made from stencil lettering, with weird shapes and dimensions that were entirely inconsistent with each other. In its rigidity of form, we instantly recognized the logo was also inconsistent with the fluid, flamboyant, hippie style of art and design in San Francisco in the 1970s. In that weirdness, though, we found surprising character, memorability and tons of energy. We loved the idea of using a stencil for the new identity. There's a blunt, utilitarian aspect to a stencil that anyone can understand. It is also representative of building blocks coming together to form a whole - and a community - which is exactly what KALW has successfully done over the last 80 years. A bold voice travels far. We wanted to create a logo that would be as unique and powerful as KALW’s voice itself and expresses the vibrant future they continue to build with the Bay Area community. We wanted the logo to act as the main source of imagery in KALW’s communications. This puts the brand identity front and center. The rest of the brand system, including the colors, was inspired by both the simplicity of jazz and classical concert posters from the 1950s and 60s, and a Disney film like Fantasia 2000’s George Gershwin’s musical composition “Rhapsody in Blue”. Those intense color pairings were memorable and delivered life and energy in short, bright bursts. We wanted to do something similar for the KALW brand, so we employed color pairings that vibrate and feel unfamiliar."

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