KALW Radio Station gets a Fresh Look for the Digital Age!

KALW Radio Station gets a Fresh Look for the Digital Age!

In a world of iPhones, Spotify and iTunes, a radio station sounds like a thing of the past. Not KALW, the local public radio station. The heart of the city, a radio station with a legacy, they needed a rebrand to propel them into the next 80 years.
Requirements – Re-brand and Brand positioning

The Brief 

Today when we carry within our pockets an endless number of playlists, podcasts and live streams, the idea of a “radio station” feels something straight from the archives. But local public radio stations? Everyone makes an exception for them.

They capture what can’t be recreated by a line of code - the pulse of the community we live in. For the past 80 years, KALW has been that radio station for the Bay Area—producing local talk, news and music shows that are socially-minded, solutions-oriented and community-focused.

KALW was looking to transform their brand in order to achieve much greater recognition and communicate what is most unique about them. They needed a new way to showcase KALW’s values and strengths - and promote unified messaging across all of their growing programs and podcasts.

In came COLLINS to create a new identity in sync with the legacy of 80 years of KALW and propel them into their next 80 years.

The Problem

KALW first went on air in 1941, a world war and technological revolution later, today their audience’s listening habits have taken a 180º. 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 was prudent to create more than just a new logo for the station—they 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 Strategy

The one thing KALW has 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.

The station has always been particularly forward-thinking — they were the first FM station west of the Mississippi, one of the first to train women in broadcasting in the country during World War II, and one of the first to bring NPR and BBC World News to the west coast.

This progressive bend sets them apart, and what inspired Collins.

COLLINS believe a bold voice travels far - so they set out to create an identity that could be as powerful as KALW’s voice itself, expressing the vibrant future they want to build with their community. A distinct logo would allow their brand identity to be the hero–simultaneously establishing an unignorable visual presence and helping amplify their marketing budget.

When KALW said, “Please make our logo bigger,” COLLINS replied, “No, thank you. We’ll make it HUGE.”

The Approach

COLLINS set out to create a brand that could be both timeless and unforgettable. Working with a station that has such a rich and long history, they delved deep into the archives of how KALW was branded all the way back to the 1940s.

There was one logo that KALW had used in the late 1970s - it was strange, made from stencil lettering, with weird shapes and dimensions that were entirely inconsistent with each other, but that’s what made it stand out. In its rigidity of form, they instantly recognized the logo was also incongruous with the fluid, flamboyant, hippie style of art and design in San Francisco in the 1970s. In that weirdness, though, they found surprising character, memorability, and tons of energy. That’s when they knew the legacy they were building on would be the one to inspire its future.

The brand had to be as impactful as possible. By using multiple bright, vibrant colors in combination with big, dumb stencil lettering, KALW were able to use only colour and shape to (hopefully) grab the attention of audiences.

The Design

Relying on type, colour and the abstract letterforms of the logo called to mind the arresting simplicity of jazz and classical concert posters from the 1950s and 1960s. Those intense, animated colour pairings delivered life and energy in short, bright bursts. Wanting to do something similar for the KALW brand, they employed intense colour pairings that vibrate and feel unfamiliar.

Their main visual imagery comes through a stencil. 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.

As a workaround for KALW’s limited budget, COLLINS used the forms of the logo itself to create a separate stencil alphabet that they could use to spell out the names of the radio shows and headlines. Whilst the alphabet is consistent with the logo, when used to spell out other words, the ease of legibility decreases.

However, *drumroll* - Its intentional. In a world where brands have become oversimplified, immediately understandable, and almost forgettable, they created something that forces you to pause for a moment to really understand what you are looking at. A second, third look and by then you are awed.

But, by always pairing the stencil lettering with a highly legible sans-serif copy set in Dinamo’s ABC Favorit, the sans-serif copy removes any difficulty in understanding what the graphic stencil lettering says.

 It’s a belt and suspenders strategy.

The next 80 years of KALW

Due to the reductive simplicity of the brand elements, there is huge potential for the identity system to grow and adapt with the station itself. There are endless ways to use the forms of the logo in the stencil alphabet in headings, the framing of the photography, and the fluid, energetic line language that they developed as part of the stencil alphabet. These key, weird brand elements is how KALW can grow with this identity into its future.

Creative Gaga