I recently visited the Campus of Northwest Missouri State University, where I had the opportunity to tour their impressive radio facilities. Northwest radio stations KXCV and KRNW cater to both a campus based audience – as well as the wider public. Programming includes leading NPR content, such as the famed “All Things Considered” – which is described as; “the most listened-to, afternoon drive-time, news radio program in the country”.

PattyI visited the studios, met some of the students (a great team) and I spoke to Patty Holley, the Operations Manager. In the following brief interview, Patty discusses KXCV and KRNW’s approach to broadcasting and gives her thoughts on the current state of US radio…

Firstly, can you please explain how the stations operate?

“We actually have two radio stations, but they broadcast the same signal. We started in the 70s when we built the transmitter in the tower and at that time we were a public radio station. We remain a public radio station. It is 100,000 watts, so it’s pretty big and then out second station KRNW is another 38,000 watts, so we cover a pretty large area. What we do is we hire students for announcers. The only announcers that we have are students. We don’t have professional announcers. Now, if a student happens to get sick or doesn’t show for some reason then a professional will hop on the board and cover that shift, but for the most part our students are pretty good about showing up for their shifts.

Miss Radio1So,  let me get this straight; you’re completely separate from the university?

No, we get a lot of our funding form the university. We’re on the campus, so our offices and our studios are paid for by the university. Electricity, even staff, is paid for by the university. Having said that though, we do have a grant and my salary is totally covered by that grant.

So, we do get some funding from the cooperation for public broadcasting, which is a branch of the federal government.

We have underwriting that we sell and we have membership drives, so we raise money that way to help pay for the programmes, but the university has supported us tremendously since day one.

 Tell me about your approach to scheduling…

We really have a crazy schedule. We have a lot of news with programmes like Morning Edition, All Things Considered and our local newscast. Then in the mornings, we run Americana music for three hours and that gives our students the opportunity to host a radio broadcast on a professional station that’s sent out to a wide area. After that, we go into talk programming with programmes like, Here and Now from NPR, Fresh Air – and then we go into classical music in the evenings. On Fridays and Saturdays we’ll have a little bit of jazz music to. So, we have a little bit of everything.

That’s great, and how’s the feedback? Do people write in, phone in, email in? You must have a good rapport with your target audience?

What’s nice about public radio is… well, it’s nice and it’s not nice. We ask our listeners to pay for the programmes, so we go on the air and we have fundraisers and all we say is “if you enjoy the programming – send us money” and they do. But, it’s a great opportunity for us to talk to them and find out what they like, what they don’t like, what they would like to see differently – and we have a lot of listeners who let us now. Four maybe five years ago we switched over from Big Band music in the mornings to Americana music and we heard from our listeners. Many were not happy, but then others were thrilled that we had made the change. We had played big bands for over 25 years and some people were ready for a change, others were not. I think people have adjusted to the change and for the most part we’re hearing positive feedback as a result of that. So, yes, people are not shy about emailing us to tell us what they feel or calling us or just stopping us in the grocery store and letting us know. That’s when we really hear about how our students are doing to, so if they do very well – it’s fun to talk to them. If they’ve messed up a pronunciation – it’s not so fun to talk to them! But you know it’s still feedback – and at least they’re listening and we appreciate that.

Thanks for your time Patty. Can I just ask if you have any final thoughts on current state of radio in the US.

You know, we keep hearing that radio’s dying because of the internet and smart phones – and so many ways that people are connected. But yesterday I had a meeting with my student staff and we talked about sever weather and I reminded our students that their coverage of sever weather can save lives. We’ve had tornados go through not far from here Joplin, Missouri is in Southern Missouri and it wiped out a huge part of the tow. Had it not been for broadcast media – there possibly could have been more deaths than what had occurred. So, I think broadcasting is still very strong.

Travelling in cars… if there’s weather in the area that you want to find out, what am I going to do? So, people are always tuning in to radio. I think the challenge for radio is to keep it interesting and to keep people tuning in and I think programmes like A Prairie Home Companion, programmes like Morning Edition they really ‘tweak’ people’s interest. I think that’s what’s going to keep radio strong, that and the local ties with the community. We have to make sure that we’re tied in locally with the community.

It seems to me that you have a lot of listeners who really love the station.

Yes, they do love the station and they’re vested in in it. Those people who love the station send us money. So you know, they care. A tremendous compliment is to say “we like your programming”. A better compliment is “we’re paying for your programming”. So that’s the highest praise we could get.”

 

With thanks to Patty Holley, Operations Manager, KXCV and KRNW

Northwest Missouri State University

 

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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