Opportunities for citizen journalists returning to KRCL Radio-90.9 FM in 2015.
—by Katherine Pioli
Back when alternative music stations – the kind that dared to play punk rock and new wave – were hard to find on Utah airwaves, Lara Jones, fresh out of high school, applied for a job at KCGL in Bountiful. “Those were the pre-digital days of reel tape,” explains Lara, who hand-cut an audition tape and found herself in the DJ seat spinning alt-tunes a few weeks later.
In 1989, she took a job with a Salt Lake City business newspaper, covering city council meetings and business and development issues, and learning the inner workings of the community. She stayed in the music world, too, singing in bands like Atomic Deluxe at some of the Utah’s most iconic venues including the Zephyr Club and Burt’s Tiki Lounge.
But over the years, Jones, who has worked at various times for KRP in Roy, KJQ (the predecessor to X96) in Ogden, and for KCPW, always felt drawn to radio.
“It’s is a force multiplier to any conversation,” says Jones. “Radio draws a critical mass of listeners that makes it a very powerful medium.” And it is in the hands of public stations that Jones sees radio doing the most good.
Last month Jones left her 10-year career as public relations director for the Salt Lake Police Department and joined the staff of KRCL Radio as the managing producer of “non-music content.” She will oversee, among other things, growing the station’s prize talk program “RadioActive” and developing what the station currently describes as a new citizen journalism program—buzzwords for the listener-engaged format that made KRCL unique in the first place (see sidebar).
For Vicki Mann, KRCL’s general manager, bringing Jones to the station is one step towards recommitting to the station’s mission of effecting positive social change – a founding principle of the station that began in 1979 as the outlet for Utah’s politically progressive subculture.
For the time being, the changes planned for KRCL in 2015 following Jones’ hiring will bring only minor changes to programming and a revamped website designed to supplement conversation and music content played on air. Mann says “Democracy Now” will continue to be the only non-local programming broadcast on the station.
“RadioActive,” the station’s hour-long locally produced political talk program, will soon relaunch as a daytime program, carving an hour from regular music programming to give the show a more prominent spot on air.
“I want KRCL to use the power of its signal strength and its legacy and connection to community to really get people talking and listening to each other,” says Jones of her plans for “RadioActive.” “Too often, we pull on information that reinforces our beliefs instead of challenging them. I want to use “RadioActive” to reinforce KRCL as a safe place where we create community conversations and give all people a voice while providing good critical analysis of issues—because in the real world we can’t vote those we disagree with off our island.”
Beyond reinvigorating “RadioActive,” Mann and Jones’ emerging vision for KRCL also includes what Jones calls a citizen journalism program—buzzwords for the listener-engaged format that made KRCL unique in the first place. Though specifics are still being ironed out, the new program will likely act much like the current volunteer DJ program but with new volunteers creating non-music content.
Jones has no intention of building the program into a time-sensitive news feed or a radio alternative to opinion blogging. Instead, she envisions a variety of creative, hyper-local two- to three-minute audio vignettes that can be played throughout the day by volunteers and daytime DJs, similar to the station’s format in earlier decades.
Jones hopes to draw on student volunteers from local colleges and universities as well as from the wider community. To be successful, the project will take a steadfast and serious commitment from the station and volunteers. A single vignette, Mann points out, could take upwards of eight hours to produce. “Frankly,” she says, “there are a lot of great opportunities around this sort of programming and a lot of grant options for us. As a station, we have to think of where the dollars are coming from.”
Jones, who hopes to get ideas and feedback from listeners, is excited by the possibilities. “I want to create a series of profiles on Utah non-profits,” she says. “Maybe a song writer’s corner, arts and culture reporting. We could have local poet readings and address environmental issues.”
More changes at the station may be difficult to embrace at first, concedes Jones. But instead of shrinking the station, the new content will add voices and increase chances for involvement. The changes, she says, won’t be altering KRCL as much as reaffirming the station’s commitment to true community radio.
Lara Jones wants to hear from those interested in becoming non-music content volunteers: LaraJ@KRCL.org.
KRCL Radio hit the airwaves on December 3, 1979. Its early years were characterized by all kinds of volunteer-produced public affairs programs, from three-minute “updates” on issues of the day to full-length live programs. The Museum of Natural History hosted a series on the natural history of Utah. Tom Johnson wrote Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s “Canyon Country Update.” Deb Levine hosted the “Nuclear Waste Update”; Stan Holmes did the “MX Update”; Jeffrey Montague produced a program for the Utah Humanities Council. “Concerning Gays and Lesbians,” “Senior Sound-Off” and “Handi-capables” had their own time slots. There was a daily reading program, in which someone would read a short story, serialize a novel or share a magazine article. We remember Babs deLay reading CATALYST on the air.
By the early 2000s, all the one-issue public affairs shows morphed into “RadioActive,” with executive producer Troy Williams. This past fall, Williams left the station to head up Equality Utah.
— Greta Belanger deJong, with thanks to Barb Guy (“KRCL: Salt Lake’s Radio Gem,” December 2004, CATALYST), Maggie Laun and Tom Johnson.