Alpha Media’s KFOR in Lincoln, NE, is 95 years old. To say, over the years, KFOR has served its community quite well, would be a massive understatetment. Last Week in Las Vegas, Market Manager Julie Gade and her team accepted their fifth NAB Crystal Radio Award for exceptional year-round community service. Only seven other stations have won five Crystals in the 32-year history of the awards. So how did they do it? We sat down with the KFOR team to find out. (pictured (pictured l-r Market Manager, Julie Gade, D.O.S. Joy Patten, Ops Manager Rob Kelley)
Julie Gade is Alpha’s Market Manager in Lincoln. “I’m honored with the opportunity to manage KFOR, a celebrated and coveted radio station. Coming from managing music FMs, KFOR was not only exciting for me but brought a huge sense of responsibility. Our listeners are the most loyal listeners I have ever experienced. They count on KFOR for timely national and local news, event information, and an entertaining take on topics of the day. Since coming on board four years ago, we’ve made a commitment to evolve the station to deliver a contemporary and faster-moving product for the next generation of listener while retaining our major focus on community service.”
Here’s the KFOR team we interviewed:
News Director Dale Johnson
Cathy Blythe, KFOR’s former AMD personality and a Marconi Award Winner
Joy Patten, Alpha’s Director of Sales.
Radio Ink: What makes the three of you so passionate about being in the radio industry?
Joy Patten: What made me passionate about radio is it’s the pulse of the community. I saw how the radio station helped our community by keeping it informed with our News Department and Weather Team and, of course, entertainment. I also recognized the power we have to help our local non-profits. When I went into the sales world, I learned quickly the power of radio advertising and how many clients depended on it.
Cathy Blythe: All three of us were at KFOR before the Crystal and Marconi Awards began. Our first win was back in 1991, and Scott Young and Brad Hartman went to San Francisco to accept. When they called and told us we had won, we were out of our minds jubilant and filled with so much pride. We grew up on passion that trickled down from the top, as we were all hired by the late great Roger T. Larson, who passed away in 2014. But his legacy lives on. From the first day I was hired at KFOR all the way back to 1972, that passion was apparent. Roger instilled that in all of us. We were always so proud to say we were associated with KFOR. We’ve always had great teamwork going on at the station, and for us that has always made the passion so contagious. The more we did to reach out, the more we wanted to do. It was my intent in 1972 to just take a little vacation from college, but the passion-for-radio-“bug” bit me big-time. I LOVED working there, and felt that in some way I had ended up where I was meant to be.
Dale Johnson: What other job is so different every single day? Only radio. Meet interesting people, community involvement. People who work at KFOR and stay at KFOR are “genuine” people who don’t do it for their egos…they do it as a way of giving back. People of Lincoln, NE are some of the best people in the world.
Radio Ink: What’s it like, what’s that feeling, when you know you work for a station that’s won five Crystal awards?
Joy Patten: Pride
Cathy Blythe:When I/we stop for a moment and consider that only eight stations have EVER won the Heritage Award out of the thousands of radio stations in this country, that is absolutely mind boggling.
Dale Johnson: Where did the time go! Came to KFOR in 1985…3 houses, 2 marriages and 1 wonderful son 4 wonderful step-children and 8 grand-children later, it’s 2019. In 2024, KFOR will be 100 years old. I will have been here for 39 of them.
Radio Ink: Tell us about a few of the things your station does for the community?
Joy Patten: OPERATION SANTA CLAUS is one of the biggest community projects we do. It started in 1948 by two gentlemen at KFOR who wanted to be able to give every child in the Lincoln orphanages the opportunity to ask Santa for a
specific toy instead of receiving the left-over toys. They visited the orphanages dressed as Santa Claus and interviewed approximately 200 children the first year. KFOR would then solicit funds on the air and to buy the gifts. In today’s world, we’ve kept the same concept and have served up to 3,400 children with the help of social agencies, the National Guard and our local stores.
Another community project that we initiated is STUDENT VOTE. The Student Vote program started in 1992. It gives elementary, middle school and high school students the opportunity to cast their informed votes in a mock election. This program is held every other year before the November election. This past year it was held on November 1st with 20,587 students voting. It was designed to teach children how to be educated voters and enjoy the process. Studies have shown that students who have the opportunity to be involved in voting programs like Student Vote are more likely to be active citizens and life-long voters.
Dale Johnson: Assist in blood drives, bridal forums, generating items for a women’s shelter, foster a trusting relationship with Lincoln Police, Fire and Rescue, city and county government. KFOR is all about developing trusting relationships.
Radio Ink: What do you think the station means to the community?
Cathy Blythe: I think since 1924 KFOR has been synonymous with trust and integrity. People depend on KFOR to be in the know, and be the one you turn to for local news, weather, and sports, and also national and international news happenings.
Joy Patten: Over the years, KFOR has touched so many generations. From the special projects such as Operation Santa Claus and Student Vote to informing the community of times of bad weather and breaking news. Lincoln depends on KFOR to be there as their source for information and community help.
Radio Ink: How do you plan to take it to the next level now that you’ve won five Crystal Awards?
Cathy Blythe: I don’t think we necessarily have to take it to a higher level. We just need to keep the standard we have already set and always put forth our best efforts to interact with our listeners on the air, on social media and at public events. Our mantra has always been to “super serve” our listeners and our advertisers. We have very strong management who takes our community responsibility very seriously and I know we always have the bar set very high — and happily so. I believe that stations who win five Crystal Awards — and ultimately the Heritage Award — are really the gold standard in our industry. To be part of that gold standard is a great source of pride to each and every one of us who work at KFOR, and we stand on the shoulders of all the dedicated radio folks who gave their all to make KFOR great, dating back to 1924. We salute the former employees too. KFOR has been the home to a lot of greatness for almost 100 years!
Joy Patten: I think we just keep doing the same thing. It starts by finding a need in the community and addressing it however we can. My mentor, Roger Larson, who was KFOR’s General Manager for 40+ years, left us our “Holy Grail”. It is his handwritten note that was handed down to managers after him:
Philosophies to Remember:
1. We are here to serve the community.
2. What’s good for our listeners is good for us
3. Be concerned with moving the inventory for our clients and our inventory will take care of itself.
4. Give staff an opportunity to be part of the process, planning, etc. – and they will have their heart in their work.
5. a. Focus your programming on your target audience.
b. Position your station in the community.
c. Be sure the entire staff is committed to the same goal.