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KVNO Radio: A Local Classic

While the commercial radio menu leans to blow-hard hosts and pop heavy rotations, public radio's soothing sounds and erudite musings cut through the clutter. KVNO Classical 90.7 FM further stands out from the crowd for its all-classical play lists and locally-produced newscasts.  

Music, public affairs, news mix by KVNO for Omaha

The UNO-based independent radio station celebrates 40 years on-air in 2012, an impressive feat considering its niche appeal as a commercial-free operation dependent on donor support for survival. The professionally-staffed station maintains a reputation for high quality broadcasts. The news division serves as a real-world training ground for UNO students interested in pursuing a career in broadcast journalism.

KVNO long ago opted to be the master of its own content.

"KVNO's programming is indeed unique among independent classical stations across the country," says KVNO Assistant General Manager Dana Buckingham. "KVNO has developed our own unique blend of classical music programming that works well for us and the market we serve”.

"Many traditional classical music stations stick to a rigid programming formula that rarely deviates from the standard playbook of the 'tried and true' classics. This limited classical programming format almost never crosses over into more contemporary classical, choral or film music. At KVNO we cross that line almost every hour and our listeners love it."

Michael Hilt, who as UNO Associate Dean for the College of Communication, Fine Arts and Media oversees KVNO, sees value in personally crafting the program day.

“I think more and more you're seeing stations going to syndicated services that provide the music for their stations. They may program part of their broadcast day but not all of it. We have a full time Music Director that works with the Assistant General Manager to program the local music on KVNO 24/7.”

Audience feedback is considered in programming decisions, officials note.

Buckingham says a renewed commitment to “hard” news reporting has netted award-winning results. "I am very proud of the progress and recognition that our talented news team has made in a relatively short period of time. News director Robyn Wisch is a true professional as well as a terrific resource and mentor for our students."

He says where KVNO once "sought to distance itself" from the rest of the university, "no more,” adding, “We are the broadcasting voice of the University of Nebraska Omaha and proud of it." Hilt says the station maintains autonomy though. “The university lets us do what we do. Sometimes there are things we do they love and then there are other times when they say,' Gee, we wish you hadn't done that.' Is there any censorship or editorial control? No."

"We are obviously not getting the message out that ... listener contributions ... are our most important source of funding.”


A new partnership, strengthening local arts ties, staying relevant

In January KVNO embarked on a programming partnership with NET Radio that enables each to serve a larger statewide audience and to introduce listeners to new voices. Expanding KVNO's reach, says Hilt, "is very important to us." Buckingham terms it "a win-win."

Public radio and the arts make a natural fit, thus KVNO, which once branded itself "fine arts public radio" and served as "the voice of the Summer Arts Festival," is a dedicated arts advocate and programming outlet.

"Our affiliation with the local arts scene is very strong and we are always seeking ways to make these relationships even stronger," says Buckingham. “We’re exploring the possibility of producing an expanded weekly broadcast series of the Omaha Symphony." He sees possibilities for the series beyond Omaha. "It is my hope we may eventually offer this expanded series for nationwide distribution.”

KVNO also broadcasts the UNO Music Department series “Sounds from Strauss” and Omaha Symphonic Chorus Christmas concerts and the Tuesday Musical Concert performances. The station recognizes youth musicians in the Omaha metro through its popular Classical Kids program.

To remain relevant in this constantly evolving  and expanding media of cable, satellite radio and the Internet, Buckingham says, "we cannot afford to be just another classical music service provider, we must be connected to our community and involved in promoting and providing a forum, a larger stage, for the talented musicians and artists in our community."

Popular on-air hosts help the station build listener loyalty, an essential facet in such an intimate medium.

"I have been an on-air classical music host on KVNO for over a decade," he says. "In fact, most of our on-air classical announcers have been here a long-time. Over that time, we have established a personal connection with our listeners that have helped us through the good times and the not so good times. Many regular listeners have established a 'relationship' with our local hosts. We are that familiar and friendly voice in the morning, afternoon, evening or late at night."

Doing more with less and reinventing itself

University budget cuts and pinched donor dollars have forced a frugal station to further stretch already thin resources.

"Believe me, we know how to do more with less," he says. "We do it every day. We furnished our newsroom entirely with computers handed down from other departments on campus and office equipment from university surplus."

That austerity harkens back to the station's modest roots. When KVNO first went on the air in 1972 general manager Fritz Leigh was the lone full-time employee. At the start KVNO stayed on-air only a few hours a day, gradually expanding the schedule until reaching a 24-hour broadcast day in 1985. For its first 15 years the station called the Storz mansion home before moving to the Engineering Building in 1987.

When Omaha DJ Otis Twelve became the morning drive host in 2006 it was not the first time a media personality joined KVNO. Local TV-radio personalities Frank Bramhall and Dale Munson did so in the 1970s and 1990s, respectively.

It may surprise listeners KVNO once played an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, rock, big band and folk before going all classical in the '90s. A show it once produced and distributed, Tom May’s “River City Folk,” went national. KVNO is no longer associated with the show. Ironically, the show now airs on KVNO's local public radio competitor, KIOS.

“KVNO's programming is indeedunique among independent classical stations across the country.”


With a little help from its friends

One thing that's never changed is the importance of financial support. Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding only covers so much. The rest must come from donors, memberships and sponsors. The station has many loyal supporters and some very generous funders, but Buckingham says, "less than 10 percent of those who listen to KVNO on a regular basis actually take the initiative to contribute financially. We are obviously not getting the message out that we depend on listener contributions to survive. Those individual contributions are our most important source of funding." Volunteering to help out during the stations pledge drives is another way for listeners to help.

He's actively seeking prospective business sponsors with this pitch. "Underwriting on KVNO is a cost effective way to promote your business and raise your organization’s profile and image. We reach a very desirable demographic-audience." It’s a more diverse audience than one might expect. “Our listeners are not just scholars, musicians, business leaders, writers, students and intellectuals. Our devoted listeners also include a lot of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.”

Bottom line, he says KVNO adds an important dimension to the city's cultural fabric. It follows then that becoming a sponsor or member helps KVNO improve the quality of life, in turn making Omaha a more attractive place to live. The 2012 membership drive will take place this fall at an exact date still to be determined. To join or give, call 402-554-5866 or visit www.kvno.org.




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