A Long Tradition of Community Radio
Each week, Mien families in the Redding area gather around the radio, three or four generations listening intently to the Shasta County Mien Radio Network. The network broadcasts programs about health and family, local news, and storytelling, as well as call-in shows.
This audio connection to community is a project of KCHO/KFPR, which has been broadcasting the network on the Redding frequency 88.9 FM since 2002. The station distributed 120 receivers to families in the Redding area and has a crew of people from Shasta County Public Health, Shasta County Mental Health, and Shasta College who program four hours a week in the Mien language.
Station manager Brian Terhorst, who has been with KCHO/KFPR a year, said the Shasta County Mien Radio Network is a good example of the station’s tradition of community involvement. And in the year since he took the position of manager, he has tried to reinvigorate and expand this connection. Under his guidance, the station has a new mission to strengthen its ties to the North State community through innovative programs like the Mien language broadcasts.
Terhorst comes to Chico after 15 years at the nonprofit community radio station KVMR in Nevada City. At KVMR, he said, “the community felt a real sense of ownership around the radio station.” Most of the 100 DJs at the station were members of the community, trained and cultivated by the station. He hopes to bring more of that kind of community access to the air through KCHO/KFPR while maintaining the NPR content that listeners expect.
“I come from a station that is really inclusive, and I am wired that way. It brings a lot more work with it, and it’s a harder way to run a station, but that sense of ownership that comes with letting the community into the station is what will make us successful,” he said.
Terhorst plans to institute an annual training that teaches community members to program, whether they are interested in public affairs, music, call-in, or other shows. He is also developing a regular local evening news program with an eye towards North State public radio news.
Technical upgrades are also in the station’s future. Terhorst plans to build KCHO/KFPR’s Web presence with multi-platform streaming and on-demand downloads of locally produced shows, and to become the first station in the North State to convert to digital. “The entire broadcasting industry is converting to digital—radio is doing it too, but doing it behind TV. … I believe digital receivers, rare now, will become much more common.”
With a digital broadcast, there is no static. A digital reciever shows the names of the station and songs or programs playing at the time. It also enables multiple program streams on one channel, Terhorst said. “We could have one that was news all the time, one that was classical all the time, one that was students all the time—we could put whatever we wanted on those channels.”
The station is also part of the campus community. In an effort to maximize that connection, Terhorst has stepped up efforts to get students involved in the station. “We’ll have some bumpy roads in doing that, because people are so used to having perfect NPR programming. If we are going to open the opportunity for an educational experience here, it’s going to have some rough edges sometimes.”
So far, said news director and CSU, Chico alum Lorraine Dechter, the quality of student work has been outstanding. “[Chico State students] are so literate. They are so smart—they can just write a piece, and it’s nearly perfect the first draft.” And, she adds, Terhorst is “absolutely supportive. He is thrilled to see a student in here on my laptop editing.”
The listeners also seem excited to hear diverse voices on the air. “We always get a lot more calls when we have young people on I-5 LIVE! [a weekly call-in show],” said Dechter. “The community is very supportive. They ask the students questions, engage them in conversation. It is really nice.”
New student opportunities include an internship through the College of Agriculture in which students produce a new weekly series called The Ag Minute. Sarah DeForest, development director, who recruits students for the project, said that the goal is “to get students active in promoting the role of agriculture in the economy, environment, and social fabric of the North State. The students have been working with KCHO staff to learn what is required to produce a one-minute radio segment, coming up with a story idea, researching, interviewing, fine-tuning, writing and editing a script, then recording it in the studio.”
Community service nursing students are also getting involved with the station, creating content for the ongoing series Health Desk, a weekly program underwritten by the Northern Sierra Rural Health Network through funding from the California Endowment. Four students take issues they work on as part of the service-learning component of their program, such as methamphetamine use, diabetes, and teenage pregnancy, and reinterpret them into four-minute radio pieces. “They are awesome, really highly motivated,” said Terhorst. Health Desk airs Tuesdays at 7:35 am and 6:44 pm. The nursing students will discuss their experiences in the field on I-5 LIVE! Dec. 3 at 8 pm.
“With the changing platforms of media,” said Dechter, “this is going to be a really hot place for students to come for a media internship.” She said that the students bring fresh ideas and new areas of expertise to the station. “We need all kinds of students— recording arts students, students with content skills, and students with technological skills.”
With this renewed commitment to community and campus, Terhorst said, the KCHO/KFPR may sound a little different in the coming year—maybe, occasionally, a little less polished, but definitely more rooted in the North State.
“I would love for there to be a regular expression on the air of what is going on at the University—research projects, sustainability efforts, what students are up to,” he said.
“The cool and cutting-edge happens at universities, and we’ve got one right across the street. And I think that the radio station should not only be proud of our association with the University, we should make a big deal of it.”
If you or your students would like to learn about the opportunities at KCHO/KFPR, call Lorraine Dechter, x3945.
—Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications