Bill Virgin's Radio Beat February 14, 2008

Includes archive of Bill Virgin's columns fromJ une 2006 - March 2009

Bill Virgin's Radio Beat February 14, 2008

Postby radiofan » Wed Feb 13, 2008 11:11 pm

On Radio: Independent Bellevue station turns 35
Variety of music, local news, keeps KBCS-FM going


As a radio station manager and programmer, Steve Ramsey knows all about the distractions that "take me away from our signal." He's got an iPhone, and through his computer and an Internet connection, he can listen to a friend's station in California.

So what will motivate listeners to tune in to a small radio station such as KBCS-FM/91.3, out of all the media choices -- or distractions -- available?

Ramsey believes the answer is a combination of the latest technology and an old-fashioned radio model. "We've focused pretty intently on making KBCS the community radio station for Seattle," he says.

As it marks its 35 birthday this month, KBCS, based at Bellevue Community College, seems to be having some success with that combination. Ramsey, KBCS' general manager, says the station's weekly audience has been growing.

Although dwarfed by such noncommercial/public-radio stations in this market as KUOW-FM and KPLU-FM, KBCS-FM still manages to draw enough listeners to show up in the quarterly ratings tables (behind the two NPR stations, KEXP-FM and KNHC-FM in fall quarter, according to the Radio Research Consortium).

KBCS hopes to build on that by rolling out new technology. This year it started an audio archive featuring programs from the previous two weeks that can be streamed an hour at a time, as well as a real-time playlist.

Next up is its digital transmitter, which the station hopes to have operating by the end of this summer. That will enable KBCS to use HD technology's capabilities to provide three channels of programming -- two for KBCS itself, the third a student-run channel tied to a curriculum program to be developed with BCC.

But lots of stations boast the same technology. What will set KBCS apart, Ramsey says, is its community focus, with a rich mixture of specialty music programs (featuring everything from vintage jazz to bluegrass, zydeco and Hawaiian) and public-affairs programming (nationally syndicated as well as local).

The local content is produced by about 200 volunteers who come through the station each month. KBCS has built that army of volunteers with training courses through BCC's continuing education program to turn almost anyone into a radio producer.

"What I tell my students is, that piece of music you're in love with, listeners can access from 10 different sources," Ramsey says. What makes them and KBCS unique is their ability to weave that piece of music together with others, as well as conversation and information, "to tell a story."

BCC is the station's license holder and provides space for the station. Beyond that, KBCS is responsible for raising its $600,000-a-year operating budget.

"Frankly, I like it that way," Ramsey says. "It makes us accountable to the community."

KBCS will never compete with the big NPR stations or the commercial news stations such as KIRO, he says. What it can do, though, is focus on "putting media back in the hands of the people."

"We can remain the local community radio station," he adds. "We don't need to go outside the community to be relevant."

In other radio notes:

Speaking of the Radio Research Consortium's compilation of noncommercial radio stations, the fall-quarter numbers combined with the previously released Arbitron data for commercial stations show KUOW-FM came in fourth overall, trailing KRWM-FM, KMPS-FM and KUBE-FM, but ahead of KIRO-AM and KOMO-AM. KPLU-FM was tied for 12th in the combined table.

Who are the top radio advertisers of the moment in Seattle? Media Monitors, which tracks such data, reports that the top advertisers the week of Feb. 4 were: Shane Co., Weisfield Jewelers, Super Supplements, Geico, HD Radio Alliance, Sleep Country USA, KOMO/4, Jared Galleria of Jewelry, Paramount Equity Mortgage and Emerald Queen Casino.

Michael Pollan, author of "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto," is interviewed on "Weekday" at 9 a.m. Thursday on KUOW-FM/94.9.

The Metropolitan Opera performs Puccini's "Manon Lescaut" at 10 a.m. Saturday on KING-FM/98.1.

Jim French's "Imagination Theatre," heard at 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday on KIXI-AM/ 880, includes a new adventure of Kincaid the Strangeseeker.

P-I reporter Bill Virgin can be reached at 206-448-8319 or

Bill Virgin's Radio Beat .. Thursdays in the Seattle P-I
Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who couldn't hear the music.
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