At KBHP, Service Is a Heritage

A Minnesota broadcaster received an unusual honor. What makes the station tick?
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KB101 announcers are shown at a station client party. Front: Heidi Boyd, middays; Pam Michaud, weekends. Rear: Mardy Karger, morning show announcer/news director; Tom Szymanski, meteorologist; Dave Brooks, afternoons; Moose Richards, evenings; and Todd Haugen, mornings.
On April 12, KBHP(FM) of Bemidji, Minn., will receive the NAB’s Crystal Heritage Award, only the second time the honor has been given.

“KB101” will receive it in recognition of having won the Crystal Radio Award five times prior, dating back to 1994. Crystals are given to stations to salute their community service. The first recipient was WUSL(FM) of Philadelphia in 2008.

Country KBHP is one of 16 Minnesota stations owned by Omni Broadcasting Co., which operates sports outlet KBUN(AM), AC station KKZY(FM), classic rocker KLLZ(FM) and oldies WQXJ(FM) in Bemidji, which has a population of about 14,000. It also has stations in Alexandria, Brainerd/Baxter and Wadena, which range in population from 4,200 to 19,000.

“As small-market broadcasters, we are well aware of the incredible importance of community service to our listeners,” says Vice President/Chief Financial Officer Mary Campbell, who co-owns the company with President/CEO Lou Buron. “It also matters to us that we make a positive contribution to the communities we serve.”

Small company, big service

Omni was founded in 1988 by Campbell and Buron, who’d worked in major-market radio (Minneapolis/St. Paul) with Doubleday Broadcasting and Parker Communications. They wanted to maintain control and ownership and “do it for themselves.”

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Staffers celebrate the amount raised in an annual Radiothon to End Child Abuse. Shown: Todd Haugen, “Morning Show” announcer; Harry Hastings, sales; Mark Anderson, engineer (behind Hastings); Lou Buron, president/CEO; Mary Campbell, VP/CFO (holding amount); Jack Hicks, announcer; Kristie Jacobson, administrative assistant; Melissa Carlson, announcer; Mardy Karger, “Morning Show” announcer/news director; Kevin Jackson, sports director. At the desk is Peggy Hanson, general sales manager. “We started by purchasing KBHP(FM) and KBUN(AM) in 1989,” says Campbell. “Many of the staff who were there when we walked in the door are still with us. We are big believers in continuity, in having long-term employees who are loyal to us and us to them, and in paying more attention to the community than to ratings.”

The numbers back up Omni’s service claims. In 2009, KBHP raised $760,000 for community organizations and collected 16,560 pounds of food and 2,000 winter clothing items for needy families. The station donated approximately 4,450 minutes of air time for PSAs, time valued at $125,000. Meanwhile, the KBHP staff contributed 1,700 hours in volunteer service.

KBHP also took part in Omni’s annual 24-hour Radiothon to End Child Abuse.

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KBHP(FM) is the second station to receive this. WUSL(FM) was the first. “We had been involved in this cause when we were in the Twin Cities, where Lou was chairman of the Minnesota Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse,” Campbell said. “When we moved to Bemidji, the committee asked us to start a radiothon here, which we were happy to do.”

“It is amazing how much this means to our listeners,” she adds. “After each radiothon, it is common for people to come up to me on the street and say nice things about our efforts.”

Over 22 years, Omni’s stations have raised $824,000 to help end child abuse and neglect. The company twice has received the NAB Education Foundation’s Service to America Partnership Award.

Mary Campbell and Lou Buron have fostered an environment that rewards employee loyalty and longevity. In return, their staff has matured like fine wine. Long-time “KB101 Morning Show” co-hosts Todd Haugen and Mardy Karger were nominated for the 2010 NAB Marconi Awards as small-market personalities. Sister station KBUN(AM) was one of five national nominees for Sports Station of the Year.

“We understand that you have to grow with the times, which is why we have added stations, established websites and are now looking into streaming media,” says Mary Campbell. “But we value our staff: They are like family.”

Mardy Karger has been with KBHP since 1972. Announcer Mark Anderson (heard on all four Bemidji FM stations) is a 17-year veteran. Sports Director Kev Jackson and Saturday afternoon jock Sam Sargent have been with KHBP for 24 years. Swing jock “Bubbles” has them both beat, with a quarter-century there.

Omni Broadcasting intends to stay the course it has sailed for 32 years. “We will stay focused on the communities we serve, the people who work with us and doing the best we can for both groups and our company,” says Campbell.

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