Most radio professionals have fond memories of their first radio jobs. Many a seasoned professional started his or her career as a teenage part-timer at a small-town AM or FM station, developed a love for the business there and turned it into a lifetime career track.
But how many professionals later had the opportunity to become the owner of their first station?
One person doing exactly that is Delilah Rene, the well-known syndicated radio personality. Delilah got her start in the mid-1970s in the small coastal town of Reedsport, Ore., where she won a high school speech contest at age 13. The judges, Jerome and Steve Kenagy, owned local station KDUN and were impressed enough to offer her employment.
After three years of radio experience at KDUN, she moved on a number of stations in Eugene and Seattle before landing at KLSY in Seattle. It was there that she created the nighttime “Delilah” show, taking listener phone calls and playing requests.
It quickly gained local popularity and then went into syndication in 1994 with four stations. Today the “Delilah” show is distributed to 170 stations and the Armed Forces Network through the Premiere Radio Network. Delilah Rene was named to the NAB Radio Hall of Fame and NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2016 and 2017.
Now, at age 61 and after experiencing career successes that few broadcasters achieve, Delilah chose to return to her roots when she had the opportunity to purchase KDUN.
The AM station, licensed for 50 kW days and 630 watts nights on 1030 kHz, was silent at the time. The physical plant consisted physically of just an overgrown tower site and a working Nautel transmitter.
She built new studios in the former Jewett Elementary School building — the exact space that was her homeroom as a child — and put KDUN back on the air on Labor Day morning in 2021.
It’s now operating as a traditional community-oriented station, with a live morning show, daily fishing and crabbing reports, a “Tradio” program and liberal promotion of local events. KDUN is using a PlayOUT One system for both live-assist and automated programs. She is planning to cover local sports in the near future.
“I wanted to give back to the community where I grew up,” she said. “It sounds corny and foolish, and everybody in the world tried to talk me out of it. But I owe such a huge debt to the Kenagy’s and to Reedsport, and especially to KDUN, that I felt compelled to give back.
“I really want it to be a full-service small town local radio station, and that’s what we’re trying to build. Of course, I want it to pay for itself, I don’t want it to be a charity. But that certainly wasn’t my motivation.”
Reedsport, population 4,100, has no local newspaper. In addition to KDUN, it is served by an FM station and a non-commercial repeater from Eugene.
Asked if an AM station can be competitive today, she responded, “We’re up against some big challenges obviously. Technology has kind of left AM in the dust. But Reedsport is like Brigadoon, it’s like going back in time in a lot of ways. While I don’t believe it would work in a major market, I do think it will work very well here.”
Delilah believes local content will be the key to KDUN’s success.
“People are hungry for content, and Reedsport needs a voice. That’s what we’re endeavoring to do — to be that voice they’re missing. For school sports, for local news, for fishing information,” she said.
“The town is perched on the banks of the three rivers, and everybody who lives there loves fishing, loves crabbing, loves clamming. And KDUN used to provide all that information. We’re going to do it again.”
Perhaps a 50,000-watt AM signal is a bit much for small-town radio?
“When I was there, we were ‘5,000 watts of crystal-clear AM power — KDUN, the voice of the Oregon Dunes.’ I still dream that ID every few weeks. Now we’re 50,000 watts, how crazy is that?
“So, I’m hoping to step it down. We really don’t need 50 kW, and I don’t need the electricity bill. Right now, we reach almost border-to-border from Washington to California. But really, the station exists for and about Reedsport, so we’ll adjust that if we can in the future.”
Content is the key
Delilah believes changes in technology are a challenge for the radio business, but that the secret to survival is great program content.
“Technology is changing so quickly. Who’d have thought that TikTok and Instagram would take over where Facebook once was a year or two ago?
“But it doesn’t really matter what the platform is, or how you’re delivering the content. So long as people are hungry for great content, I don’t need to worry about being employed. My job is not to be the best radio personality. My job is to share my heart, my gifts and my talents with as many people as I can, whether that’s on my podcast, Facebook, or whatever forum.
“We want to do that on AM, but we’re also going to do it on kdunradio.com, and hopefully people will find us there.”
While she is obviously pouring her heart and soul into KDUN, she has no plans to quit her day job. She still produces her syndicated show at her home studio near Port Orchard in Washington state.
“I have an amazing support staff. My regular show has the best producers in the world. I take the calls, I do the breaks, and they figure out all the different incarnations of that. We produce several different incarnations of the show every night, 7 nights a week.”
But her new endeavor is occupying much of her attention.
“I am pretty much managing every aspect. I hope to get it up and running and the programs integrated enough that I can step back and let the people there run the show. But I’m sure I’ll be checking in on a daily basis.”
Local business is excited to have her. “In the short weeks since KDUN AM 1030 made its return, the positive impact on our community has been remarkable,” wrote Jennifer Rockwell of the Reedsport/Winchester Bay Chamber of Commerce in The News-Review newspaper. “The care, involvement and dedication that has already been shown to the area speaks volumes about the intentions of KDUN.”
Read more of John Schneider’s feature and history articles.