The NAB’s Crystal Award recognizes community service, and many stations have received it through their hard work. But only seven have been honored with the Crystal Heritage Award, given to those that received the regular Crystal five times previously.
On April 9, KFOR(AM), owned by Alpha Media, will become the eighth. The recognition ceremony will take place in Las Vegas at the 2019 NAB Show “We Are Broadcasters” Celebration.
Radio World spoke with KFOR News Director Dale Johnson to learn about the station. When we reached him, his community of Lincoln, Neb., was in the midst of a polar vortex and temperatures were hovering around minus 20 degrees. Naturally, we asked how the station was dealing with the severe weather.
“We work closely with the Nebraska Community Blood Bank all year,” Johnson said. “But we have been stepping up our efforts to encourage people to donate blood. There’s been a shortage because many folks who have appointments to donate can’t get out due to the icy weather.
“Scott Young, a former KFOR employee, has been the director at the food bank for 15 years, so we have a good working relationship. And on a regular basis, we also invite someone from the Humane Society to join us on the air, and we get a lot of information out there about how to care for pets when the temperatures get this low.”
OUTREACH GOES BOTH WAYS
In today’s world of shrinking staffs, radio managers often are asked to do “more with less.” Johnson feels this is not possible.
“Actually, what you end up doing is less with less,” he said. “Sometimes you need to ask for help to bridge that gap. When I was young, my dad always taught me that asking for help was a sign of weakness; I’ve learned it’s not.”
Johnson himself needed help about three years ago, when a motorcycle accident cost him his left leg.
“I asked for help and I got it,” he said. “Many people gave me support and encouragement during my recuperation, in fact one of the cards I received from a listener said, ‘You’re the best friend I’ve never met.’ And when we need help for a project here at KFOR, we just ask people, and they show up. Often, they bring their friends, and soon we have enough to get the job done.
“Many people in Lincoln come from smaller towns, and they have great hearts,” he continued. “They bake pies for people. They send you a card on your birthday. So we have become a station that isn’t afraid to ask for help. We do it in a soft, Midwestern way, and people respond to that. We are seldom disappointed in our listeners, and we hope that they are seldom disappointed in us.”
Annually, since 1947, KFOR has run Operation Santa Claus, during which charitable agencies in the city are asked to find out which specific toys their kids want.
“We don’t just go buy some toys and hope they like them,” said Johnson. “Our staff goes to Target or another store to buy toys the children choose, and then we bring the gifts back, and the Nebraska National Guard helps us wrap them. The Guard delivers these to the agencies, and the agencies give them to the kids. If little Joey wants a particular dump truck, that’s what he get
POINTERS FROM A PRO
Radio World asked Johnson if he could offer any tips to managers who want to make a more meaningful contribution to their communities.
“The KFOR website is vital to our operation, and we are always posting announcements and photos there. Our owner is Alpha Media, and they remind us how important it is from a legal standpoint to make sure we have permission for every image we use online,” he said.
“But there’s no training for what we do on a daily basis,” Johnson said. “We lead by example, a quiet kind of leadership. We have three employees here, including myself, who have been at KFOR more than 30 years, and we just work to instill our ideals in the minds of the rest of our staff.
“Potential employees who share our views gravitate to us. The ones that don’t have a service heart usually move on because the station is not a good match for them.”
It’s possible to touch a community even with a partial live schedule. Parts of the station day are syndicated talk (Dave Ramsey, Ben Shapiro, Chad Benson), but topics from these programs, as well as a daily community interview feature hosted by Johnson called “Lincoln Live,” provide further ideas for the station’s public service efforts.
Cluster manager Julie Gade is involved in all aspects of these activities. She was quoted in the NAB’s award announcement noting that KFOR(AM/FM) have served the region for more than 94 years. “Our commitment to the community has never wavered. We are so proud of our team’s accomplishments both on and off the air.”
Says Dale Johnson, “Doing what we do is a privilege every day. We give back because people give back to us, and they trust us,” Johnson said. “We have a big stone to push up the hill every year, and every year we get it there.”
KFOR is a Class C AM property, 1 kW by day and night, with an FM translator to expand its coverage. The station will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2024. Its website is www.kfornow.com.
Ken Deutsch is a former broadcaster but says it was so long ago that the statute of limitations on that claim has just about run out.