A station can only be honored with the NAB Crystal Heritage Award after receiving five Crystal Radio Awards for outstanding community service. KCVM(FM) in small-market Cedar Falls, Iowa, is the latest station so honored.
How small is Cedar Falls? If one combines it with the population of the larger nearby city of Waterloo it is still only Nielsen Audio market 237. Yet, Jim Coloff, owner and general manager of KCVM, is able to run that station and three others in his cluster, make a profit and still devote hundreds of hours each year to public service for his communities.
“Yeah, I love small markets,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s more difficult than operating in a large market, but we all do have to wear more hats.”
“We have smaller staffs, we don’t have big budgets, but we sure have a diverse workday because we all do a little of everything. I will say we have fewer employee-type headaches so in that sense it may be easier! But if we’re doing the right job, we might be the only game in town, the only local media voice and the only local access these communities have.”
Magical Mix Kids
Coloff came by radio and public service naturally; his parents Tony and Sue Coloff started a station in 1978 in Forest City, Iowa. Jim joined the company in 1991 and partnered with his parents until purchasing the Coloff Media Group in 2017.
“My parents, mostly retired at this point, used to work as volunteers for various causes when I was growing up. I was raised with the belief that you support the community that supports your business. So I immediately got involved and now I require the same of my staffs, here in Cedar Falls and in the other markets where we own stations.”
Coloff Media owns stations in other Iowa mini-markets including Britt, Charles City, Forest City, Manchester, Mason City and New Hampton. The group now includes 12 stations, all of which follow the “give back” directive from the Coloffs.
KCVM took its desire to help the community a step further 20 years ago when it began its own charity, Magical Mix Kids, a 501(c)(3) organization.
“Magical Mix Kids, named after the station’s designation as ‘93.5 the Mix,’ is similar to the national Make-A-Wish, but the difference is that our kids are not necessarily terminally ill,” said Coloff.
“Most of our kids are suffering from chronic and life-shortening conditions as well as terminal conditions. We feel the psychological and financial stress that is put on these families makes them deserving of a respite from their troubles. What better place to send them than Walt Disney World?”
“This is the biggest activity we’re involved in, and every year we send these kids and their families, about 80 or 90 people in all, on that trip. It takes the entire year to raise the nearly $100,000 it takes to accomplish that.”
Getting good personnel is a challenge in any market, and in a small town there’s always the danger that the best people will want to go elsewhere to make more money. Add to that Coloff Media’s special criteria for all employees.
“We’ve had some people who moved on to larger markets, but we scout like everyone else at the college level and we go to the recruitment fairs,” said Coloff.
“We check out the workforce development sites and work fairs, but I tell you, it’s not so much where we look but the kind of people we’re looking for that matters. We want people who need to make a difference in their community,” he continued.
“Of course they have to have talent, but we would take someone with less training and experience but who is willing to learn. And most of all they have to have already been involved their community. Some of our people have been with us 15, 20, 25 years, and it’s because they are talented enough but they decided that this community is where they want to raise their families.”
Kim Manning is manager of the Cedar Falls Tourism and Visitors Bureau and a frequent collaborator on promotions with KCVM.
“All we have to do is pick up the phone and call the station, and anyone there will be willing to help us, not just Jim,” she said.
“He has instilled this attitude across his entire staff; and if an event will benefit the community, they are always onboard. For example, we all worked together on Pedal Fest, which is a cycling event we started five years ago. It’s free and this year it’ll be every weekend in September. Jim Coloff attends just about every auction in town, and he’s active in Rotary Club and other service organizations. He’s always there for anyone who needs him.”
The KCVM calendar can be found on the station’s site www.935themix.com, and in normal nonpandemic times is full of events like blood drives, Kiwanis meetings, fundraisers and pancake breakfasts.
Radio stations must still pay the bills and meet payroll. Here is what Coloff says about radio’s viability and how it is tied to his goals for the community.
“I can’t speak for every market in the country or every radio station, but I think if radio is done right, and if the stations are involved in their communities, and make that goal part of the culture of the radio station, radio can be a huge part of its listeners’ lives.”
“Our stations provide a locally connected community delivered via live and local audio, available on every distribution channel including terrestrial radio, mobile/PC stream, enabled devices and even video. I think a radio station can be a driving force in a community’s success in a lot of ways, but you have to be committed to spending time and resources on becoming involved and doing hyper-local programming.”
Ken Deutsch is a former disc jockey and former TV director who also ran a jingle studio for 24 years. In fact, he says he’s now a former almost everything.