KZFR Community Radio
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Paula Schultz
A TURN OF THE DIAL to Chico’s KZFR radio may bring a blast of ‘80s music, raucous honky tonk, smooth jazz or rootsy reggae, all depending on the time of day. Tune in on a Tuesday night at 7:30 and you will hear East L.A Cholo, soul, R&B, oldies, blues, doo-wop, Latin, folk and Gospel, all in one 2½-hour span of host Señor Felipe’s show, LA Sounds.
“It’s very different on purpose and we try to be as diverse as possible in terms of our programming,” says Rick Anderson, general manager of the 26-year-old community radio station. The station went live on July 6, 1990 after a nine-year development period.
Anderson, who also co-hosts a Grateful Dead music program on the station, has been with KZFR for eight of his 35 years in radio. “I started in radio when Led Zeppelin was putting out records,” he laughs. He cut his radio teeth in his hometown of Washington, DC and has worked in such large communities as Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“At some point, I realized that the commercial radio business plan didn’t really work for
me,” he says, noting that the KZFR model works not only for him, but the community that created it. “Essentially it doesn’t have an owner. It’s the community that owns it. Money that’s raised essentially doesn’t leave Chico.
“We’re live just about all the time,” he continues. “In terms of community, our volunteers are our neighbors. Your neighbor could be on the radio at KZFR.” About 120 volunteers help run the station, including those who serve as programmers.
“That’s part of our mission, too, to train people to be on the radio,” says Anderson. The station offers trainings throughout the year, and programmers must pass a written test before they can go on air. Those who get a time slot tend to stay, he notes, saying, “Many people here have been here for 10-plus years. We have a lot of people who are trained and waiting for shows.”
Community members submit program ideas and receive training in radio broadcasting before going on the air when a time slot opens up. This openness has brought not only diverse musical programming, but important community news sharing, such as the weekend broadcasts of news and music in Hmong.
Among the longer-term programmers is Diane Suzuki-Brobeck, who hosts “One World Music” every other Wednesday from 12:30 to 3 pm. She got started at the station about 15 years ago helping her husband, water advocate Jim Brobeck, host an interview-format show called “Dialogs.” There she learned to run the sound board and other aspects of program production. She was eventually asked to host a world music program.
In addition to playing music from places as wide ranging as Cameroon, Brazil, Madagascar and just about any place one could pin a country on a world map, she also brings in guests for brief interviews. “What I focus on is trying to connect the local community with local people who do things around the globe,” she says. She’s had Chico attorney Ron Reed in a few times to discuss his all-women well drilling project in Tanzania.
Suzuki-Brobeck is a massage therapist by trade and also coordinates a violence prevention program called Beyond Violence Alliance. She’s a hula dancer and ukulele player who says, “Community radio is so similar to my concept of Oneness. Our station has such a variety and diversity of programming.”
Of course, community ownership means community sponsorship. There are significant costs involved with maintaining a 6300-watt transmitter on Nimshew Ridge, three paid staff and an online presence that allows listeners to live-stream. There’s also an affiliation with the Pacifica Network that brings Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” program to the station.
To meet these expenses, the station hosts two on-air pledge drives a year and multiple fundraisers, including concerts at the Chico Women’s Club. Once a year, area massage therapists host Touch of Chico in Cedar Grove of Bidwell Park, providing massage to donors on a per-minute basis.
Every once in awhile, musician Jonathan Richman, now a Chico resident, just pops in with a check, surprising everyone with his brief appearance. “That’s the way he handles it,” says Anderson. “He’ll just walk in, hand us a check, and run out the door.”
Such occurrences may be brief but they’re always meaningful, and are just one example of how the community keeps KZFR on the air and its commitment to issues of local relevance. “We figured out a long time ago that we are lucky,” says Anderson. •
KZFR 90.1 FM