At any given moment, 12,000 watts of eclectic alternative music pulse throughout Montana State University’s campus, in search of listeners with an open mind and appetite for fresh sounds. The source is KGLT, a commercial-free, open-genre radio station whose staff includes over one-hundred volunteer student DJs and broadcasts from the third floor of MSU’s Strand Union Building. Listeners are drawn in for a different type of music experience; KGLT does not attract with colorful advertisements or automated Top 40 shows but rather a diverse presentation of tunes and styles, arranged by their array of distinctive and unique DJs. At the heart of the organization is a strong connection to the Bozeman community and the promotion of individual style through a non-restrictive attitude toward music.
KGLT was student-founded in 1968 and has provided non-commercial radio for the community since. Its library is home to approximately 62,000 CDs and 1,000 records, and the station was recently awarded a grant to digitize all the music. Since the station plays a wide variety of styles, KGLT often receives music directly from artists and recording companies that other stations do not. “There’s new music coming in every day here,” Craighead explained, “cutting-edge stuff.” He added that individuals and organizations “seek out stations like this, because they have a higher probability of being played.”
The station is funded through a variety of channels: public support, business underwriting, grants through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, an ASMSU subsidiary and MSU’s donation of studio space. “It’s a multi-faceted relationship,” said Ron Craighead, KGLT’s Marketing Director, regarding the station’s funding. Craighead’s primary role at KGLT is interfacing the station with other forms of media and acquiring and maintaining underwriting accounts. Underwriting, as Craighead explained, is a funding approach of non-commercial stations where messages are aired from business sponsors in exchange for a monetary pledge. This approach allows the station to maintain a non-commercial brand and tie to the community, while still supporting itself.
In addition, KGLT hosts an annual Fund Drive, in which individuals and businesses donate through yearly pledges. The 2014 Fund Drive, March 23 – April 5, is currently underway. The station aims to raise $165,000 — nearly half of their operating expenses. KGLT’s total yearly operating budget is around $270,000, with ASMSU contributing around 5 percent, although it varies yearly. Last year KGLT requested $37,000 from ASMSU and received $14,000 whereas this year KGLT asked for $40,000 and received $20,000, about 1.8 percent of ASMSU’s $1.1 million budget.
Ellen King-Rodgers, the general manager at KGLT, noted increased funds do not automatically equate to a growth in staff, and that the station is fortunate to have the support of the student population through their volunteer work. Additionally, King-Rodgers noted the generosity of community businesses in their donation of products and services during the Fund Drive. For example, Montana Ale Works donates and hosts a six-course dinner for supporters who contribute a pledge of $175. Halfway through the Fund Drive and with a week to go, King-Rodgers smiled and said, “It’s going really well.”
Three times a year, KGLT offers DJ apprentice classes open to students and community members. Students pay $50 and non-students $75 for a nine-week course in equipment operation, soundboard use, broadcasting training and techniques, Federal Communications Commission regulations and hours of on-air experience. Many of the students who participate in the course eventually have their own show and some DJs continue with the station even after graduating from MSU.
KGLT places few limits on their DJs in terms of the types and styles of music presented. In doing so, the station creates a platform upon which varying and diverse sounds are shared, shaping their music to reflect their variety of listeners. “There’s always somebody who’s going to like what you play,” Craighead said.
Paul Bennett, a junior in the Music Department and drummer for the local band Rose Gold, is also a student DJ and Chief Announcer (scheduling coordinator) for KGLT. Bennett appreciates radio for the release of control experienced when tuning into a station, versus listening to music from a playlist. “There’s something to be said for letting go of some of that control, and seeing what someone else will show you,” he said. “That’s the beauty of KGLT; I can count on hearing something I have never heard before.” He laughed, commenting that although his brand is low-key electronic music, sometimes he will host a classical hour “on a whim” during his 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Sunday-morning show. The freedom creates uniqueness, Bennett shared, “We have a truly diverse crew of people who play different music.”
King-Rodgers became involved with the station shortly after undergoing hand surgery, needing an alternative to her work with the Humane Society. “My dream of dreams when I was younger was to be a DJ,” she shared, and explained how she took on increasing responsibility with KGLT as a volunteer, eventually leading to a permanent staff position at the station. DJs volunteer from all walks of life, King-Rodgers noted, from retired community members to quiet students looking to share their music. The idea is “giving people the freedom to speak to their passion,” added Craighead. His encouragement to interested students was, “Stop into the station, we’ll give them a tour!”
The community connection
As a publically funded station, KGLT has always maintained a strong connection to its audience — a connection that creates a camaraderie and a responsibility. “It’s a responsibility for everyone who gets in front of the microphone to engage the audience, play a good show and do the best you can,” Craighead said. King-Rodgers noted that the community has always supported the new DJs. “The humanity of the station is that we all have train-wrecks,” she said.
KGLT has won the Best of Bozeman Radio Station award for over a decade, revealing the rich connection of the station to its listeners. “We’re very proud of that being awarded,” Craighead said, “Because that’s the community of Bozeman speaking.”
KGLT airs 1,500-2,000 public service announcements a year and recently partnered with the Bozeman Public High School to broadcast minutes for the Hawk Talk, their student newspaper. Students expressed interest to the station, and KGLT has since been working with them, teaching them the fundamentals and techniques of on-air broadcasting.
The art of radio
“It’s one thing to hear a song,” Craighead said, “But to hear that song in the context of another song and how [they] work together in context is a lost art.” Craighead and King-Rodgers both characterized radio as a musical art with a unique human element tied closely to its locale.
“I moved a lot around the country when I was young,” Craighead shared. “It was the local radio station that connected [me] to the place [I] was at that time.” Popular automated music software, such as Pandora or iTunes, do not represent the same art form as radio, Craighead explained. “On a station like this you have real human beings, people you know in the community,” he said. “You see them on the streets; you hear them on the air. They share their taste in music with you, and it becomes a very personalized experience.” That experience is becoming rarer in the age of digital media and digital delivery of music. “You’re hearing algorithms and random selection,” Craighead said. “Human beings can put music together in a way that is very unique and very poetic and very artistic. That’s the art of radio and that’s what I think is really special about this station.”
In terms of growth, King-Rodgers stated she desires to see the station continue to preserve the art of radio through the unique manner in which it currently operates. “I’d like us to be in more places and have more signals throughout Montana,” she said, “But we don’t have to be more than we are because live community radio is so rare that it’s a gem; it’s to be treasured.” She desires to carry on the tradition of community support that characterizes the station. “This wonderful family of people working,” she said. “It’s supportive, it’s supported by community. That’s what I want to continue — I want it to continue to be a role model to other stations — that this can exist and be self supportive.”
KGLT broadcasts under the following frequencies: MSU: 97.1 FM; Bozeman: 91.9 FM; Helena: 98.1 FM; Livingston: 89.5 FM; Gardiner-Mammoth: 107.1 FM; and live online streaming at KGLT.net.