KGLT turns 50: who they are and how they have grown

MSU’s radio station KGLT has been a much-loved presence on the Bozeman radio scene for years. What started as a student project named KATZ, inhabiting the rooms of Langford Hall, KGLT has grown over the course of 50 years into a non-commercial, not-for-profit radio powerhouse. Just recently, KGLT even claimed the number one spot in adult radio broadcasting within the Gallatin Valley. They currently possess two radio signals in Bozeman, and additional signals in Helena, Livingston, Big Timber and Gardner.

Competing in a world turning increasingly toward iTunes and Spotify proves KGLT is something special. KGLT employs staff that genuinely love what they do. The culture of KGLT captures your imagination and moves it sideways into a universe where inspiration is king. In that universe, Bob Marley talks with Pink and Elton John goes to Muse concerts. The driving force behind KGLT is a passion for sharing music because it is good, not because it’s popular. Due to this creative drive, KGLT has managed to integrate itself into the communities that it entertains and the station is always pushing programs that enrich the community. In the words of KGLT’s general manager Ellen King-Rodgers, “community radio equals outreach.”

History of KGLT

KGLT began in 1966 as a cobbled-together AM radio project based in a dorm room inside of Langford Hall. The station’s original name was KMRA and its signal only reached rooms within the halls of Langford. Only two years later in 1968, the station reached a level of success that allowed it to move into the basement of the SUB, where it would remain until 1975. In the downstairs office, KMRA became known as KATZ where it would eventually generate an offshoot station known as KGLT. KGLT absorbed KATZ and moved to FM to become the base of the radio station that exists today across a large portion of Western Montana.

The People of KGLT

KGLT is made up of four key members: general manager King-Rodgers, program director Jim Kehoe, marketing/underwriting director Ron Craighead and production director Brodie Cates. In addition to their formal titles, each of the station’s employees have numerous roles to play. For example, in addition to functioning as the general manager of KGLT, King-Rodgers also plays a large role in organizing the events that Friends of KGLT, the non-profit arm of KGLT, sponsors and schedules in order to raise money for the improvement and support of KGLT proper. King-Rodgers is also the main force behind the grant writing campaign that KGLT must undergo each year to keep the radio station operating year-round. Each of these duties could easily provide enough work for one full time employee.

In addition to its paid employees, close to 80 DJs volunteer to host their own segments and shows on the air. The DJs of KGLT come from many different backgrounds and they are a large part of what makes KGLT so fun to listen to. Due to the station’s unstructured music selection process, DJs at KGLT are allowed to choose any song they desire so long as the songs chosen are free from — or the artists are willing to remove — profanities and other similar elements. In addition to music, the DJ’s are also encouraged to host small educational segments and deliver news such as avalanche, skiing and fishing reports. The freedom to explore different genres within music and the vast number of DJs who perform lend KGLT the diversity and enthusiasm that it is known for. In the words of Kehoe, “a DJ is a person who’s always looking for something else.”

How does KGLT make money?

Due to the noncommercial nature of KGLT, the station can’t support itself through advertisements, which is a key form of revenue for many major radio stations. Noncommercial stations aren’t allowed to run ads with persuasive language so KGLT relies heavily on the use of sponsors known as “underwriters” and on revenue generated through fundraising efforts. Underwriters are companies who pay a set fee to have their name mentioned on air as a sponsor of the station. Through the process of underwriting, KGLT raises nearly half of their yearly budget. KGLT also hosts a two-week marathon fundraising campaign, supplementing the money from these to efforts with grants and donations from ASMSU. In total, KGLT raises a yearly budget of approximately $500 thousand.  

 What is KGLT up to now?

In recognition of its fast approaching 50th birthday, KGLT is hosting a T-shirt design contest. They are in search of two original designs that will help them honor and celebrate everything that has allowed them to thrive for so long. Friends of KGLT will be offering $500 prizes to the two people whose designs are selected. The station also offers a nine-week DJ training course led by Jim Kehoe during which students meet for three hours every Tuesday to learn the art of a DJs craft. The course provides both theoretical and practical instruction. Students are usually put in front of the mic during their first few weeks. “Until you start talking on that mic, it only gets more scary,” Kehoe said. In addition, KGLT is gearing up to start its annual two-week fund-raising campaign and it will continue to hold promotional events that benefit local businesses. KGLT’s events include gatherings at local restaurants and breweries, record sales with local music stores and fundraising campaigns that give businesses a chance to offer merchandise as incentives for donation.

KGLT is, and will continue to be, a “music station for music lovers, by music lovers.” Its DJs will always be searching for that next big song. Jim Kehoe best describes the philosophy of KGLT’s music selection by saying, “think of your friends in the car.” You can trust that KGLT will be there, riding shotgun with an iPod full of songs begging to be played. So, tune in and sit back. You never know what will be playing.

 

Brodie Cates, the marketing production director, edits sound clips for coming airings. In the KGLT Studio Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Photo by Ashley Shenyer.
Records fill shelves in the KGLT sound booth located in the SUB. Photo by Ashley Shenyer
A record sits ready on the turntable in the KGLT sound booth. Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Photo by Ashley Shenyer.
Mountain Arts Pottery donates 150 custom made mugs to KGLT every year to be used for fundraising efforts. Photo by Ashley Shenyer