KZFR wants to do local news

TWENTY-GRAND PLANS <br>KZFR’s Jill Paydon and Rick Carr are looking for a news director now that they have a budget to hire one.

KZFR’s Jill Paydon and Rick Carr are looking for a news director now that they have a budget to hire one.

Photo By Robert Speer

Five years ago, KZFR volunteer and programmer Rick Carr flew to New Orleans for a conference of community-radio broadcasters. His goal was to attend workshops designed to provide the skills and information necessary for starting a news department at his station.

At the time, KZFR 90.1 FM was an all-volunteer station operating without a management staff. Still, the board of directors was optimistic about creating an all-volunteer news department. Unfortunately, the directors didn’t realize it would take much more effort—and money—than music shows require.

Carr’s passion wasn’t enough to convince the directors to approve his proposal, and the idea never became a reality.

But after recently surveying its listeners, the station learned that they felt something was missing from the KZFR’s rich assortment of programs: local news.

Now, for the second time, Carr is pushing hard to launch a news department. This time he has many allies.

It’s a big undertaking. There are reasons why so few radio stations have local news—it’s expensive and labor intensive. KZFR is taking a risk in putting $20,000 toward hiring a part-time news director.

There are already several public-affairs programs on KZFR, but there’s a difference between news and public-affairs programs, KZFR General Manager Jill Paydon said during an interview at the station’s fourth-floor office in the Waterland-Breslauer Building in Chico.

“The intention of news is to have better-informed citizens by seeking out all sides of the story,” Paydon said. “I don’t think there are ever just two sides to a story.”

“We have no intention to come from one side or another with the news,” Carr said, joining Paydon for the interview. The ability to report stories without having to answer to corporate owners and advertisers will allow KZFR to air “stories that may sting a little,” he said.

But KZFR itself will feel a sting if its fundraising goal is not met and the attempt to create a news department fails again. That’s why it’s launching June News!—a one-time fund drive throughout the month to raise money to hire the news director.

While the news director will be paid, the news reporters will be volunteers from the community, such as retired professional journalists and student interns from both Butte College and Chico State, Paydon said.

KZFR depends solely on its pledge drives, underwriting and two fundraisers per year for its operating capital. Its spring pledge drive raised about $90,000. Still, only $3,000 of that will go to the news department. The board of directors is willing to authorize up to $10,000 toward a news director if enough money is raised during this month’s fund drive.

“Our listeners want news,” Paydon said. “And our assumption is that listeners will respond by making donations to the station.”

The ultimate goal is to provide daily newscasts, with one 15-minute afternoon newscast and a five-minute newscast the following morning, before or after Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!, but realistically newscasts will initially take place once a week, Carr said.

In the past two years, listener support has increased by 20 percent, Paydon said.

“Listeners are confident in KZFR. The news department will further increase the level of confidence within the community,” Carr said.