Liberal voice

KJFK has a year under its belt, and managers are satisfied with the results

Program director Dan Fritz at work in the studio at KJFK radio.

Program director Dan Fritz at work in the studio at KJFK radio.

Photo By David Robert

A year ago last week, Reno AM radio station 1230 switched to a liberal talk format. The call letters, KJFK, include the initials of a former American president, and it is the only liberal talk radio station aired in Reno. It gives a voice to local liberals who feel assailed by several right-wing radio talk shows.

The station airs several Air America network programs, including Stephanie Miller, Al Franken, Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes and The Lionel Show in three-hour slots. On the network’s Web site, Air America says it broadcasts “86 stations and growing.” The eastern half of the country has more Air America programming, but the West is catching up, though mostly in California.

Air America receives its share of criticism from the right, but growing support from the left and middle affirm Air America’s place in a world of talk radio long dominated by conservatives. And KJFK management loves the attention.

Owner Tom Quinn decided to get in on the progressive talk radio action as the trend gained strength in the United States, changing the programming and call letters on Feb. 28, 2005. Some listeners say the station brings unity and solidarity to local liberals.

Pam Dupre, executive director of the Washoe County Democratic Party, has only good things to say about KJFK. “I’ve been listening since KJFK started,” says Dupre. “It has just been a real shot in the arm for this community. We’ve been inundated with radical conservative talk radio that stretches the truth to the point of not being the truth anymore. It is so very important that listeners in this community got some balance, and that’s what we have with KJFK. I listen at the office all the time, and sometimes in the car.”

Matt Dickson, treasurer for the Washoe County Democratic Party, has a different reason to love KJFK. “In the Democratic Party,” says Dickson, “we’ve had amazing results advertising with KJFK. The rates are reasonable, and our phones ring off the hook; we’ve reached so many new members. It’s been a great vehicle for the party.”

General manager Daniel Cook gave an example of the support for KJFK in the liberal community in Reno. At a Soroptimist Club meeting last week, Cook named off the Reno stations that he represented, starting with Sunny 106.9, the most popular. “When I got down to KJFK, there was a thunderous applause and ‘Thank you, we’re so happy!’ When you go out in the marketplace, there are people with a passion for this station. And it’s growing by word of mouth.” While the programming is mostly syndicated, Cook says he hopes a local personality will soon emerge on KJFK.

KJFK is not expected to make number one in town, but Quinn—who owns six Reno stations—says it has done all right so far. In ratings, KJFK is making slow but steady progress.

“In terms of ratings, in the fall of 2004, when the station was still a sports station, we had a .7 share of total listeners in radio. Last rating period, fall 2005, we had a 1.7 share. Normally, you look at the 25-54 age demographic. In fall of 2004, we had a 1.0 share. For the latest period we had a 1.6 share. For reference, KUBB, Cub Country 94.5 has a 1.9 share, but they’re FM. KRNO, Sunny 106.9, number one, has a 10.0 share. It’s unrealistic to think that anyone’s going to be close to that, but it would be wonderful if [KJFK] did.”

Quinn hopes to double the station’s listeners in the next year.

“The goal is realistic,” he says, pointing out that of his four Reno FM stations, three are in the top five in the market."I think we’ve done pretty well. [KJFK] is one that we care a lot about. This is a labor of love. We’re determined to make it work.”

In recent years, right-wing talk shows have dominated the airwaves. As such, it’s commonly thought that only right-wing talk shows work.

“I think that’s not true,” says Quinn. “It’s dominant because of Rush Limbaugh; stations build their images and personalities around him.”

He cites the Oprah Winfrey television show as an example of a progressive show that’s made it. “If you look at television talk shows, look at Oprah Winfrey. You wouldn’t call her conservative.”

Quinn believes interesting people, not ideology, drives the success of a talk show. He says Ed Schultz has the makings of a strong progressive talk show host, given a few years in Reno.

“We’re looking for people who have an open mind,” he says, “who care about what’s going on in the world, and who are willing to listen to something more than just propaganda. We’re looking for educated, thinking people.”