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Lizards and Satellites: Community Public Radio Hybrid KZYX's Station in the Woods

KZYX Signage. Photo by Jennifer Waits

Back in January when Matthew, Paul and I were listing off our favorite radio shows of all time, I pronounced my love for “Trading Time,” a locally-produced call-in swap show on community radio station KZYX out of Philo, California.

I’ve always found this show to be riveting since it provides a glimpse of everyday life in a small town. Callers to the show list off the items that they are hoping to sell or give away, and the hosts read additional items and services from lists emailed or faxed in to the station. One day a caller might be getting rid of some old tires, another day there could be chicken eggs for sale or the announcement of a ride needed to Ft. Bragg.

So, when I had another trip planned to Mendocino County, I relished the opportunity to get a glimpse of KZYX. Although there’s a sign for the station on Highway 128, the station is hidden from the road in a house on the edge of the woods near vineyards and a saw mill.

KZYX is interesting in that it is both a community radio station and a public radio station, airing programming created by local residents as well as syndicated shows from NPR and others. The day that I visited two weeks back, a local DJ was doing a world music show in which she was playing selections from Asia, but I also tuned in to the station when they were airing well-known public radio shows.

I’m always curious how stations such as KZYX figure out how to balance their programming schedules to satisfy a range of listeners, as I know that with expensive public radio programming, comes the pressure to both increase the number of listeners and the money collected during pledge drives in order to pay for the programs.

When I talked to KZYX General Manager John Coate, he said that national programming can be “polarizing” for listeners, pointing out that “a lot of people don’t want to hear music at all.” He said that if you look at the broad picture of radio, talk radio “outperforms” community radio, with community radio the “worst performing segment.” Yet with that said, said he was happy with the balance that his station provides (about half local programming, half syndicated) and pointed out that they truly see themselves as a resource for the local community, which didn’t have local radio before the station came along in 1989. John said, “We have to serve everybody, sort of like a partyline.” So, in addition to syndicated shows like “Fresh Air” and “All Things Considered,” local DJs curate their own music shows and host public affairs programming, including extensive coverage of the upcoming local elections in Mendocino County.

To read more about my trip to KZYX (with tales of encroaching helicopters, lizards, satellites, and cabooses), take a look at my post on Spinning Indie.

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