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In NFCB’s August newsletter, we interviewed K.P. Whaley. K.P. is the General Manager at Asheville FM in Asheville, NC. Asheville FM is a low power FM station in a rural part of Southeastern US.

Training as a war correspondent, archival journalism, building a newsroom from the ground up- this interview has it all.

Interviewed by Lisa Kettyle, NFCB Program Director. 

Lisa: How did you get started in community radio?

KP: I got started at WORT in Madison, Wisconsin. I had moved there and was looking for a way to connect with community. I went out to a street fair kind of thing and met the volunteer coordinator [of WORT]. That started my career as a volunteer. I moved from volunteer receptionist into news production and became the news director. That’s the short answer.

The long answer is I had been living in Seattle and I was working in the corporate world. It was around 2000, and there was a big movement happening. Amy Goodman had a weekly show and she went daily during the World Trade Organization protests that were happening at the time. I lived downtown and my condo had become a police zone. I had to cross a picket line or a police line every night just to go home. The entire city shut down all the corporate offices and told people to work from home. During that time I saw horrible things happening. I saw police snatching people and running through protesters who had linked their arms together. I saw police literally run over people. I realized that this was wrong and there was something very, very wrong in the country and that I was part of the problem. I quit my job. I packed up and I drove across the country and landed in Madison, Wisconsin, where I ran into the WORT staff and became a volunteer. There are a lot of collectives and co-ops in Madison, and it changed my whole thought process.

Nathan Moore, who is on the NFCB board, had been working there as the news facilitator and moved on to working for Free Speech Radio News. I was hired as his replacement as the news facilitator.

L: How long have you been at Asheville?

KP: Since 2017.

L: What was the state of the station when you got there? And how has it changed since?

KP: I was kind of in shock. [I lived in Asheville twice]. I first got to Asheville in 2009 and the station was a disaster at that point. There were a handful of volunteers and no structure at all. I created everything from scratch.

In 2017, when I came back to the station, I was expecting the same, and it was completely different. I had a volunteer staff that included directors of all major positions – program director, news, and talk director, music director, facilities director, advertising and marketing. It made it a lot easier for me to step into the role and have a volunteer staff to continue the movement that they had already created. They had put together a policy manual handbook with all the rules and regulations in a whole system and how to maintain your volunteer status. They were doing two fund drives a year. They weren’t doing the things that any public or community station would, they just didn’t know their potential. When I came in, a little bit of knowledge and experience went a long way. We [increased the fund drive frequency and goals] and kept pushing every year. I jumped the goal 30% until we hit our ceiling at $35,000. We didn’t have a plan for subscriptions, and now we have close to 200 people subscribing monthly. It was just the little things and fine tuning and growing on what they had already started.

L: How many full-time staff do you have now?

KP: We started with zero. We started as an internet station in 2009. There was a commissioned sales rep who worked one day a week with underwriting and I think at that time, we had quite a few underwriters, maybe 20-ish underwriters and I decided to turn that position into a half-time staff position. It’s now grown to two part-time staff members 30 hours a week.

L: Your station is punching above your weight as a low-power FM in a rural mountain town. How did you grow your budget with your station’s capacity and resources?

KP: One of the first things I learned when I got here is that many people still thought we were just an internet station, they didn’t even realize we were on the radio. I did a big marketing and branding effort and added the frequency to the station’s name. I think that helped us in our underwriting efforts because then people knew who we were. We had bumper stickers everywhere. We embraced one logo and kept it (in the past, they’d change with every t-shirt design or event). Our news and public affairs show we had a public affairs is in English and in Spanish. Through that show, we connected with the movers and shakers of Asheville, the nonprofit leaders, the folks that are involved in community activism, and, some music, making sure that those folks had a platform to discuss the things that they were doing.

L: What are you most proud of that your station or you have done in the last year?

KP: There are a few things. First, we launched a new signature event called Voices, an evening of poetry literature talk. We bring in a main speaker, and feature two or three news and talk programs that we have. They bring on their favorite guests of the past year. We top it off with a national or regional speaker. We have an annual record fair, (the fourth annual fair is this year) and we’re expecting 700 attendees. It’s a major fundraiser for us, as big as a fund drive.

I’m also really proud of the music side of the house. We’re the weird music station. There are two public stations in Asheville – one is your classic news and NPR programming and classical music. The other is a bluegrass station. And then there’s us, with the most eclectic music you’re ever going to hear in western North Carolina.

We’ve also worked with a local venue used to bring really interesting and cool music to Asheville for our community.

L: What’s on your turntable right now?

KP: I’ve been listening to solo work of Greg Cartwright, of Reigning Sound fame, who is local and involved in the station as well as local musicians gone big, like Indigo De Souza and the band Wednesday.