The first newsletter of 2022 is here. This month, we had the opportunity to interview Emily Cohen, the Executive Director of KHOL in Jackson, Wyoming. We talked about the challenges of leading a station, partnerships with other media organizations, and expanding organizational capacity. Read the interview below.
Lisa: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Emily: I’m from Washington, DC and I’ve done all sorts of different things in my career. I’ve tried a lot of different things, I follow my curiosity. If something interests me, I tend to dive in, and get totally immersed in whatever challenge is in front of me and try to take it to that next level. I’m always looking for that next challenge.
Lisa: What brought you to KHOL?
Emily: I was a volunteer with KHOL and had been at the station just for a couple months when this opportunity came up. It seemed like a really cool opportunity to turn [the station] into something really powerful. It was already a beloved institution, but I saw that there was a lot of potential, and was excited to have the opportunity to lead that.
Lisa: What was the first challenge you tackled after you got to the station?
Emily: Well, the first thing I did was apply for CPB, but we didn’t qualify the first year. But I went through the exercise, which was really good, because we did qualify the following year. It was a good way to figure out, “What do we need to improve? What do we need to change? What’s working, what’s not?” There was a really long list of things to fix. It was just me, one other person, and a reporter, so I was doing everything from programming to fundraising. One thing I learned really quickly was, if something’s really hard, don’t try to keep going at it trying to solve it. Don’t think you can power your way through it. There’s got to be a better solution. And there’s probably somebody out there that has that expertise. Ask, “Is there a better way?” It was figuring out who those people were to help us and then getting them involved. Sometimes you have to spend the money, because you’re going to make it up later. It’s worth the investment. Now we’re in a much, much better place. We have four full-time staff people, we’re hiring a fifth right now. We have a news director, a reporter, and a full time music director, who also does more of the community affairs kind of programming and helps with events.
Lisa: What was it like expanding the newsroom in a station that had such a limited staff before?
Emily: Half of it is asking, “What is the idea? What is it you’re trying to build?” Coming up with that vision, and then selling it to your board, to your staff, and then the people you’re trying to hire, makes it a lot easier to execute.
In the past year, we started top of the hour news briefs because we have limited resources. We’ve packaged those features into a 30 minute show. We also started Voices of Jackson. We tried to capture the community’s sentiment around the pandemic, the election, etc… We’re also taking snippets from interviews and turning them to the sonic ID’s. Those changes completely changed the feel of the station, because it feels so hyperlocal. You hear voices that you know, talking about issues that you care about.
Lisa: You’re collaborating with the local paper of record. Can you talk about the role partnerships play in the future of your station?
Emily: I think it’s going to be bigger and bigger. We are also partnering with Wyoming Public Media, who in some ways we viewed as a competitor, especially now that we have CPB funding. We’re trying to provide more substantive programming. We reached out to Wyoming Public Media because they don’t have a reporter here. I thought, why don’t we just share our relevant stories? It brings exposure to our station statewide. It also lets a lot of the listeners who might be listening to public media locally realize KHOL is doing NPR level work. I think that’s a great partnership. Also, the Rocky Mountain Community Radio partnership is huge. I mean, the 2019 conference was such a game-changer for me. It’s great for everyone and it shows that we’re connected.