Going live on the air at KPOV in Bend

DJs volunteer their time to share music, stories, foster community

By Brian McElhiney, The Bulletin

A TV show inspired Mike Ficher to become a radio DJ.

In the late 1980s, Bay Area-native Ficher ended up on an “American Bandstand”-style TV show in San Francisco, featuring people who were teenagers in the ’50s and ’60s dancing to oldies hits. Ficher was not of that generation, but as the youngest person on the show, he was invited back a few more times.

“I ended up starting to befriend some of the popular kids, like the bandstand kids, and they would tell me stories about a lot of these songs,” Ficher said. “And they would say, ‘These aren’t the songs that you hear on the radio that we really listened to; here’s what we listened to.’ And they would play them for me and they would tell me stories about them. And I thought, wouldn’t it be really cool to have a show where you played the music the kids really listened to and you shared some of the stories about the songs, the artists, the era?”

Ficher, now living in Bend, saw an ad seeking DJs for a new, low-power, community radio station just starting up — KPOV-FM. “I thought (a) community radio station would probably be the only one that would be open to this idea, because commercial radio won’t let you talk that long.”

He answered the ad in November 2004. In June 2005, KPOV went on the air, with Ficher’s “The Ultimate Oldies Show” as one of about 31 original shows.

“The Ultimate Oldies Show,” which intersperses music with chart information, trivia, artist profiles and other research, has been on the air ever since. Today it is one of about 47 or 48 original programs on KPOV, all hosted by volunteer community members. The shows range from music programs of all genres to talk shows such as “The Point,” the station’s flagship community affairs show , whichruns from 9 to 9:30 a.m. Mondays through Fridays with different hosts each day.

Ficher, who had no radio experience before doing the show, has now interviewed Chubby Checker, Tommy James, Darlene Love and the late Larry Hoppen of the band Orleans.

His show is one of a handful of KPOV programs syndicated to stations in Nevada, California, Ohio and other parts of Oregon.

“I would say I’ve learned and grown,” Ficher said. “That was one of the benefits of doing it, is when I started out I would say I was rough, and you learn how to become a better storyteller, smoother in your delivery, organized in your thoughts.”

Getting on the air

Most of KPOV’s programming is local, with roughly five to six hours of nationally syndicated shows airing daily, according to station Programming Director Bruce Morris. All DJs volunteer their time, and come to the station from all experience levels and ages (the “Youth Radio Hour” that airs from 4 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays features teenagers as young as 14, graduates of the station’s Youth Radio Camp).

The station offers two DJ training classes every year in conjunction with Central Oregon Community College — one in early April, the other in early October — taught by COCC professors and volunteer DJs Tom Barry and Dean Harris. Classes consist of one Saturday lecture held at COCC and a couple of three-hour, hands-on studio sessions with the station’s most experienced DJs (Ficher is one of the regular leaders of these sessions).

“Anyone who wants to be on the air here in any capacity has to take the DJ class,” said Gillian Hodgen, a former “The Point” host who has volunteered for the station in different capacities for the last three years. She currently teaches the kids camp and the four-evening talk show class, a follow-up to the DJ training class for people who want to host “The Point” or a new talk show on the station.

“… But from there, the process of starting your own show is to go through a mentoring program where you start sitting in with a DJ, and that’s when you can really get some hands-on experience. And every night or day you sit in with a DJ, you get a little more involved in working on the show.”

New DJs are required to mentor with at least two experienced DJs, Morris said.

“Different people have different levels of comfort in terms of how quickly they’re willing to go from mentoring to being on the air,” Morris said. “Some people want to mentor for a very long time. Some people will do their three or four sessions and they’re pretty much ready.”

Eric Lehto, 57, took the spring DJ class and has submitted a proposal for a world music show to the station’s five-member programming committee, which is headed by Morris. Would-be hosts submit an eight- to 10-minute program demo and fill out a proposal form from the website, kpov.org, which asks questions about the program’s mission statement, format, target audience and how it aligns with KPOV’s mission statement: “KPOV is radio by the people and for the people of Central Oregon. We strengthen community and democracy through independent, non-commercial radio.”

“Most of them are accepted,” Morris said. “… Occasionally we’ll get one where it’s like, oh, this is perfect. But other times it’s just a matter of making sure the DJ has all the tools they need to feel really confident when they go in the studio for the first time.”

Learning the ropes

Lehto had previous experience working behind-the scenes at other community radio stations, but if his show is approved, it will be his first time as an on-air DJ.

“It’s kind of extraordinary how much you can do with a little bit of — how dangerous you are with just a little bit of experience,” Lehto said, laughing. “Because you can start really doing things, creative things, right away. It takes a little investment to get up the learning curve, but then all of a sudden you can just start creating stuff.”

For Lehto, the biggest challenge in his training was learning how to use the microphones.

“I’m pretty comfortable with public speaking if I’m prepared, and I had done a lot of teaching, but then using the microphone and vocal technique (were challenging),” he said. “Like, Mike (Ficher) is a really good example of someone to pay attention to, because he’s really been at it for a while and is an actor also, so he really is trained in how to use his voice.”

Mary Ann Hart, 65, is another newcomer to the station who currently co-hosts “The Point” on Fridays. She took the talk show class, which focuses on radio interview techniques, after being on the “Gardening — Get Good at It” segment on Tuesday’s “The Point” through the Master Gardeners program at Oregon State University.

Hosting has gotten easier for Hart in the few months she’s been on air. She said the most time-consuming part of hosting a talk show is researching for interviews.

“I don’t take as much time as I did when I first started, which was just a couple months ago,” she said. “And I think you can also put as much time into the research as you want. Sometimes I’ll just be like, ooh, what kind of a song should I use for the weather? And then I’m listening to weather songs. I get wrapped up into it, so it’s kind of hard to pin down how much time because it’s fun and I’m just having a good time.”

Sergio Aguayo, 29, said it takes him anywhere from six to eight hours to prepare for a two-hour episode of his hip-hop show “The Shack,” which airs from 10 p.m. to midnight Mondays. He’s hosted the show for three years.

“I try and edit the music to where it will flow,” he said. “… Last year I did a Cinco de Mayo Star Wars episode (for May the Fourth). … I did sound bytes from Star Wars movies intertwined with different songs. Yeah, it just varies. If you have the time, you can put something together that you wouldn’t really hear anywhere else.”

Part of the community

The community spirit of the station extends to the hosts. DJs fill-in for other hosts, or co-host shows together. A few months ago, Aguayo co-hosted an episode of his show about rapper Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly” with Celeste Franklin, host of the Tuesday morning soul music show “Soul Serenade.”

“The thing too with Celeste is that we’ve actually — I’ve come in on her show and done like a full two-hour block of music,” Aguayo said. “And we share music too, which is something I’m pretty sure most of the DJs here do, is they’ll bounce. As we’re all fans of music, we’re all like, ‘Oh, listen to this.’”

That same sense of community has kept Ficher at the station for close to 12 years now.

“Before we went on the air (in 2005) there were six of us that were sitting around, and it turned out we all had some connection to San Francisco,” he said. “… They were talking about the Fillmore West, and they were talking about seeing shows at the Cow Palace, they were talking about seeing shows at Winterland (Ballroom). And it was just six people who had really not known each other before that night, and we bonded because we found a common experience. And that was the night I said, this is really cool to be part of this.”

Morris said the station still has slots for live shows, though most of them are late at night. The next DJ class will be held in early April, with a specific date to be announced.

The next kids camp, a Youth Radio Immersion course for ages 10 to 14, takes place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 11 at KPOV studios, 501 NW Bond St. The camp costs $50 or $60. Visit kpov.org for more information.

— Reporter: 541-617-7814, bmcelhiney@bendbulletin.com

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