PRINCEVILLE — The Kaua‘i community radio station wasn’t exempt from experiencing financial setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic.
New social-distancing guidelines prevented KKCR, a station that operates on grant money and private donations, from having their bi-annual fund drive, which they heavily depend on to sustain operations.
Undaunted by the setback, KKCR General Manager Laura Christine improvised to find new ways for the public station to continue to generate income.
During the last drive, KKCR raised approximately $40,000, but they haven’t had another to ensure the safety of their people. During the drives, they had social gatherings, which were organized by the station and its volunteers where they would hand out T-shirts and prizes, and KKCR would answer the phones to take donations.
“We get about a third of our funding from our listeners, and we have about two drives a year,” Christine said. “Our last fund drive ended March 18. It was supposed to go to March 20, but then Trump made an announcement on travel.”
The station, which has broadened its listening audience exponentially since the advent of streaming media, now receives many donations from online sources, something Christine said has increased significantly since the start of 2020.
They also generate an income from local businesses which purchase slots under conditions that they can’t have any jingles or commercial sound. Many businesses support KKCR.
“When we started our online donating, we maybe generated $5,000, but now it’s $39,000 a year,” Christine said. “If it wasn’t for grants and donations, we would be struggling much more.”
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, KKCR lost something just as valuable as the grant money and private donations: volunteers.
Still, KKCR continued to carry on by providing updates during the hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The other thing the community radio station has to contend with is the advent of streaming: including Spotify, iTunes, Pandora and MOG.
“One of our younger programmers told me that his friends jokingly stated “what is radio?” when he told them about his show,” Christine said. “We have this campaign called ‘Escape the Algorithm.’ When you listen to our station, you will be exposed to something that you haven’t heard before, and you can’t get Kaua‘i-centric information on Spotify.”
KKCR has never wavered from its mission to preserve, perpetuate and celebrate Hawaiian music and culture, and still plays Hawaiian music and talks about sovereignty issues from midnight to 11 a.m.
A labor of love
Christine, who started her career with KKCR in 2004 as a volunteer before becoming an office assistant in 2013 and eventually the general manager in 2017, has continued to devote her time to the station.
“If I worked for a hotel, I think I could sleep at night,” Christine said. “I care so much about this, it stresses me out at night. I love my work, and I am lucky to do it because if I didn’t care about it, I would have fewer worries.”
Streaming into the future
The emergence of streaming applications has reduced the number of listeners to radio, but because radio stations are streaming, they’ve benefit from the medium by expanding the reach of their audience.
“Our amount of listeners (through streaming) has increased exponentially, and there are a lot of tourists that come here and start listening,” Christine said. “They love overnight Hawaiian in New York.”
Through the medium of streaming, KKCR even has what they refer to as a “super supporter,” a surfer in Paris, France.
“We are always open to people and the community affairs on Kaua‘i, and we are always willing to train people for free,” Christine said. “We are always open to new ideas and programs.”
Long-time volunteer on-air personality Tracey Schavone has been with the company since 1999.
Although Schavone is a 20-year veteran, she doesn’t consider this a career because she doesn’t get paid, yet she has put in a career’s worth of work for the channel.
Schavone got introduced to the idea of working for KKCR as a volunteer when a friend and she were having dinner and she was invited to the studio.
“Well, I just enjoy music, and I enjoy doing interviews with people with KKCR and the community,” Schavone said. “There are a lot of people that are passionate about the airwaves, and I love playing music and sharing it on those airwaves.”
Schavone, who spins everything from indie music, rock ‘n’ roll and acoustic classic rock to blues and new releases, feels there is a little something for everyone.
“There are so many people that feel isolated, and the community radio is one way people can feel connected, even when they are out and about,” Schavone said.
Schavone’s favorite part of community radio is the connectivity with the community the medium provides.
“Music is an international language, and a place to share our voice, and music is one of the most popular ways for people to share their voice,” Schavone said. “You get to share your values, and it’s a venue or platform that people can feel fantastic about. Music is evocative, and it can bring a lot of things up for people.”
Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or email@example.com.