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Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

Tuesday marked the beginning of a new chapter of austerity at KRVM, the eclectic, Eugene School District-owned radio station.

But there's been little time for angst around the station's Sheldon High School studios.

Its volunteers and employees - even the ones who lost their jobs on Tuesday, the first day of the new fiscal year - have been too busy preparing KRVM for what may be its most difficult challenge to date: complete self-sustainability. After learning it would lose all school district funding because of budget cuts this year, the 55-year-old station pledged to trim expenses, find dollars elsewhere and stay on the air.

It won't be easy.

"We're overwhelmed," said station manager Carl Sundberg, who worked through last weekend loading hundreds of songs from the station's play list into the computer system. With the staff cut, there will no longer be time to shuttle CDs back and forth between the main studio and its four satellite stations, so music will have to be downloaded by computer.

But Sundberg sounds unfailingly optimistic about KRVM's future. Publicity this spring over the station's possible demise unleashed a torrent of community support; in just five days, the station raised close to $50,000, and eventually surpassed its annual fund-raising goal by about $40,000. He's confident the help will keep coming, albeit at a less frenzied pace.

"I'm absolutely convinced," he said. "We've never had a down year. Our support has grown, grown, grown."

Since 1947, the 1,100-watt station (frequency 91.9 FM) has been a training ground for students interested in broadcasting. About 130 students a year, including some in middle and elementary school, get a chance either on the air or behind the scenes. An AM station, frequency 1280, is leased to Jefferson Public Radio, although it also airs school board meetings.

The FM station plays "adult album alternative" music on weekdays, but offers a startling variety on weekends and after hours. Programs, nearly all of them hosted by volunteers with a particular passion, feature blues, Celtic, funk, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, Native American music, '60s pop, folk, Latino, soul, classic country, world music and more.

The district's cut totaled about $100,000, approximately one-third of the station's annual operating budget. Most of that covered Sundberg's salary and benefits. The district provides the Sheldon space to KRVM at no cost.

The station also lost a $70,000 annual grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. One of the conditions of that grant was that the station have five full-time employees - a staffing level KRVM no longer could afford. The station eliminated three positions effective Tuesday, and now has only Sundberg; Bobbie Cirel, a full-time development director; and Mike Meyer, a half-time program manager. Gone are Mary Guldager, membership coordinator; Don McIntyre, a second development director; and Kelly Hodgkinson, a receptionist and "absolute encyclopedia of modern recorded music," Sundberg said.

The station has a few part-time, hourly employees, including relief announcers and fund-raiser Marti Black, who is calling up about 5,000 previous donors. So far, about 85 percent of those she's reached have agreed to donate, she said.

"They say, `Save KRVM,' ' she said. "They're massively responsive."

Sundberg said the station's corporate underwriters, too, have come through.

"We did a (10 percent) rate increase on our underwriting, and not one person canceled, not one complained," said Sundberg, who came to the station from Florida 10 years ago. "We're really looking like we're going to be financially pretty solid next year."

A newly formed foundation, Friends of KRVM, will widen the station's core of volunteers, organize benefit concerts and other fund-raisers, and keep the station in the public eye. They will have a booth at this weekend's Art in the Vineyard festival, and next Wednesday they will sponsor the first in a series of benefits, an appearance by folk singer Mare Wakefield at Cafe Paradiso.

"We realized there were going to be huge gaps at the station" with the staffing cuts, said Leigh Barrett, a volunteer disc jockey who helped launch the foundation with listener Bill Ganser. "So we got together to find a support group to not only fill the gap but to get out there in the community, which the station doesn't have the staff to do."

She's been struck by the degree of listener devotion.

"It's remarkable how much passion there is toward KRVM," she said. "Some people have been listening since the 1950s. The comment I hear most often is, if KRVM went away, what would we listen to?"

To Sundberg, the greatest loss would be the opportunity KRVM gives students.

Adam Huizenga, who stopped by to do some computer work on Tuesday, is a good example. A 1998 Sheldon graduate, he started working at KRVM his sophomore year. He's been there off and on ever since, filling in as a relief announcer and helping train students and volunteers.

"It made me realize what I wanted to do," he said. "I found out what I was good at."


Folk singer Mare Wakefield, formerly of Eugene, will appear at 8 p.m. on July 9 at Cafe Paradiso, 115 W. Broadway. Tickets are $4 to $10. Proceeds will go to Friends of KRVM.


KRVM disc jockey Chuck Holloway (right) is surprised to see station manager Carl Sundberg handling studio cleaning chores. The tiny Eugene School District-owned radio station has been forced to operate on meager funds after budget cuts. KRVM disc jockey Chuck Holloway (CQ) is surprised by station manager Carl Sundberg (CQ), who pops into the broadcast booth to mop the floors on the first day of financial independence for the tiny independent radio station at Sheldon High School. (BRIAN DAVIES/The Register-Guard)
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Title Annotation:Volunteers, employees try to stay on air despite funding losses; Schools
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 2, 2003
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