Guest editorial: 40 years on, KPCW remains a beacon of community radio
KPCW Radio founding board president
Happy 40th birthday, KPCW!
As one of the persons most responsible for creating KPCW (along with Susan Feulner), I’m pleased to report Park City’s home-grown radio station has kept the flame of local news and information burning brightly since the night (8 p.m. on July 2, 1980) I signed it on the air.
The year I set out to invent KPCW (1978) Park City was still a busted old mining “camp” with more people working underground at the Ontario Mine than working above ground at the ski area. The town’s adult population would have fit into the yet-to-be built Eccles auditorium, leaving the balcony empty.
Park City’s infrastructure was disintegrating and Main Street was home to boarded-up buildings and epic potholes. Then, volunteer firemen would scramble to a burning building, only to watch helplessly as it burned down because there wasn’t enough water pressure in the hydrant.
Worse, on the other end of the pipe, the town’s broken sewer plant made sure Poison Creek lived up to its name, creating nasty algae blooms downstream in East Canyon Reservoir.
And that wasn’t the only thing that smelled. Equally odoriferous was City Hall. Every contractor knew for the price of a scotch, the chief building official would gladly sign off on a fictitious building permit.
And then there was the Cop Shop.
Walk into any saloon and see coke being snorted off the bar, while absent from The Park Record’s police blotter was any news of drug busts. The locals figured best case, the cops were looking the other way. Worse case, they were the ones dealing.
The town’s real estate and construction industries had melted down in the face of double-digit interest rates. Park City was truly a proletarian paradise, with everybody equally broke.
So, in 1978, the notion that enough people, in such a tiny town, would donate enough money to fund a public radio station that would broadcast six hours a day of local news, interviews and information seemed quite insane.
But it did — so well, that a 1995 study found KPCW had (per capita) more listeners and raised more money than any other public radio station in the nation.
In the nation!
Subsequently, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) in 1998 funded a study that asked the question: “How can we explain or understand this station’s extraordinary local fundraising?”
Part of the answer was the unique and powerful fundraising tools created by KPCW’s first development director, Susan Feulner:
“(Susan) invented the fundraising strategy, developing an aggressive approach to financial development. … She was a natural in the art of relationship fundraising, establishing a network of community leaders, business owners and friends.”
“The results are impressive by any standards. The 1995 SRG Benchmark study reported KPCW was raising double the level of business underwriting dollars than any station in the nation.”
The report concluded that one reason the station’s fundraising was so effective was that KPCW was so heart-deep in the community. KPCW’s emphasis on local news and information made it essential listening for a large portion (78%) of Park City residents:
“From the outset, KPCW was self-consciously small town radio. It is a community station in the best and most profound sense of that term. It plays a central role in the daily, civic life of Park City, filled with familiar voices, sharing vital information that affects daily life.”
So happy birthday to the hundreds of board members and staff (in particular Board President Bob Richer and General Manager Renai Miller) and the thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands of residents who have donated millions of dollars to keep KPCW on the air, through every real estate recession and no-snow year, for four decades.
In particular, special thanks from us (Susan and Blaire Feulner) to Leslie Thatcher, Rick Brough, Randy Barton and Emily Elliott for being keepers of the flame of localism, demonstrating during the COVID crisis what Tom Thomas, past president of the National Association of Community Broadcasters, told me: “There is clearly a very special relationship between KPCW and Park City residents.”
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“[I]f Park City and Summit County love Richardson Flat as much as they claim to, maybe they should demonstrate their love by cleaning it up and leading by example,” writes Micah Kagan in a letter to the editor.