91.3 KBCS More Than Just a Voice on the Radio

Sonya Green, news and public affairs director at 91.3 KBCS (left), Sue Popma, marketing director of the Crossroads Shopping Center, Roz Liming, Crossroads marketing manager, and Bruce Wirth, KBCS program manager.

At 91.3 KBCS, the station takes the phrase “community radio” far beyond on-air programming.

From farmer’s markets to art fairs to concerts to a musical book club, the FM station on the Bellevue College campus has made the support of community events an integral part of its mission.

Although located on campus, KBCS differs from stations characterized as “college radio,” which are primarily student-run.

“KBCS is kind of a hybrid,” said Patrick Whalen, director of underwriting sales and marketing at the station. “We have some of the qualities like a volunteer, or student, or community station, and we also have some of the qualities of what’s a traditional public radio station with paid staff and that kind of a mission and that kind of programming philosophy.”

At first glance, sponsoring an event where the science fiction writing of Isaac Asimov is put to song might not sound overly radio friendly, but it’s exactly the type of involvement that appeals to the community-minded mission of KBCS.

“Bushwick Book Club, the way I describe them is, they are a songwriters’ collective,” Whalen said. “What they do is not far from what KBCS does. They read a book and KBCS listeners read books. The No. 1 activity among KBCS listeners is reading.

“They write songs inspired by the book”, he said. “So, people who listen to KBCS are deeply engaged in the arts and they act on that inspiration. Then, they perform those songs in an evening-length performance, which is very collective and cooperative and approachable.”

Members of the Bushwick Book Club at a performance based on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series
Members of the Bushwick Book Club at a performance based on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series, sponsored in part by 91.3 KBCS. (photo by Melissa Thompson)

Mike Votava, the marketing director for Bushwick, agreed that it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, but one that greatly expands the book club’s scope.

“Bushwick is all volunteer run so we’re always short on time and resources,” Votava said. “The scope of what we can do is always limited by that. What KBCS does for us is they help get the word out. And, I think they just love the program and they’re doing a lot more. They’re going out there and trying to get us partners and sponsorships and really taking a vested interest in what Bushwick is about.”

In addition to the Bushwick Bush Club, KBCS presents music shows at venues such as The Tractor Tavern, The Triple Door and Jazz Alley; the BAM ARTSFair (Bellevue Arts Museum); and a live broadcast from the Crossroads Farmers Market.

At the BAM ARTSFair, KBCS programmed the stage, including raising the money to pay the artists, Whalen said.

“We really look for partners where we balance each other out,” Whalen said. “The ARTSFair is a perfect example. Mission-wise, we’re aligned. We serve the same community. So, by working together we amplify what we do.”

Being in a culturally rich and diverse area also helps shape the programming and mission of KBCS, Whalen said.

“KBCS would have a different quality if it was in Spokane or somewhere in another part of Washington or Oregon,” he said. “Just the community need would be different. But here, it’s an urban environment and with very rich public media choices available.”

In addition to its reputation and relationships in the community, the staff at KBCS realizes the importance of its role as an integral part of the college.

“There are a lot of competing demands, but they’ve been very supportive of the station and we appreciate that a great deal, and we don’t take it for granted,” Whalen said. “I think the campus supports what we do and we’re happy with our relationship with the college. It’s only gotten better over the years.”

Whalen said the station continually is looking at improving its product and he has a wish list to help KBCS expand what is has to offer.

“No. 1, increase our paid staff. We’re understaffed here.” he said. “No. 2, have an endowment. No. 3, have a new broadcasting facility that includes a stage and a forum, integrating some of the other media capabilities of the college and adding some additional value to that.”

“Our limitations are based on real resource limitations, not on lack of desire or lack of vision,” Whalen said. “But, that’s true of every public radio station, no matter how big an endowment they have.”

Although community involvement is important, Whalen emphasized that quality programming remains the focal point at KBCS.

“We’re always improving what we do,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of success tuning up our weekdays in general and our weekday afternoons. Some of our focus is going to be on weekday mornings now to try and bring that same focus and success level to some of our existing program.”

– by Jim Hoehn


On The Air:

91.3 KBCS: You’ll find an eclectic mix of music and ideas on 91.3 KBCS, a self-supporting public service of Bellevue College.

The College Channel (cable channel 28): Explore educational programs, concerts, historical lectures and much more on the College Channel (cable channel 28). You’ll find a daily programming guide, as well as station news and announcements.

Last Updated October 3, 2016