After a months-long search, KVNF Public Radio has a new general manager.
"This is either my fifth or sixth station," said Jon Howard as he headed into his fourth day on the job. Howard has been in the public broadcasting business for more than 20 years, and KVNF is his fifth or sixth station. As with KVNF, all of the previous stations were commercial-free.
In his career, Howard says he's taken a reverse path to arrive at KVNF. Most public radio employees will start in a small community radio station and move up to the more mainstream, professionally-staffed stations like Colorado Public Radio. "I'm learning that I prefer the feel of community radio more than the public radio options," said Howard. "I just like it better. It's smaller, you get to know everybody better."
Howard moved across seven time zones to get to Paonia after living the last nine years on the Isle of Wight. His wife will make the move in a few weeks. He'd never heard of Paonia, and found the job posted on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting jobsite. He's not new to Colorado, having lived in Springfield and La Junta. He also interviewed many years ago for a job at KDNK in Carbondale. While he's used to packing up and moving, for his wife, a lifelong resident of the Isle of Wight, "This is a huge thing for her. She's never lived outside of the U.K."
Historically, Howard said he's taken jobs regardless of location. This time is different. After the couple came to Paonia for the interview and spent 10 days here, they were hooked on both the area and the station. "I think the people at the station are incredible. I think this is a beautiful facility," said Howard.
Howard is also a licensed Federal Communications Commission engineer. "I've hung off of towers in the pouring rain trying to fix antennas," said Howard. That background gives him a chief engineer's perspective of the station, and he's impressed with the facility, which was completed in 2005. The infrastructure allows the station some of the same capabilities as the larger stations. "It is absolutely beautiful. This little station has some of the coolest tools for a station this size," he said.
That qualification was a big part of what made Howard stand out from the 15 applicants, said KVNF board president Pam Ellison. "We just felt his qualifications made him the obvious choice." He brings a depth of experience to the position and has a clear understanding of the myriad rules and regulations, added Ellison. "He was head and shoulders above anyone else."
Howard credits his start in public radio to a turquoise Bakelite tabletop Philco radio. He grew up the seventh of 10 children and the family house in Missouri was always filled with sounds. Top-40 radio was just coming on the scene and nearby Kansas City was trying it out. Through top 40 radio, he was exposed to all types of music.
His dad was a mail carrier and moonlighted as a TV and radio repairman. Howard said he would follow his dad around with the tool caddy, all the while learning about electronics. With the combination of a love of music, that turquoise Philco and interest in electronics, "It was just a natural progression for me, I think."
After high school he took seven years off from school and eventually ended up at the University of Kansas, which at the time had four stations. His mentor/professor, a commercial broadcaster, saw that maybe he wasn't cut out for commercial radio, and led him to the university's public station. He's been in public radio ever since.
"But I really remember the turquoise Philco radio," he said.
Howard said he hasn't set any big goals for the station, which has an annual operating budget of about $400,000, or identified any areas he'd like to change. Rather he's taking it slowly, listening and observing. "I'm learning. I'm a big proponent of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'"
Howard said the biggest challenges KVNF and other community stations face in the coming years are its relevancy and the budget. By relevant, he said, he means "staying local... In today's multi-channel world, any kind of information is available at any time. We just have to be relevant to the area that we serve, and serve them the way that no one else is." He sees KVNF's eclectic music programming and local news and information as tools for keeping the station relevant.
As for funding, "If you solve one problem, you solve the other, because if you're relevant, the budget's going to happen, because people are going to support you."
KVNF serves 10,000square miles of western Colorado, and Howard wants to get out and see it all. "I'm anxious to get to Montrose," he said. "I think Montrose is a key area for this radio station."
After the new year, he would like to establish community advisory boards in Delta and Montrose and give both communities some ownership in the station. "Paonia is the anchor and it has been forever and ever. I would like to just slightly shift the center of the universe, just a little bit," he said.
KVNF also has an army of volunteers, from its board of directors to its roughly 80 DJs, and Howard wants to meet them all.
"Volunteering, it's a special thing," he said. While living on the Isle of Wight, he helped create a center that connected volunteers with organizations that need them. "Volunteering is a very personal thing. Every person in here who volunteers has a different reason for being here, and you have to kind of understand that" when working around them. "There is no generic volunteer. No one getting rich here, so everyone has an underlying reason why they're here. I think the manager has to be sensitive to that."