Community Voices

By on April 18, 2018

In KHOL’s tenth year, a small town has found its sound

(Sargent Schutt)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Keely Herron knew nothing about starting a radio show. But she loved opera and talking about it with her friend Pat Wright. They began attending The Met: Live in HD program at the Center for the Arts where they watched scores of famous operas. In the process, Herron learned from Wright, a history buff with a knack for opera. Conversations between the pair were enlightening, funny and interesting. “We joked for a long time it would make a good radio show,” Herron said.

One day last summer, Herron took this notion to the airwaves. She walked into KHOL, filled out some paperwork and walked away with “Opera for Everyone” airing Sundays.

The show is set up like a race to the finish, Herron said. She and Wright weave their entertaining and educational banter between arias.

From Pavarotti to Garcia

When KHOL founder Jim Tallichet first awakened KHOL’s airwaves with the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie” 10 years ago, it ushered in a new era for Jackson. The first record to spin on KHOL was a reflection of the jam-band loving nature of the town. As the station grew and the variety of music and people expanded, the station’s programming sparked community conversations, captured the musical diversity of the town and impacted people’s lives for the better.

For Herron, her radio show has allowed her to expand her creative reach and learn a new skill: radio production and editing. “Opera for Everyone” even turned into a podcast. It’s something she said she never could have done in a big city, but KHOL made the process approachable.

“Anybody can have a show, literally, as long as you do the training and show up consistently, you can have a radio show,” Herron said. “I’m a 40-something not hip lady with an opera show.”

With only three staffers, the station is indeed fueled by volunteers like Herron.

Community Affairs Director Brennan Hussey started out as a volunteer in 2014. Also a newbie to the radio scene, she said she received support from veteran volunteers. Still, her first few shows, she said, had some mistakes.  She recalled a listener calling in to say she was playing two tracks at once.

After she smoothed out the mechanics, KHOL helped Hussey, who studied journalism in college, to sharpen one of her passions.

“It opened the door of journalism I hadn’t thought about yet,” she said. “It ended up being a pretty good fit for me.”

Inimitable Sounds

Each DJ has license to create whatever show they want, albeit with a few guidelines, said station manager Zach Zimmerman. The station receives 15 to 20 new albums a week, which are ushered in over the airwaves alongside the volunteer DJ programming. But the most important part is that the station doesn’t sound like any other station. It’s a reflection of the community.

“We want people to be able to play whatever they want,” he said. Sometimes that’s opera, other times it’s metal, jazz or blues. “That’s the beauty of diversity and the free format that we have.”

The free format means the station isn’t required or pushed to play music spit out from an algorithm or songs that sell more advertising. There’s a human element to the music, he said.

“We reflect a huge swath of the community,” he said. “Everyone from ski bums to doctors and lawyers.”

Robert Emerson has been hooked on the blues since the late-60s when his older brother returned home from college. It’s only natural that after retirement he put his extensive record collection in Driggs to good use on “Blues with a Feelin’.”

“It gets to come out and have some value,” he said. “Being able to express it and find that other people enjoy it too is gratifying.”

Emerson prepares for his weekly show by combing through his extensive record collection. Sometimes he tracks down interviews with blues artists traveling through town.

In a short decade, the community radio station has become an essential part of the Jackson Hole community. Without it, the airwaves would sound a bit quieter and a lot more country, Zimmerman joked.

Hussey said the impact of the community radio station goes beyond the sound it produces.

“It’s a pretty significant resource for other organizations to share their voice and message,” she said. It is an outlet for nonprofits, businesses and organizations to reach the community.

“There might be a few more lost dogs, too,” she said, referencing the multiple pups each week that listeners call in about.

But it’s also a wealth of knowledge, built by the community it serves. Hussey interviews almost a dozen local orgs and people a week to talk about current events, upcoming entertainment and regular community banter.

“It’s really important, especially in smaller communities,” she said, where the lack of TV news means one less media source. In Jackson Hole, people depend on radio and print outlets to get the news.

The radio has a special intimacy. You get to hear someone’s voice, speaking directly to you and get to know them. It’s so immediate and personal.

“We just have more access to a wider range of the human experience,” Herron said. “It isn’t just what is being chosen for mass media. Anyone can do it and I think that’s amazing.” PJH

KHOL is hosting a record and CD sale Saturday at the Center for the Arts. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., purchase CDs for 25 cents and records for $2. The KHOL Sessions, Live in Studio will also be available for purchase. The record contains 13 tracks and five digital bonus songs, all recorded in the KHOL studio. The curated vinyl is included in a $5 per month membership renewal or new membership. Beer from Roadhouse Brewing will be available for donation. Bring your own cup.

About Erika Dahlby

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