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KALA-FM programs variety

Dispatch/Argus Photo By John Greenwood

For many people in the Quad-Cities radio listening area, 7 p.m. Friday means two hours of ``Get Back With The Beatles.'' KALA-FM hosts David Baker and Maureen McCormick spin rarities, well-known standards and provide countless facts and stories on the Fab Four.

On the Quad-Cities radio menu, KALA-FM is the combo platter.

While some other stations seem to have a hard time playing anything other than a few dozen albums, the ``100 watt blowtorch'' shucks formats from hour to hour and day to day quicker than Dennis Rodman changes hair colors. Rap. Urban. Rock. World Music. Spanish-language programming. Gospel. Blues. Jazz. Talk. Since it hit the air in 1967, and went to a full schedule in 1969, KALA has had it all, spread out at 88.5 and 105.5 FM.

You can listen to the station in the morning and get rap and urban, and in the afternoon and evening get rock or jazz, then zip over on the weekends to get Spanish-language programming or dance music.

``A lot of the formats have been chosen because we felt other commercial broadcasters were not covering them,'' David Baker, program director/general manager of KALA, said. ``Whether they did research that showed they wouldn't make money on them, or whether they're sub-niche formats that have too small of an audience, they were hands-off with them and we picked them up.

``Each of the formats gets a lot of positive feedback, especially the Spanish and the urban programming, because I think we fill a needed role in those communities,'' Mr. Baker said. ``The format I get the least input about is our rock programming. We don't get complaints, but probably because rock is on the radio at many other spots in the community we don't get as much feedback. Mainly rock is on for students to give them interest in the station.''

However, for the other formats, particularly the Spanish and urban, there's a more vital sense of community involvement because they're unique to the airwaves. That's one of the things that Mr. Baker is most proud of about the station -- that it acts as a needed service for the area.

``I think there's a sense that we're truly not in this to capitalize on the community,'' Mr. Baker added. ``We're willing to announce events that go on, and we've been hearing from a lot of community groups that they're having a hard time getting announcements on other stations. Some people out there use us as their sole source of information, which is a real burden, because we don't have a huge staff, but we try to get things out there.''

Each of the formats is dished out with enthusiasm and knowledge by a staff of roughly 60 jocks -- half of which are students at St. Ambrose, half of which are volunteers from the community. All the jocks work for free for the non-commercial station, which runs public service announcements and promos for area events, but no product pitches.

``(Non-commercial radio) is a good field to be in,'' Mr. Baker said. ``It's an exciting challenge every day to find out what new issues face us; there's always something you need to take care of. Career wise, non-commercial radio is more difficult than commercial. Commercial is easier to maintain stability in because the people are paid, they have to do what they're told. It's a little different here, not to say its worse, it's just different.''

And all the jocks get to program their own music and content, which also makes for an invigorating mixture.

``What people like about us is the spontaneity of it,'' Mr. Baker said. ``It's like early television -- unprogrammed, free-form. There's a structure to which formats are aired when, but right now I cannot tell you what song will be aired in two-and-a-half hours.''

Mr. Baker can't see KALA being any other way, and doesn't see it changing in the future. ``The thing we've done lately is taken some adventurous moves,'' he said. ``We've done more sub-genres and we're doing more specialty programming like `Get Back with the Beatles,' (an all-Beatles show hosted by Mr. Baker and Maureen McCormick every Friday from 7-9 p.m.), `Anarchy in the Q-C' (a local music and entertainment program hosted by Sean Leary and Brad Harvey every Tuesday from 6-8 p.m.) and the Dr. Demento show. We'll probably do more of that.''

And while he'd like to have the power of the station upped, interference with other stations broadcasting near their wavelength keeps that from happening. Still, for a 100-watt station, it's got a large share of fans.

``Everywhere I go I run into people who know the station,'' Mr. Baker said. ``Considering that we're not a big commercial station and we don't have 10,000 watts, that's pretty flattering.''

-- By Sean Leary (February 9, 1998)

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