10 Questions with ... Ron Sorenson
May 16, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I've worked at all three versions of KFMG (late '60s-early '70s; 1992-1996; 2007-current. From 1975-1992, owner and operator of KBLE-FM, a locally-originated cable radio station.
1. How did you become interested in radio?
I was in a folk music group in high school, The Castlegate Singers. Bill Plymat, Jr., whose family owned the original KFMG (it was then a Classical station), was announcing a late-night folk music program. He liked our band, and I got to know him. When he transferred to the U of MN, I got to take over his gig. By the time I decided what I wanted to be if I grew up, I was running the radio station. As a performer, unfortunately, my taste quickly eclipsed my ability -- or my willingness to practice ... I'm not really sure which. So, radio is my vehicle for doing music. I like radio, but I LOVE music!
2. You have a long history of Triple A programming in Des Moines. Tell us about that.
Started doing "Progressive Rock" or "Underground" at the original KFMG (94.9, now Classic Rocker KGGO) in 1967 (a one-hour late-night program called "The Roc Show"). Station went full-time Progressive Rock in 1970. I was the PD. It was purchased by Stoner Broadcasting in 1971. Contrary to their expressed intentions during the FCC approval process, they changed the format to Top 40 once they assumed ownership. I resigned on-air (along with five other staff persons), signed the station off, locked the doors and left. Formed "The Committee to Free KFMG," filed Petition for Reconsideration w/ FCC, and "forced" Stoner to reinstate Progressive format. Surprisingly, they chose not to rehire the original staff.
Then started KBLE-FM cable radio station. It evolved over the period between 1975 and 1992 from a "Progressive AOR" to an "Eclectic Triple A."
I purchased KFMG 2.0 in 1992, just as Triple A was emerging. Flagship Triple A. Reported to the World. Sold 1996.
Applied for LPFM at 99.1FM around 2000, at a guess, and ultimately got it on the air on February 26th, 2007, under the ownership of local human services agency, Employee & Family Resources. They chose to discontinue operation in January of 2010. I then formed The Des Moines Community Radio Foundation for the purpose of operating KFMG in Spring of 2010, and returned the station to broadcasting on June 14th, 2010, as an "Eclectic Triple A."
3. You were able to revive the KFMG call letters with an LPFM station a couple years back. Give us some insight into that process.
The call sign had been at a TV station in Alaska until a couple of months prior to this version of KFMG. The station was sold to Alaska Public Broadcasting, which chose to give up the calls. We were just in the right place at the right time, and were able to pick them back up.
4. The station is located in a historical building, right?
Currently in the "Historic" Hotel Ft. Des Moines. Early 20th Century building. On the Historic Register. Hosted Nikita Khrushchev during his Cold War visit to the U.S. It's the "Democratic" hotel in town, and we had most of the 2008 candidates staying here at one time or another, including Sen. Christopher Dodd, who lived down the hall from us for about five months. The owner of the hotel is a fan from long ago, and offered tower/transmitter location, and studio and office space. Unfortunately, the Hotel will be undergoing renovation sometime in the next year or so, and at that time we'll be required to depart. We have several options, the most promising of which is the possibility of moving into the new downtown Des Moines Public Library location. We'll keep you posted....
5. With limited signal reach, how do you get the station out to a broader audience?
Via the Internet. We've had over 21,000 unique IP addresses access the station's online stream, for over 75,000 sessions.
6. What are your biggest personnel challenges at the station?
Actually, personnel have not been a major problem. My unindicted co-conspirator, Gary Monte, is a talented and trained music industry professional. He's been a rock. He's the only other paid employee. We have about 25 volunteers, and have not had any problem filling up our programming schedule. True, it is a bit like herding cats ...We could use a volunteer bookkeeper and a volunteer underwriting salesperson, but that's about it.
7. How would you describe the music on the station?
Eclectic Triple A. It's a "melodic" rock base (I hate the term "soft rock," but it's true, we aren't very crunchy -- definitely not as much edgy as the current Triple A average, based on what I see being reported). We display significant musical flavoring from jazz, blues, acoustic and world music. We play at least one track per hour from local or Iowa artists. We have block-programmed specialty shows for most of the "flavor" genres. Would "Adult Triple A" be from the Department of Redundancy Department? We certainly skew older than the mainstream of commercial Triple A. Although we're a noncomm, we probably present more like a commercial station.
8. Tell us about the reader's poll award you recently received.
We were honored to be chosen "Des Moines' Favorite Radio Station" in this year's Cityview Reader's Poll (Cityview is our local weekly entertainment paper). Not too shabby for a station with all of the power of a large light bulb ("100 exciting watts of broadcasting power!"), and a marketing and promotional budget of $0!!
We finished in second place in 2009 and 2010. Citadel's 100K Classic Rocker, KGGO, finished 2nd and Clear Channel's 50K "clear channel" AM giant, WHO ("Coast to Coast, Border to Border, and Then Some...), finished 3rd. Clear's former Triple A station, KPTL, which had finished in the top three for the past couple of years, dropped out after their recent format change.
9. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Right here in this chair (unless I hit the lottery, and am able to retire to the "good life" on Aruba).
10. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ....
Methamphetamine (just kidding, of course). The correct answer would be marijuana. Okay, still kidding. Actually, there's nothing I can't do without, if necessary (other than, perhaps, Selector from RCS).
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
Spare time? People have spare time? During my copious free time I play golf, read science fiction and listen to music for pleasure.
Last non-industry job:
Sold golf course advertising (tee marker and cup advertising for eight central Iowa courses). This required me to play golf at least four times per week!!
First record ever purchased:
Lost in the mists of time ... it was a single from the late '50s or early '60s, though
Also gone from long-term storage, but the Newport Folk Festival, 1966, is an early standout memory.
Favorite band of all-time:
Singer/songwriters -- Van Morrison and Jackson Browne come to mind.