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New Mexico Calling

Community radio brings state’s secluded residents closer together

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Road trips around the state give curious motorists a chance to peruse the many fine New Mexican radio stations that have been popping up in increasing numbers over recent years. A far cry from the top-40 commercial enterprises that dominate American airwaves, these independent stations offer a glimpse into the lives of the people who occupy the landscape.

Silver City, Las Cruces, and Alamogordo all have community-run stations of their own. By focusing on local music and news, each station becomes a reflection of the unique culture that flows from the area. Making money isn’t the goal here. The stations usually rely on donations and hold fundraisers to cover expenses, and the programming often comes from volunteers.

That doesn’t mean the shows sound amateurish in the least. When tuning in to stations like KURU in Silver City, KTAL in Las Cruces or KALH in Alamogordo, the first thing that comes across is the amazing talent that exists all around us and shines through in the programming.

KURU has been broadcasting from their studio in Silver City since early 2013. The station is the effort of Gila/Mimbres Community Radio (GMCR), a nonprofit with a goal of bringing the voices of Grant County to the airwaves. As chair of the GMCR board, Carolyn Smith has worked hard to create and promote local programming for KURU’s weekly schedule. She moved from her home in Vermont to Silver City in 2002. Smith had worked for Vermont community radio and brought her expertise along with her to New Mexico. When Smith speaks about her time at KURU, the passion for the work is clear in her voice.

“The importance of local community radio and local media outlets cannot be over emphasized in this age of media monopolies and dwindling government financing for public stations. KURU is a way to connect with other people and to be informed,” Smith said. “It’s something that matters besides work.”

Like most community-run stations in the state, KURU subsists on listener donations. The station’s wide variety of shows include Grant County current events and New Mexican music. “Earth Matters” is KURU’s flagship program. Airing on Tuesdays at 10 a.m., the locally produced show on environmental issues features interviews with climate and nature experts from the area. “Earth Matters” runs simultaneously on KTAL in Las Cruces.

Over in the eastern edge of the Tularosa Basin, KALH has been airing independent community radio since 2005. Ken Bass enjoyed a long career in radio and broadcast engineering before moving to the area and starting the non-profit station.

“My main thrust [to begin the station] was to provide music, entertainment and educational services that were not available in the community through specialty programming and local news,” Bass said.

Now, 14 years later, he works as the sole employee behind the controls at KALH, producing and reporting local news shows regularly with the help of a few volunteers who research stories for the broadcasts.

As a veteran disk jockey, Bass has learned quite a few tricks of the trade, which he uses to enrich KALH’s on-air schedule.

“I carry syndicated programming, particularly music — ranging from bluegrass to psychedelic — that is supplied without cost by other people like me from around the world,” he said.

Using this program-sharing technique and his vast knowledge of radio engineering, Bass can run KALH and air programs 24-hours-a-day with a barebones staff. “Spectrum News” is KALH’s daily newscast that covers local headlines, weather and more. It airs Monday through Thursday at 6, 7, 8 a.m. and at noon.

New Mexico is at its heart a rural state, and when local media disappears, people can start to feel disconnected from their community. Nonprofit, independent radio now fills a space once occupied by local newspapers and traditional radio stations by providing daily broadcasts focused on issues that matter to people in the community. Having local radio in these communities allows more people to join in on the conversation in their area and spread the joy that is New Mexican culture.

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