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Bruce Ready to be the Boss at KXCI

This time a year ago, KXCI FM 91.3 had just parted ways with one Bruce. Former GM Larry Bruce was on hand as the community radio station improved its financial situation, but he managed to play a major role in a growing rift between station management and a group of upset KXCI members called the Democracy Initiative.

Now, another Bruce--no relation--hopes to close the cavern while making KXCI not just a factor in terms of fundraising, but a factor in the local ratings game.

Ryan J. Bruce comes to KXCI filled with community experience. He worked for the National Federation of Community Broadcasters in San Francisco prior to landing the general manager's position with WFHB in Bloomington, Ind., a community radio station where he spent five years.

He started at KXCI on April 16.

"It's been great. It was a small market," Bruce said. "We doubled the budget and doubled the audience in the last five years, but we're in an interesting market (in Bloomington) where there's a really successful Triple A and a really popular public station in addition to a number of successful commercial stations, and I think we kind of reached the point where we were as big as we're going to get. We had a lot of great successes here, but I was looking for something that would be the next challenge."

And a challenge is here, especially in light of Tucson's radio makeup, most notably the relative success of Clear Channel Triple A (or Adult Album Alternative) station The Mountain, KWMT 92.9 FM, which sports an environmentally friendly mentality while providing a playlist, via its Studio C programming, of live performances from nationally touring artists. As such, among commercial radio stations, it's probably the most versatile station in a typically cookie-cutter radio music market.

That was a niche often consumed by community radio.

"We can be as much a player as The Mountain. That's not far-fetched," Bruce said. "We can compete with Clear Channel with the type of audience they have, without the variety of volunteer-powered radio."

Inevitably, the format always comes into question for community radio, and it ranks as one of the major running battles for every general manager.

"I think that's the danger with community radio," Bruce said. "I'm coming from a station that's truly free-form. We don't have a playlist. We make a lot of music available. People can and do pull from it, but the consistency is sometimes an issue. If a person is interested in a genre of programming instead of a certain mix, sometimes you get a real lack of people listening for a long period of time. That's how it was here (in Bloomington) until we tried to help, not by mandating particular cuts and particular CDs, but by making resources available for you to understand what's available and what can make a more consistent sound that helps to avoid the tune-out.

"In Bloomington, 24 percent of our listeners listen at least five hours a week. We still are in double digits when it gets to 10 to 15 hours a week, and that blows my mind in an industry measured by quarter hours. Obviously, they're turning the radio on and staying, whether at work or home or on headphones. As far as KXCI and community radio in general, there's a way to provide a consistency without providing a playlist, being formatted without taking away the creativity."

The Democracy Initiative, a group of longtime supporters who feel they were marginalized some years ago, will closely scrutinize Bruce's actions. While the relationship between management and the Democracy Initiative appears to have improved, the volunteer-involvement approach is something Bruce will have to balance in order to achieve the kind of success he desires.

"Anytime you try to make a program change, and new ideas come to the front, you have people who feel they're not being included in discussions about programming and being left out in the cold, and therefore, the feeling is the station isn't being responsive to its listeners or volunteers," Bruce said. "One of the first things we're going to do is a strategic plan to determine who are our stakeholders--what do we need to ask of them, what are we looking to get out of this, and where are we going in the next three to five years?--and then from that, bring everyone to the table so they have an opportunity to give us input, and then start to look at how we'll improve the station.

"I want to come in and find out the things I don't necessarily know right now. The organization is primed and ready to create a strategic plan. Some of the staff (members who have) been there forever are interested in a cohesive plan. One of my first hopes is talking to the Democracy Initiative about what it is (they) are most concerned about. As a general manager the last five years, I've learned that if you're not open to at least hearing people's viewpoints, the station's not going to get there. I want to bring everybody to the table. I want to include the Democracy Initiative, even though I don't know if it's as much an initiative as people interested in giving input to the station.

"Ultimately, community radio is about people, whether we're talking about audience or staff. Yes, we have to make money, but it cannot, it will not, be a station that looks at profits before people. I think commercial radio can be good, but the main difference and most wonderful thing about community radio is they love it and love what they're doing. As a general manager, I can't offer somebody a million dollars to do a job, and even then, I don't know if they like doing the job as someone who has a real passion for it. Community radio can have that leg up on the game all the time--a loyalty and passion that commercial radio can't offer."

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