Media Watch

Peterson's successful reign to conclude as GM at KXCI

In its more than 30 years of operation, community radio station KXCI 91.3 FM endured its shared of almost legendary internal spats. The concept of having a community funded, community driven radio station had the unexpected impact of leading to numerous community voices with very different agendas, and that discontent threatened to rattle the foundations of the concept on a number of occasions during the course of the organizations first two or so decades.

At times, KXCI was a mess, and almost as much an uncertain hodge podge behind the scenes as the eclectic nature of the often seemingly random music and programming choices that adorned its airwaves.

Randy Peterson witnessed that turmoil first-hand. Given that he was at the station for more than 15 years - half of its current life - he saw and experienced those issues from a unique, internal perspective. That recognition of KXCI's dysfunction probably played a role in Peterson's managing approach once he was finally vaulted to the position of GM a little over seven years ago.

Peterson concludes his stint as General Manager and Development Director in February. The search for a replacement is underway. His successor will inherit a position with significantly greater stability, and, if that's the role of a GM, to leave the place in better shape than one found it, it could favorably be argued Peterson delivered one of the better stints as General Manager of an electronic media outlet in Tucson in recent memory.

Granted, the role of KXCI is unique. The station operates on a fundraising and donation model as opposed to needing advertising to support it, which is the more familiar approach among privately owned radio outlets. The private model is often also beholden to the whims of larger corporate interests based in home offices thousands of miles away.

Furthermore, KXCI has greater community input in the everyday operation than Arizona Public Media, the public broadcasting entity affiliated with NPR that functions under the UA umbrella.

This is about as close to by the people and for the people as radio can get—it's also only functional in a handful of cities--and Peterson managed to play a significant role in bringing important facets together to dramatically enhance the overall product.

Start with fundraising. In celebration of its 30th anniversary, the station launched its Amplify Tucson! campaign in 2013. It had lofty goals: raise money for a new transmitter that could improve signal strength and allow residents along the northern most portion of the city and county to listen; improve studio functionality within the refurbished downtown house that has been home pretty much since its launch; and pay off the mortgage on the property, which is now even equipped with solar panels.

The community responded, to the tune of is over a half million dollars.

"Particular projects that I'm thrilled to have completed in my years at KXCI include the new transmitter that went live in August of this year, the installation of solar panels on the station's roof, donated by Technicians for Sustainability, (and) the build-out on our second floor studios and Studio 2A performance space," said Peterson via email. He hopes the recent success of the major fundraiser leads to a decrease in pledge drives in the years ahead. "I think my proudest accomplishments at KXCI include growing our audience with quality programming, which has allowed us to grow both our membership ranks and our overall revenue so that the station can focus on long-term success and not day-to-day survival. With that larger audience comes much fewer membership drives - we were at four drives a year when I started in 1999; now we do two main drives with a few special days thrown in. The continuing push to switch our members to sustaining memberships will also strengthen the station for the future and should continue to shorten our membership drives even further."

Peterson believes that during his tenure, the station also enhanced its role as a major contributor to the well-being of Tucson's arts and economic landscape.

"Along with growing our audience, we've been able to grow our impact in the community and our support for Tucson's local music scene, and I'm proud of our success in both areas. We're doing more to support our fellow non-profit, and our local musicians than ever before," said Peterson, "and our lead role in creating 2nd Saturdays Downtown, which we continue to sponsor."

During his tenure, KXCI has been awarded with its share of Tucson Weekly Best of Tucson radio station accolades, a 2012 LUMIE from the Tucson Pima Arts Council, and recognition for Peterson as a 40 Under 40 community leadership honor in 2011.

"That wouldn't have been possible without the success of the station to support it," Peterson said.

Peterson says he gave the prospect of departure serious thought in September, which marked his 15th anniversary with the station. While he doesn't have another position lined up at the moment, he says he may have some leads. If all goes well, he'd like to stay in Tucson, and remain in the non-profit world.

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