KUNV 91.5 FM soared from fledgling campus radio startup in 1981 to storied station in short order.
With its rousing "Rock Avenue" programming, KUNV garnered industry nods as a Top Ten college station by the mid-'80s. Run by students, it served as the nucleus of a thriving local music scene. Late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel and Ken Jordan, '88 BA Communication Studies, of the electronica duo The Crystal Method honed their early on-air skills there. But FCC violations, loss of funding, format changes, a move off-campus, and dwindling student involvement followed.
Now, five years after returning to campus, KUNV is getting its groove back.
Rebranded as KUNV 91.5 The Source, a new contemporary jazz format has nearly doubled ratings, attracted a more culturally diverse audience, and lowered its average listener age by 20 years. Sister station 91.5 The Rebel KUNV HD-2 broadcasts progressive indie rock and hip-hop programming.
But KUNV's crowning achievement may be its renewed focus on offering students real-world experiences. Recent graduates are finding the hands-on skills they picked up at the student station are paying dividends in launching careers.
"The training -- I don't know how to quantify it besides saying it was invaluable," said Alexia K. Gyorody, '12 BA English.
Gyorody co-produced a morning news show on The Source, the main KUNV station that goes out over traditional analog airwaves. She also hosted a talk show on The Rebel, the student station broadcast in HD over a digital signal. Shortly after graduation, Gyorody was competing for a producing post at WFAE 90.7 FM, the NPR affiliate in Charlotte, N.C. Now she is the associate producer of the station's Charlotte Talks, the region's major public affairs show.
"The thing that set me apart was that I had experience with the pressure of a morning news show and running an audio board," the 25-year-old said. "I had on-air experience interviewing celebrities and prominent politicians because I was at KUNV during the 2012 elections."
Other alumni who hustled on air and behind the scenes at The Source and The Rebel have recently landed plum radio gigs at Las Vegas stations operated by Lotus Communications, Clear Channel Communications, and CBS Radio.
Unlike Gyorody, most KUNV interns are enrolled in the Greenspun School of Journalism & Media Studies program. The station offers lessons in newsgathering, interviewing, recording production, audio engineering, and FCC regulations from KUNV General Manager Frank Mueller and other Greenspun faculty. They also receive mentoring from the college's student advisors like Lynn Briggs, the veteran mid-day radio host for Old School 105.7 FM.
Developing such relationships with established radio professionals doesn't hurt in turning a course of study into a career path.
Just ask Ryan Errisson.
Errisson, '13 BA Journalism and Media Studies, was co-hosting The Rebel's first morning zoo show during his senior year when Briggs tipped him to an opening at Las Vegas's Mix 94.1 FM. He went for it even though he was months from graduation.
"A lot of applicants didn't have experience on the most basic tools in the repertoire, like running the soundboard," said Errisson, 28.
He was hired as a board operator but soon moved into his current slot as a weekend DJ. Errisson credits his experience at KUNV with accelerating his rapid rise from student to behind-the-scenes soundman to on-air talent.
"It helped me get comfortable behind the mic," he said.
It also confirmed his career commitment -- Errisson spent two of his college years getting up daily at 3 a.m. to host KUNV's The Morning Rebellion. "Doing that every day, in and out, really tests whether you want to be in radio," he said. "Just getting in there, no matter what, and putting in the hours solidified my work ethic."
Spots like the ones Errisson and Gyorody held at KUNV are limited, with fierce competition for them. Las Vegas's commercial radio stations also offer internships, but often student interns are relegated to administrative tasks. Station sponsors expect polished DJs on air, not amateurs still finding their voices.
"Because those stations have to be run by professionals, they're not as able to be fully involved in experiences as they are here," said Mueller, the KUNV GM. "We're not as worried about commercial advertisers saying this doesn't sound professional. That being said, our students do sound great."
Growing & Changing Audience
Programming changes at KUNV 91.5 FM have grown its listenership and attracted a younger and more diverse audience. The station primarily has played jazz for 15 years. But its branding as The Source refocused the station from traditional artists of yesteryear like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk -- music some find too cerebral -- to contemporary performers like Dave Koz and Boney James.
"It's a more accessible sound," KUNV General Manager Frank Mueller said. "People are comfortable listening to it at work or in the car and not feel like it requires concentration."
The result has been a rise in cumulative listeners per week from about 35,000 people two years ago to 55,000 now, according to Nielsen ratings.
New music also brought a new, different audience. Most of the listeners tuning in to the old format of traditional jazz were over 65. ""We've grown with an audience a good 15 years younger," Mueller said, citing Nielsen's KUNV data. "It's great to see that kind of change because that's the audience that has involvement and civic engagement that really drives the community."
In addition to educating students and serving the university community, a third part of KUNV's mission is wider community service. The Source has made great inroads toward this mandate, Mueller said, especially in reaching underserved members of the community.
"Almost 50 percent of our audience is minorities," he said. Amongst this portion of the listenership, "It's about a 50-50 split between the African-American community and the Latino community."