Kim Allison pulls up her wicker chair and adjusts her microphone. Her laptop, perched on a piano bench, is lit up with the morning’s playlist. She scrolls her iPad for news, while the television is on mute in the background. Cables line the floor. Coffee and water are nearby.
It’s almost 6 a.m. and Allison is ready to go on air — from her living room.
Her mobile studio doesn’t have the same acoustics as the KUNV radio studio, but Allison’s calm, soothing voice carries weight.
Her mantra: “I’m right there with you. Every job is essential. Every person is essential. I just want to be here,” Allison said. “What can I do to be there for the listeners — which is what I signed on to do.”
KUNV, in the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, started broadcasting remotely in mid-March when Nevadans were asked to stay at home.
“Technology has advanced to the point that we can do this,” said Dave Nourse, KUNV's operations manager. “We want to be a friend to let our neighbors know what's happening in the community.”
Close to 10 a.m., Allison starts to unplug from the university sound system so Kim Linzy can go on for the afternoon shift from her living room nook. John Nasshan takes the reins for the evening shift.
Nourse said the on-air approach to programming during this time has focused on balancing music programming that’s familiar while providing updates on social services, public health resources, community needs, local news and UNLV updates. Journalism school instructor and radio host Carrie Kaufman started the weeknight podcast Impact, focusing on the economic, social and educational implications of the novel coronavirus.
Maintaining the radio station’s teaching mission
The sudden shift in radio operations became a teachable moment, Nourse said.
“We communicated with the student hosts that broadcasters are the most essential of essential employees. Our jobs are to inform the public in the event of an emergency and many of our on-air hosts have stepped up to the plate to fill that role,” Nourse said.
At the beginning of the academic year, about 50 students participated in the radio station's operations. That number is down to about 15 which includes six paid student workers. Students who have worked in production and marketing have found new ways to help out. They’ve been creating short segments, and communicating with local businesses to offer help with no-cost on-air announcements.
Student staff helped transition the radio production to remote broadcasting.
While equipment is not available for the student-run RebelHD2 station hosts to broadcast remotely, KUNV enacted protocols to give students an opportunity — should they feel comfortable — to record their shows from KUNV studios.
“We have put some rules in place to ensure the safety of the students including no in-studio guests and no mingling in station common areas,” Nourse said.
“We're still trying to find ways to engage with our students. Just last week we asked some of the students who work with the radio station doing play-by-play for UNLV sporting events to produce some spots for us. It's not what they normally do for the station, but just like everyone, they're adjusting and rising to the challenge,” Nourse said.
An eclectic approach to our common predicament
The quarantine life looks different to everyone. Some are working from home, some are without a job. Some are figuring out their kids’ homeschooling. Allison and Linzy said they are sensitive to the varying experiences of their listeners.
The morning commute traffic reports are not as frequent, but reminders to take a walk are. The radio airwaves are a mix of what KUNV has always offered. You can tune in for jazz, a Marvin Gaye classic, or an upbeat Mariah Carey song. News breaks include free radio spots for local restaurants open for curbside pickup and delivery.
Linzy has been a KUNV employee for 32 years. As assistant operations manager and music director, Linzy has been on-air during tragic times like the events of Sept. 11 and the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017. Her on-air tone is measured. She communicates the gravity of current events and keeping “positive as reasonable as possible,” she said.
“I believe music can be healing. It’s escapism to get your mind off day to day issues — especially now with COVID-19,” Linzy said.
The coronavirus pandemic has encouraged entertainers, musicians, actors, and radio hosts to find new ways of bringing respite from a new reality.
Linzy was drawn to the veteran DJ and rapper D-Nice nice on Instagram who started “Club Quarantine,” with a massive following.
“To see your favorite musicians do a live broadcast — it’s really personal so I think it’s been a time to bring us together in a whole other way. We’re bonding technologically and that’s beautiful,” Linzy said.