Iowa Western Community College’s radio station, KIWR “The River,” remains in a strong position in the market but has had a lean year, like many media outlets.
The station, at 89.7 FM, which has an alternative rock format, ranks seventh among the 50-plus radio stations in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area, Don Kohler, vice president of marketing and public relations, told the Iowa Western Board of Trustees during its meeting Monday.
“You’re not going to see another college radio station with those kinds of numbers anywhere across the nation — I guarantee it,” President Daniel Kinney said.
Kohler said he thought there was a station in Austin, Texas that would be an exception.
“We’re still doing really well in ratings,” he said.
The station’s 100,000-watt signal also places it among the most powerful college stations in the nation, matching two stations in Atlanta and overshadowing nearby KIOS-FM’s 50,000 watts and KVNO’s 9,000 watts. KIOS, at 91.5-FM, is owned by Omaha Public Schools, and KVNO, Classical 90.7-FM, is based at University of Nebraska-Omaha.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected The River’s advertising revenue, Kohler said.
“We have a pretty solid group of businesses that advertise with the radio station, but because of the pandemic, some of them are not able to advertise as much,” he said.
The fact that live performances throughout the metro were canceled also contributed to the loss of revenue, Kohler said.
KIWR has offered extra air time to advertisers to encourage them to maintain a presence on the airwaves, he said. It provided $35,000 worth of underwriting for announcements in one quarter.
The station has also broadcast 2,100 public service announcements and 1,100 live on-air promotions, Kohler said. That includes 12 live reads per day on COVID-19 resources, such as testing sites, CARES Act assistance available and safety tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pottawattamie County Public Health Department.
“I’m kind of proud of the station on everything we’ve been able to put together, because it’s been kind of a tough year on them, too,” he said.
Besides making it challenging financially, the pandemic has made it hard to get all the students and staff into the station safely, said Sophia John, general manager.
“But since people were confined, they turned here more and they listened to music more,” she said.
Student interest in the program remains strong, and most graduates find employment in radio, John said.
Although the college had to provide $130,000 in support, up from $85,000 the previous year, the station also saved the college money by broadcasting coverage of Iowa Western athletic events and giving the college constant exposure, he said. And, of course, there’s the educational value of offering students hands-on experience in a competitive radio station.
The station received a two-year grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting of $102,138.
The college has decided to redesign its agricultural technology program to target high school students instead of traditional college students, said Marjorie Welch, vice president of academic affairs. The program has struggled to attract students who are committed to completing a degree or diploma, she said.
“A lot of the students come to us, take some classes, and then quit and take jobs,” she said.
With a career academy approach, the ag tech program could teach students the skills they need to enter the workforce after high school graduation, Welch said.
The administration has decided to modify the college’s culinary arts diploma and add an Associate of Arts degree to the Associate of Science degree already offered, Welch said. That will include deleting some courses.
“We were reworking a lot of courses, because there was a lot of overlap,” she said.
A decision was also made to reshape the math course required for aviation technology to make it more relevant to the program, Welch said.
In other business, the board approved effectively refinancing Dorm Revenue Refunding Bonds, Series 2021A and 2021B to obtain a lower interest rate, said Eddie Holtz, vice president of finance.