Station manager lives dreams, sleeps nightmares
Many of us have recurring nightmares, but Chris Kidd’s is different than most.
“I have this nightmare that I’m on the air, and I can’t find any records,” said Kidd, the station manager at KTHO-AM radio in South Lake Tahoe. “There isn’t a record in the entire studio, so I have to talk and talk, stretch and stretch.
“I began having this nightmare when I first started in radio, back in the days before there ever was a thing called talk radio.
“I used to wake up sweating.”
Kidd’s nightmare during his sleeping hours turns into his dream job during the daytime, however. He is celebrating his fourth year as owner of 2,500-watt KTHO, a bit of an upset considering that the station has had four owners since 1989.
Make no mistake – owning a small radio station is no cakewalk. Kidd walks that fine line between financial solvency and dead air on an almost daily basis. But he seems to thrive on the pressure, and it is clear that he truly loves the business.
A recent rumor had the station in danger of folding – a notion Kidd denies.
“We’re always looking to improve our situation financially,” he said. “But all you have to do is turn on the radio or call the station to find out that we’re still here.”
In fact, Kidd is planning to expand. The FCC recently granted Kidd’s petition to establish a new FM station in Truckee, and the contract has now been opened to competitive bidding. Seven other people have put in bids, but Kidd is considered the front-runner.
Kidd has also submitted an application to establish another AM station in South Shore – a smaller (1,400-watt) operation that would have separate programming from KTHO.
Currently, KTHO is heard throughout the Tahoe Basin, and into the Carson Valley. Kidd markets the station on that basis. That is why KTHO is still here – because Kidd and the other previous owners have wanted to be based in this friendly and picturesque community.
“I could be running a station in Reno right now, but I like the idea of having a major influence in the community,” said Kidd, who created Reno-based station KBCH in 1994. When the Tahoe station became available the following year, he grabbed it.
“It’s kind of ironic to say this, considering that giant Lake Tahoe is right behind us,” he said. “But I enjoy being a big fish in a small pond. Plus I’ve always wanted to be here, ever since I first visited Lake Tahoe in the summer of 1968.”
Kidd has succeeded in creating a local presence in the community, but the station also relies on several pieces of national flair.
For instance, KTHO’s local programming includes “Life at the Lake” with Donna Flores, and two programs hosted by Cassie Sheppard: “Journey Into Jazz” and “Cassie’s New Age Revelations.”
Sheppard has been on the air since 1995 – KTHO is her first radio job.
“I was an intern here, and was lucky enough to get a chance to be on the air,” she said. “Chris had faith in me. I just love it. My mom says that I began pointing at the radio and talking with the disc jockeys when I was 2 years old.”
But KTHO also features nationally syndicated heavyweights such as Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s radio advice program, Tom Leykis’ alternative talk show out of Los Angeles, and Art Bell’s No. 1-rated overnight talk show featuring the paranormal and other things that go bump in the night.
KTHO also features local and national news, ski and stock reports, sports (San Jose Sharks broadcasts, and Monday Night Football) and, of course, music.
Besides Flores and Sheppard, on-air talent includes Scott Deweese, Bob Peters and Chuck Harper.
“The best feeling is when you get the local feedback,” said Kidd, whose station has an estimated 800 to 1,200 listeners per quarter hour.
“I feel that this station is a huge asset to the community, which in the past has been underutilized,” Kidd said. “It’s very expensive to run a radio station, and in order for KTHO to continue to provide services to the public, and to grow in the community, we need more financial support from local businesses.”
KTHO began life in 1963 as a daytime-only AM station with a single signal tower in the Spring Creek area on State Route 89. In 1967, the tower site was moved to Black Bart Avenue, off of Pioneer Trail, which afforded the room to expand to two towers.
This was just prior to the time that Kidd, 48, was graduating from high school, with a desire to become a radio disc jockey.
“But after a few years in the business, I began wanting to call my own shots,” he said. “I didn’t want some station manager coming in to tell me I wasn’t good enough. So, the answer was to buy my own station.”
He finally did just that in 1995, paying $450,000 for KTHO. He still, however, misses being on the air.
Now, there’s plenty of records to play. But with all the calls and personnel decisions connected to running a radio station, there is so little time.
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