Noted for its flashy façade on Main Street, between Bill’s Jewelry Shop and the Strand Theatre, KGRN, the City of Grinnell’s home to the “News you need to know,” offers a mix of music, news and entertainment to the greater Grinnell community at its wavelength of 1410 AM.
A day spent tuned into 1410 AM begins with the Birthday Train, the show that usually gets the most call-ins of the day. For the Birthday Train, locals with birthdays are announced with one lucky winner taking home a free cake from Grinnell’s Hy-Vee.
At 7:45 a.m. every weekday morning, KGRN airs the aptly named talk show “Let’s Talk,” hosted by Chris Johnson, the News and Public Affairs Director for KGRN. The talk show hosts a range of local issues and nationwide discussions. This week’s topics included both the broad subjects of Medicare Part D and the Shop with a Cop charity program, as well as local features with the Grinnell Prize winners and talks of the Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 proposal for an ice skating rink in town.
Later on are the funeral notices, which are a popular and regular feature for KGRN.
“I remember thinking when I first got here ‘Oh, how morbid,’ but people just love it!” Johnson said on the funeral notices.
Popular segments like these are hallmarks of small-town radio.
“You have to realize in a small town there is a small market radio,” said Tim Dill, Director of Operations at KGRN. “That’s what people of a small town want, they want to know what the weather’s going to be, what their neighbor’s up to, anything that has to do with kids—that’s why sports around here are so important.”
This emphasis on local and small-time news can be frustrating, as listener demand and real world importance don’t necessarily align. Sometimes what the listeners want is not necessarily the most relevant, impacting news of the day.
“Sometimes when you work really hard on what you think is an important story, everyone is [confused]. And then they [ask] ‘Wait, but who won the Birthday Train?’” Johnson said. “You feel a little trivialized.”
A town’s radio priorities tell a lot about a town, and the emphasis on sports and agriculture reflected by a high listenership on these topics indicates the interests of the Grinnell community. Chris Varney is Sports Director at KGRN and explained that the station covers 12 to 15 area high schools, as well as all Grinnell College football games and most of Grinnell College basketball games.
Grinnell’s economic dependence on agriculture has cultivated a large farming community, which Dill notes is represented in KGRN’s commitment to weather and agriculture updates.
“[Listeners] want to know what the grain prices are—if we don’t do the grain prices at midday, we get phone calls,” Dill said. “People want to know what the beans are going for today, too.”
The advertising distribution can be just as indicative of local and listener interests.
“If you look at our advertising base, probably 50 percent or more are [agriculture]-related,” Johnson said.
These kinds of live updates prove the particular role radio continues to play in media.
“The beauty of the radio is that we’re immediate,” Johnson said.
While the role of radio is changing due to new features afforded by the Internet, Johnson, Dill and Varney are confident it still has a place in the future. The radio is like an audio Twitter, with quick, live updates. Johnson feels that KGRN makes its place in the community news networks alongside the Grinnell Herald-Register, complementing the newspaper’s in-depth reports with up-to-the-minute updates. A dedicated person, Johnson said, will listen to the radio and then read the paper the next day to fully understand what they learned, live, the day before.
“I mean we probably won’t even be here by the time your story hits the newspaper—just kidding!” Dill joked.
When asked about the best part of working for radio, the three gave a flurry of humorous, sarcastic responses, including “glamour,” “the pay,” “so I can sit and talk to myself,” “the great hours” and even, after a short pause, an “I quit!”
After a good laugh, they explained that while most news speakers are informed people with nice voices, they’re also a bit, well, crazy.
“I think it’s insane [that] we sit in a room all by ourselves talking with ourselves for hours on end,” Dill said.
Varney described radio as an “incurable disease.”
“Once it’s inside you, it just becomes a part of you, and you don’t want to give it up,” Varney said. “There’s something about it.”
Varney was at this past Sunday’s basketball game when Jack Taylor ’15 scored 109 points. He said it was one of the most memorable points in his radio career, an event typifying the high that good radio reporting can bring.
“When you get a reaction from a listener, when he talks to somebody on the air, when he gets a good story, when I go and do a great sports team, we get the adrenaline rush that any other person would get out [of] that,” Varney said.
KGRN extends its coverage throughout Poweshiek County and offers a variety of shows ranging from community giveaways and game shows, to sports-themed trivia and news discussion forums. Among their repertoire of featured sections is a sports interview show called The Extra Point, the Thanksgiving-themed weeklong “Stuff-It Game,” a swap shop for on-air trading, a lost pet announcement session, a two-hour long music session by a local retiree called Standard Time, a trivia game called The Know-It-Alls (“You never know what’s going to come out of our mouths on that show,” Dill said. “If it’s a slow day we just quiz each other,” said Johnson), the morning show, Let’s Talk, and the ever-popular Birthday Train.
You can listen to KGRN by tuning to 1410 AM or by online streaming at sites including streema.com and streamingthe.net. If you’re interested in more than just listening to the radio, KGRN is always interested in hiring Grinnell College students for part-time positions or internships at the station.