WATERLOO – Radio station KBBG 88.1 FM has been a Waterloo institution for 40 years. Its new president is just opening the windows to let in some fresh air.
Former state Rep. Deborah Berry took the reins at the station late last year after the death in June of University of Northern Iowa professor Scharron Clayton. Longtime president Lou Porter retired in 2014.
It’s been a time of transition for the African-American radio station as it marks its 40th anniversary. Founded in 1977, it went on the air in the summer of 1978, broadcasting from a house on Cottage Street on Waterloo’s north end just blocks from the station’s current headquarters at Newell and Mobile streets.
Every day, Berry looks at the large portrait of station founder Jimmie Porter, who died in 2007, and hopes she’s living up to the station’s original mission to “communicate to educate” and be a resource for the community.
“We’re going to try to ‘make it local’ and showcase what’s happening throughout this community,” Berry said. “KBBG just has to be that voice for an ever-changing community. Our community’s changing. Information is information. And I think everyone can grow from that.”
She knows the station has to change with the times and audiences.
“We have to really adapt to the society that we live in today, with the competition of Sirrius XM, Internet radio and your iPhone,” Berry said.
Also, the programming has to be live and local. “We’re getting back to live bodies and live people talking about current and local affairs that affect people’s lives,” she said. “It’s working out well.”
She also has at her side Porter’s daughter, Edyce Porter, who has been at the station most of its existence. She has been a steady resource behind the scenes, but is behind the scenes no longer. Berry has made her community outreach director.
Berry and her staff are rejuvenating the station and its programming. Agency representatives and community resources might be called do shorter information segments spread through the day to catch more listeners, and more mobile listeners.
Instead of a full half-hour show with staff from Hawkeye Community College, the information is being broken into 90-second segments spread throughout the day.
Sports-talk programming. More cultural topics with Gen-X personalities. It’s revamping its website. And the station, parting with a long-standing policy, is airing hip-hop and rap while staying true to its family-oriented listener base. “As long as it’s family music, we’ll do it,” Berry said.
The station is drawing more volunteers. Its financial position is more stable. And Berry feels the station is shaking things up to remain a relevant and vibrant part of the community.
The station plans a number of activities in conjunction with its 40th anniversary. Part of that, Porter said, involves renewing and expanding its relationships with businesses, organizations and individuals.
The key is to get as many local voices as possible as the station celebrates its history.
People want to hear about people they know and topics of local interest, Berry said. For example, the station’s sports-talk programming includes an emphasis on wrestling.
“We’ve got the Dan Gable museum; why would we not do wrestling? “ Berry said. “It makes no sense not to.”
“You broaden the base and with that you broaden the possibility of getting additional supporters,” Porter said.
Special emphasis is being placed on February as Black History Month.
“But for us, of course, Black History Month is 365 days a year,” Berry said.
The station will be partnering with local groups and broadcasting live from events they may host. It will bring back former on-air personalities.
And the station is not without its challenges, fund-raising always being one of them.
“We’re community owned and operated, so we rely on our community for support. We rely on our businesses. We rely on Corporation from Public Broadcasting. And ‘viewers like you,’” Berry said.
“It’s a new direction. It’s a new KBBG,” Berry said. “The groundwork has been laid by Mr. Porter, by Lou Porter. When I came on board I was asked to move it ahead further. As long as I can guide this ship, I will guide this ship. Things are looking very good for the station.”