Corby Anderson was named executive director for Carbondale-based community radio station KDNK in August.
The member-supported public radio station has been providing listeners with a wide variety of music, local news and public affairs, plus National Public Radio and other syndicated programming since 1983.
The Post Independent caught up with Anderson to answer a few questions about the community treasure KDNK has become, and his journey to becoming executive director.
Anderson, 48, lives in a one-room log cabin built in 1883, up West Sopris Creek Road in Emma. “Just me and my old English shepherd pup, Hondo.”
Where are you from originally, and how did you end up in the Roaring Fork Valley?
I was born in Winston Salem, N.C. We moved to the Bay Area in California when I was 8. Grew up in the melting pot of suburban North California, on the cusp of Silicon Valley just as the computer age was blossoming, as a kid with deep southern roots. My brother Ody came to the valley first, in 1991, following some buddies he met fighting fires in Yosemite to work the Snowmass lifts. I helped him drive out, met a bunch of cool Carbondalians, stared at Mount Sopris in awe, and vowed to move back as soon as college was over! I spent a few summers fishing and washing dishes in Carbondale before I graduated from Appalachian State University in winter of 1996. I pointed my old Chevelle west as soon as they handed me my diploma.
What’s your education background?
My high school had an amazing radio program called KVHS. It was one of the most popular stations in the Bay Area due to its unique heavy metal format. My brother preceded me there, too. I already knew that I wanted to work in broadcasting of some sort when I was about 8 or 9, so it was an incredibly fortuitous opportunity to work at a radio station as a 15-year-old DJ and sports director.
I worked at an AM station right after high school as sports director, announcing St. Mary’s College and De La Salle HS games (they won 150 some games in a row in that era and were the best HS football team in the USA for a solid decade). I was paid in Red Robin gift certificates!
Butte Community College, Chico, Calif., 1991-94 — Associates degree in Broadcasting and Mass Communications; interned at a TV station there for three years.
Appalachian State University, 1994-96 — Bachelor’s degree in Communications/Radio and TV Broadcasting, minor in Media Relations. Worked at the campus radio station, a family station on the weekends, and football games for Sports South.
What attracted you to the KDNK executive director’s job?
I have always loved KDNK. It is a community treasure, and cultural tent pole of the whole valley. KDNK collects some truly amazingly talented, community-minded folks, who I greatly admire as broadcasters and people. My personal history with community radio goes back to 1986. Local radio was my first love in a media career that has taken me all over the world. But after five or 10 years of constant travel, the uncertainty of freelance life, the idea of working here in the valley once again, and re-connecting with the community that I first fell in love with being a part of back in 1991 really settled peaceably in my soul. And, the dream of being entrusted to lead as an executive director has been one that I have diligently, quietly worked towards for almost 15 years. I have always been driven to reach and live my dreams to their fullest.
How had you been involved with KDNK previously?
I proudly served several years on the KDNK Board, was a regular DJ, was play-by-play for (Roaring Fork High) Rams football games, and hosted NPR news in the earlier part of this century.
What kind of work did you do before taking the KDNK job?
My career has been long and winding, weaving throughout just about all aspects of the media, event and entertainment. I have patiently but doggedly pursued my dreams and goals.
I spent eight years as station manager of GrassRoots TV in Aspen. I was technical director of X Games, Dew Tour and BlizzCon — all things that I am proud to be a part of.
We moved to Monterey, Calif. just after getting married in 2007 (since divorced) to pursue a dream of being a community TV executive director, which I couldn’t quite make happen — I hear that I was the second choice, for two different stations. Instead, I worked at Pebble Beach Resort as a manager of production, and wrote for the Monterey County Weekly, along with publishing magazine articles.
In 2011, after the economy wiped me out of work, we moved back to the Valley. I was hired to help run a nascent college radio station at Colorado Mountain College. I became station manager on the second day, then was hired to teach radio, video, and other digital media classes on the third day. I helped to start the Isaacson School for New Media, wrote the curriculum, made budgets, helped purchase the original equipment and set up the original classroom studios, and taught almost all of the Digital Media tract courses for five years. Simultaneously, I made daily outdoor adventure videos for the Aspen Times website, starting a series called “On the Hill.” I wrote some music and sports columns there, too.
I began working on the road at the same time — first as a camera operator, and then as a technical director, and finally as a director for music (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Telluride Blues and Brews, Country Jam) corporate (Amazon, Dell, Facebook, banks and medical firms) and sports (World Cup Skiing, CrossFit Games. Helping to produce these events took me all over the country many times, and around the world a few more. In 2016, I got divorced and had to choose teaching over the road due to CMC policy not allowing me to become a full-time teacher, so I chose the road.
I spent most of a year traveling for work, visiting a lady friend in Maine, rebuilding my beloved, departed grandmother’s North Carolina tobacco farm house for my mother to move into, while helping with my dad in Ohio, who was in the late stages of dementia.
What big dreams have you accomplished?
I produced a documentary film about a lighthouse in Northern California that aired on PBS.
I wrote a gonzo weekly local sports column called “Hang Time” for Roaring Sports Magazine, published by the Aspen Daily News.
I started my own production company and produced marketing videos and events for corporate clients, and worked as a freelance camera and sound operator, producer and director for a slate of reality shows and documentary films.
I was hired for an Eric Clapton tour, which led to a long-time dream, directing the big screen videos for a world tour — Florence + The Machine’s “High As Hope” Tour, 2018-19. We went all over the world, Australia, New Zealand, Europe two or three times, the U.S., Canada and Mexico two or three times. I spent the first nine months of 2019 in Australia/NZ and Europe, working for FATM and, when they were on break, for an up-and-coming rock band called Royal Blood, in the Euro summer festival circuit. I returned home after the last show at the Acropolis in Greece in Sept. 2019.
What brought you to where you are today?
I worked a few more shows through 2019, then settled in to relax, enjoy my dog and home for a while, ski, try to date, and wait for the next tours to take shape over the winter. While working an Umphrey’s McGee show in Aspen, I saw my entire spring vanish in a series of COVID-lockdown cancellation emails. All in one night, that career went off a cliff. So, I spent February-August 2020 hanging out in a one-room cabin, took a million walks with the dog, worked on a new novel, and prayed quite a bit for the Great Spirit to put me somewhere that I could be most useful to my community.
I think that I literally manifested this job opportunity on those long walks! Out of the blue, in July, the KDNK job was posted. I threw my hat in the ring, knowing that I had been turned down the last time, but hopeful nonetheless. Good thing too! My unemployment ran out the day I was hired.
The KDNK board changed the job title from station manager to executive director. What’s the difference, and what’s been your focus in fulfilling that role?
I think the difference between a nonprofit like KDNK being led by an executive director as opposed to a station manager, at the moment, is mostly how other organizations and potential funding opportunities might view my role and the station in general. It is a more typical organizational leadership and administrative-level title for someone running a successful NFP. A station manager is more of the day-to-day technical operations lead.
My focus has been to keep what is typically a bustling building clean, safe and as open as possible for everyone involved with KDNK in a pandemic, support this incredible staff in any way that I can. They ran this “Good Ship KDink” without a leader, during the worst part of the pandemic, at least two major staff members down, and honestly handed me the keys to a thriving (but probably exhausted) organization.
In my first week, the Grizzly Creek Fire broke out. I made clear even in my interview process with the board that covering things like breaking fire news were a huge priority for me as a leader, and boy did that get tested quickly! Luckily, we have an award-winning news team led by Amy Hadden Marsh, who was hired the same day that I was, and they handled reporting and communicating the crisis in real time in a remarkable way.
Meanwhile, I saw that some of our key on-air equipment was archaic and prone to crashing. I proposed an upgrade to all of our on-air computer hardware and software as a way of helping our incredible volunteer DJ’s and public affairs producers access our programming and create shows from home — not quite live from home, but close. Eventually, that is a goal.
We have a new industrial-strength air purification system being installed in the studio in early December, which should be a great help in keeping the studio clean and open for all of the volunteers and staff.
What’s the importance of having a community radio station, and how do you describe KDNK to people who aren’t familiar with it?
Community Radio is vital because it is a source of breaking local emergency information, musical entertainment that far surpasses anything on commercial radio in terms of DJ talent, artist depth and genre diversity, and a place where any citizen can have their voice heard by their community, without censorship. So long as it isn’t profane, indecent or obscene speech, our airwaves are open to anyone.
KDNK is the beating heart of the Roaring Fork Valley. It is where our past, present and potential as a vibrant community all meets for a happy dance, informative chat, or important local news.
How is KDNK different from other member-supported stations, both locally and on a broader scale?
KDNK is different from the only other local, member-supported station (Aspen Public Radio) in that our audience, supporters, staff and board all fully embrace the incredible local volunteer DJs whose talent and wealth of musical knowledge make us such a diverse and vibrant cultural hub of this valley. We both are NPR members who broadcast that news source and augment with our own local stories. But KDNK has made a clear differentiation that, beyond those two newscasts a day and an hour of syndicated public affairs, our airwaves are for local voices and music!
On a broader scale, we differ in that we just happen to have the best DJs in the world, all in the same little mountain community!
What are the challenges for small public radio stations, and what are your goals for leading the organization?
Membership is around 1,200 as of the fall membership drive. The 2020 budget was set at $556,000 (expenses and income balance). I am planning on a tiny bit of growth next year — up to $557,000.
Our challenges are generally financial, it seems. We have incredible broadcasting and fundraising talent on staff and on the air, fantastic live local content to listen to all day long, and a super-dedicated and active Board. It seems to me that we eventually need about three or four additional full-time staff, in a perfect world — programming, news, production, office and marketing, and a robust, long-term internship program — in order to fully reach our potential as an organization and not burn out staff to the point of constant turnover.
I still have a lot to learn, but my initial thoughts are that there are potential areas of growth in membership and on the development side, with grants and benevolent giving, such as large-donor recruitment, grant-funded capital projects, bequests and such. We have a great Development Director, Greg Albrecht, who has already made huge strides in that realm this past year.
How have you adapted things during the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of station operations?
KDNK has shown tremendous organizational resilience during the pandemic. When it began, we were in the middle of our spring membership drive — a huge part of our early year income. Not only did we set records in that membership drive, we did in the fall as well. Both of those point to one thing — our community appreciates the value that we bring to their lives individually and as members of the Roaring Fork Valley community. In between those two fundraisers, a whole lot of effort when into helping community partners find a live audience for events that otherwise would have had none — such as Roaring Fork High School and Bridges High School graduations, SOL Theater and Waldorf School theater productions, Mountain Fair, as well as broadcasting live from COVID community updates and Grizzly Creek Fire press conferences. For weeks when the station was forced to lock down, the KDNK staff engineered all day long for our DJs, who called in the set breaks remotely — proving our “essential” business designation by broadcasting live vital emergency information, unforgettable community events, and just as vital semi-normalcy of relaxing, rejuvenating music.
Funny note — one of the first things that I did as executive director was to approve a plan for the 15-minute gap in between DJs which is necessary in order to clean the studio and minimize contact between volunteers to avoid any potential spread. There was some dissension about what should be in that 15-minute gap – some DJ’s wanted to play their own music which was proving to be technically challenging, and it got to be a managerial sore spot. So, (program director) Raleigh Burleigh had the idea of using that time to broadcast soothing nature sounds. It was just weird enough to work! So, for the first two months or so of my tenure, every live DJ show ended with 15 minutes of birds chirping, waves crashing or lonesome whales calling out across the vast sea for a long lost mate.
What’s the history behind the Labor of Love Auction?
KDNK hosts a lot of really fun fund and “friend-raising” events in the course of a typical year, almost all of which were canceled this year. Our annual Labor of Love Auction (running Monday through Friday this week) is one that we are very happy to be able to present as an online auction this year — the link is on our website at kdnk.org. Kenna Crampton, our outstanding events and membership director, has done a great job putting it together in her first year. It is a chance for our members to bid on local wares and services donated and purchased as an act of love and support of KDNK. We are all so grateful for the many awesome items donated by our devoted members, and hope that everyone will find something that they can bid on to support KDNK while picking local gifts to give their loved ones this year.
How else do you involve yourself in the community?
In years past, I was very active on the Pitkin County Translator Advisory Board. Along with Col. Dick Merritt, I helped create the Roaring Fork Veterans History Project. I’ve played in bands, coached little league, played a lot of softball and baseball, and try to attend as many nonprofit fundraisers as possible!
What does it take to become a DJ or host a community affairs program on KDNK?
It’s as simple as dropping our awesome Music Director Cody Lee a line at email@example.com and letting him know that you are interested in training to be a DJ. Or, contact Kathleen Shannon at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss public affairs ideas. Or, you can call 970-963-0139.
Favorite music genre/band/musician?
I love all musical genres, and am passionate about many. But I LIVE country rock, Americana. All-time favorite band is a totally underappreciated California soul band called the Mother Hips. I am also a massive Jason Isbell fan. I think he is this century’s most important artist and greatest storyteller, thus far. But all-time musician? That is a tough one! It is literally a tie between Neil Young and Willie Nelson, two of my heroes.
If you had to go into quarantine due to COVID, and only had three music albums to listen to, what would they be?
Jason Isbell’s “Reunions,” Florence + The Machine “High As Hope,” and Sturgill Simpson’s outstanding new bluegrass record covering his old country and rock songs, “Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1.”
Same deal, three books to read?
I tend to take on personal initiatives by the year, and was on a mission to read a book a week this year, before the job came along in August, and since have been super busy. But I still have gotten to about 30 books read as of this weekend. So, I will offer up two of this year’s books, and an oldy.
I am an empathetic type that is super sensitive to other peoples’ energies, noise and light (perfect for an old roadie!) and one book that really helped me in a difficult and uncertain year to focus on raising the frequency (and protecting) my personal energy, while learning not to worry about things that are out of our control is “The Empath’s Survival Guide” by Judith Orloff.
I really enjoyed “Bird By Bird,” a writing guide by novelist Anne Lamott. It gave me the encouragement to start writing a novel again — about my ski bum experiences.
And, one of my favorites that is a must for any pandemic, desert island book shelf — “Blue Highways,” a road journal by William Least Heat Moon.