Cover Story

Radio Voice of Southwestern

After 46 years, KRVS moves into its new campus studio with the same old mission — to enlighten and entertain — and a plan to create a local news program. The Avocado Room high atop the well-built Hotel Builtwell will be closed for a while; at least until Lee Kleinpeter can get a handle on the logistics of the new studio housing 88.7 FM KRVS. Kleinpeter, one of the iconic personalities at the public radio station on the UL Lafayette campus, has been broadcasting from the famous Avocado Room for years. So all the people looking for tickets, and you know who you are, will have to wait.
The host of “Big Band Swings,” “Old Gold” and other KRVS programs is just one of the numerous KRVS employees adjusting to life in their new digs in the renovated Burke-Hawthorne Hall. 
“I think I’m building up my calves and my thighs with all this rolling around,” Kleinpeter jokes, noting how in the old editing rooms, all you had to do was swivel in your chair to reach all the equipment. Now you have to roll around the room to reach everything. “I think it’s good for my gut, too.”
But transition takes time, and a feeling-out process. Not every employee has a key, so that places a little stress on the producers to rearrange their schedule to put time in for their shows. “I’m more concerned sometimes about getting in here; I’m not putting enough emphasis on the creativity end of the show,” admits Kleinpeter, who lives in New Iberia and also works at 1240 AM KANE.
Music Director Cecil Doyle says there had been talk of getting a new station for years, and naturally he was excited at the prospect of moving into a building designed specifically to be a radio station. Both Doyle and Kleinpeter are currently pre-recording their shows during the drawn-out move into the new space. Kleinpeter acknowledges that he misses the live aspect of shows. “There is a groove,” he says, referring to the dynamic aspect of producing a live show. “It’s kind of like cooking, some people pinch rather than measure.” 
Only a few of the producers are putting on live shows. “Back when I first started, we didn’t have any sort of automated system at all, so all programs had to be live, which is why a few people, a few of us older people, are still doing them live,” Doyle says.

Disc jockey Raul Breaux, above, pumps out the blues every Friday. Chief Engineer Karl Fontenot makes sure the pumps work.

Photo by Robin May

Having been at KRVS since 1992, when he began as a sub-host for “Earth Beats,” Doyle has seen the growth of the station and, while he looks forward to playing with all of the toys in this new facility, his heart will always be with the old building. He spent a majority of the last 15 years of his life there. He also has embarked on a big undertaking: arranging the station’s massive library of more than 12,000 compact discs and vinyl albums. An archive room is finally available for the producers to store their music, but Kleinpeter says he is wary of leaving some of the more pricey items of his collection at the station, and he brings most of his material to and from work. 
And he has a massive collection.
Kleinpeter began working for KRVS around the summer of 1990, about the time he began frequenting garage sales and flea markets building up his collection. A local man brings him a stack of 45s every once in a while, from which he finds new pieces for his collection. 
Kleinpeter has backed off his pursuit of the rarities in recent months; he will never play every compact disc or album in his collection. He produces four shows (“Born on the Bayou” and “Dirty Rice” are the other two) and carries a different briefcase full of music for each one. 
Meanwhile, Doyle produces “Medicine Ball Caravan,” Jah-Mon,” “Afternoon Classics,” “Earth Beat,” and “Sounds Unusual.”
Both men’s on-air persona belies their actual physical appearances. 
Doyle is an unassuming figure with — on bad hair days— a Sideshow Bob hairstyle and an assiduous stare when working the microphone and sound board, his voice almost surreal when it is heard live. Kleinpeter, the more chimerical of the two, projects his booming voice from a body that should be about 100 pounds heavier to be able to produce such vocals; gray hair creeps in around the not-so-neatly-trimmed beard, Taco Bell crumbs dotting the landscape.

Music Director Cecil Doyle is arranging the station’s massive library of discs and LPs.

Photo by Robin May

KRVS is upgrading at a bad time in general for the media. Newspapers across the country are shutting down, laying off, or moving to online-only editions. Television stations are furloughing employees, their corporate owners filing for bankruptcy. Entire industries are crawling to Congress, asking for money. For-profit businesses are folding up like cheap suits all across the country. 
Where does that leave a non-profit radio station on the eve of its first fundraiser of the year? “This is some new territory for us,” admits General Manager Dave Spizale. “We’re not quite sure what to expect. We get the feeling that even in a recession, people are willing to support things that are valuable to them, that are relevant,” he adds. “Experience has been that peoples’ giving holds up for things that enrich your life and you depend on — they’ll find a way to do that.”
Each year, KRVS is audited by Auld and Associates, an independent auditing firm. According to the numbers from the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2008, the station received $822,748 in total revenue and had $816,266 in operating expenses.
The revenue came from a variety of sources. Fund-raisers, sponsors, grants of different sorts, and underwriting form a major component of the revenue. In 2008, KRVS received federal grants for about $39,000, a Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant for roughly $94,000, underwriting from various sources for nearly $100,000 and close to $120,000 from the spring and fall fundraisers.
NPR has some of the best news and cultural coverage in all of media and these programs come at a price, literally. KRVS annually pays $17,000 for “All Things Considered,” $22,000 for “Morning Edition,” $3,000 for “From The Top,” and $4,000 for “World Café.”
Spizale says the station used some of that grant money to buy a generator for its 100,000-watt broadcast tower, located in Maxie, just in case a hurricane passes through.
Being an arm of the university has its perks. The university covers what an independent station would normally have to account for on its own, like custodial work and utilities. These are called “in-kind contributions,” and they are figured into the budget. Full-time employees also receive the perks that other university employees do — tuition exemptions for children, and various insurance and retirement benefits. The university also pays a portion of the more than $240,000 payroll for five full-time employees, ranging individually from $34,000 to $79,000 annually. 
That does not count the 30 producers, 10 of whom are students, who work mostly on a volunteer basis. Some receive compensation as contract workers, and money is set aside in the budget each year to help the volunteers with gas and other expenses related to their work at KRVS. The station also receives funding through student fees. Every time a student pays tuition for classes, $.50 goes to KRVS; that comes out to a little less than $30,000 a year.

DJ Lee Kleinpeter is anxious to get back in the Avocado Room.

Photo by Robin May

For the move into the new space, Spizale wrote two grants covering $300,000 to purchase new electrical equipment. Packages started arriving long before the station began moving, so Spizale’s old office became a storage room for stacks of electronic equipment. When they threatened to overrun his office, he began storing some of the equipment in locked rooms in the Edith Garland Dupré Library on campus.
KRVS usually holds two major fundraisers a year — one in the fall, the other in the spring. This year, the uprooting and replanting of the station pre-empted the spring fling. So it’s getting in a quickie, which runs today through the 21st. Station management doesn’t know what to expect for this first-ever summer fundraiser, but fingers are crosed.
Spizale is quick to point out that while KRVS is in a new facility, the emphasis on the programming, music, local language and culture, and in-depth news will still be the same.
“This is all great, this is all fine,” Spizales says, referring to the new building and equipment. “But the fact is the people have remained the same, our mission is the same and so what people will be supporting is the continuance of the program.”
One idea to attract new donors and sponsors is a local news program. A broadcast journalism course at UL produces and airs a news program called “Louisiana Focus,” but that is only during the spring and fall semesters, leaving a big hole waiting to be filled. Spizale says he is working hard to create a local news program. He realized producing a local news program would not be as hard as he originally thought after a visit from an NPR reporter during Hurricane Katrina and is working with NPR representatives to try to make that a reality.
Burke-Hawthorne has been in transformation since May 2007, the first complete renovation besides sporadic cosmetic work since the building opened in 1939. The original target date for return was December 2008, but delays pushed it back to July 1. Spizale and his staff moved back in April, but UL faculty and staff — most of them in the communications department — are still awaiting their chance to return. The state Legislature gave the renovation project a green light in 2001, but numerous hurricanes set the project back because money was needed elsewhere.
Since opening in 1963, KRVS, which initially stood for Radio Voice for Southwestern (a nod to UL’s longtime moniker, University of Southwestern Louisiana), has been housed in a small alcove in the corner of Burke, and over the years, although it has grown in stature, size and staff, it has stayed put. So when the Burke renovation project came up, allocating more space for KRVS became a priority. Goodbye to the roughly 2,000-square-foot obsolete office and hello to the roughly 5,000-square-foot wish come true.
Not all of the work is complete, just the essential equipment the station needs to run its programs and shows. 
“For all practical purposes, we’re doing everything that we were able to do in the old location,” Spizale says. “What we’re not doing is taking full use of some of the additional capacity that this space has because it is not installed yet.”
That additional capacity is the 800-square-foot performance room where bands can play live shows or record albums, and the talk studio where they hope to be able to host call-in shows and entertain guests. The only thing hooked up in the recording studio are the LED lights on the ceiling, which Spizale jokes he uses for disco dancing. It will take Chief Engineer Karl Fontenot two months to assemble all the necessary equipment in the control room and the studio itself.

General Manager Dave Spizale has presided over the controlled chaos of KRVS’s move to its new home.

Photo by Robin May

“We were under the gun to move out of the old facility, and so what we needed to do was to quickly establish our on-air capabilities, and we have the luxury now of taking a little more time installing these things,” Spizale explains. But he is in no hurry. “Right now, the priority is to get the building finished and get the faculty back in.”
When visitors walk through the entrance to KRVS, they will soon be greeted by a large Philip Gould photograph of the old Zydeco mecca, Hamilton’s Club. Macadamia, a light-tan color, adorns the walls. The GM says he hopes to be able to further dress up the place with more Gould photographs, Francis Pavy art and Pat Juneau metalwork on the walls, which should radiate a Deep South milieu.
The old studio had space for only one editing room, so people scheduled time on a blackboard, which led to some conflicts. The expansion lets them have three, with one housing turntables. Powder-coated blank panels covering the empty spaces are all that is missing in the three editing rooms. All house state-of-the-art equipment similar to the old equipment, just more state-of-the-arty. 
The brain of the operation is Fontenot’s office and the small room connected to it where a few towers of processors and enough wire to wrap around the university run the entire studio. Fontenot is the half man-half robot, all-Cajun behind the technology. The entire building went from bare bones to live broadcast-enabled in two arduous weeks and almost fully completed in another week. In those three weeks, he says he worked mostly 15- to 20-hour days, every day.
An NPR representative visited the station two weeks ago and remarked that the station looked good for being operational for six months. Fontenot corrected him, saying they had been there three weeks, leaving the rep flabbergasted. He said he had seen stations open for two years with less work completed.
Next to the master control room is the performance room. A maple tongue-and-groove floating floor will help keep vibrations out, whether it is a train passing nearby or the giant chiller located outside the building. Once the door closes, the performance room will be soundproof, which works so well that strobe lights were installed and connected to the fire alarms to warn producers and disc jockeys of danger.
Across the hall from that is the musical archive, something greatly needed, Spizale says. In the old studio, they had compact discs and albums everywhere. In the archive sits 20 storage cabinets for the more than 12,000 compact discs. Vinyl albums line shelves all along the walls where compact discs are not.
A few weeks ago, Spizale donated about 1,000 CDs to the Student Union to be given away. These discs were either duplicates or ones that for whatever reason were never used. “That is the nice thing about moving; when you move out your house or apartment, it’s always a good chance to weed out,” he says.
A Web site called helps stations track how many people listen to their stations via webcasts. An interesting discovery was made just by looking at the regional report for KRVS on the site: The top cities that listen to KRVS are Lafayette; Atlanta; a spot in Michigan; Baton Rouge; Lake Charles; New Iberia; New York; Houston; and Manassas, Va.
The spot in Michigan that garnered the third most listeners in the U.S., according to Google Maps, is smack dab in the middle of Manistee National Forest, almost a million acres of public forest in Michigan’s northern lower peninsula.
“We could be programming to deer and antelope and where they play,” Spizale quips.
fiscal year ended June 30, 2008
$822,748 in total revenue  •  $816,266 in operating expenses
 Spring Fundraising Effort
 Wednesday, June 17, through Sunday, June 21 
 To support KRVS, call 482-KRVS or visit