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Cathy Rivers dialed in as new KXCI head
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Cathy Rivers dialed in as new KXCI head

  • Rivers
    photo by Amy HaskellRivers

After two months as the interim general manager of KXCI — following the resignation of Randy Peterson — longtime program director and DJ Cathy Rivers has been unanimously picked by the nonprofit's board of directors as the permanent head of the community radio station.

Rivers joined KXCI in 2008 to combat her growing dislike of the various regimented, corporate-controlled commercial radio stations she'd been working for since the early-1990s.

Now, she said that she's ready to expand upon KXCI's recent moves to match a Clear Channel-level corporate station – such as its newish 8,000-watt transmitter that reaches listeners as far from its downtown location as Oro Valley – and further strengthen the independent spirit that has defined it in its 30-year history.

"I feel great — it's very exciting," Rivers said. "Once I was put in as interim general manager I really had all these ideas that I wanted to move forward with. So, the staff and I just jumped in. We've been wanting on demand content, radio streaming… We just all pulled together and really worked on all these things."

"I think the board recognized that motivation and excitement and leadership in me, and just decided, 'Well, why would we look outside of the community when we have a community member here going for it?,'" she said.

"Inside the studio, because of the capital campaign – which has raised $650,000 in pledges since November, 2012 — we're going to be able to move forward with technology and that's going to be a huge thing for us," she said.

"We have money in place now, the new tower is up and we're reaching into northwest Tucson. That means we can allocate some of the other capital campaign to really upgrade our technology, and that's really exciting because we can expand into video content in the studio," Rivers said. "We're now going to be able to take our programs that we produce locally and make them nationally available by putting them on PRX, which is a company that allows you to upload your content and make it available nationally."

Though KXCI, which broadcasts at 91.3 FM, has seen periods of tumult and disorganization in its three decades as a member-run organization, Rivers is steadfast in her assertion that every era of leadership at the station has laid the groundwork for what she terms, "an amazing vessel that's ready to leave the harbor."

Peterson left KXCI in December after six years at the helm, and 15 years with the station, to consider "new leadership roles and opportunities of his own," a statement from the nonprofit said at the time.

In addition to bringing the nonprofit radio station up to date with post-Internet era technological advances, Rivers has aspirations to expand KXCI's listener base across generational lines.

"I'm really looking forward to KXCI having a signature event," she said. "We've never had a gala. We have some great ideas among the staff for some really family-oriented musical events – maybe by bringing in some signature artists and having them play campfire-style at the Children's Museum. We haven't really had a chance to engage families on a musical level because usually we just promote things in bars. And we really want to change that and engage our younger audience. We've talked about doing dances — stuff like that."

KXCI is financially backed by individual and business donors (the station's current fund-raising membership drive began in mid-March and, according to Rivers, raised $53,000 in its first nine days) and most of its DJs are volunteers.

"One of our volunteers came up with this quote last week about 'Radical Gratitude and Radical Generosity,'" said Rivers.

"The folks who started this station really came up with a radical concept of this community station and here we are, 31 years later, and it's still a radical concept. We live in a world of homogenized entertainment but KXCI is still hand-curated music by volunteers. So we've taken this theme about KXCI being radical. There's a sense of 'We're taking our choices back from the conglomerate companies and we're bringing it back to what we want.' And what we want is to know what's going on in our community, have a dialogue with our listeners and members and share music," she said. 

Rivers is a musician herself, attending the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music before moving to Tucson in the mid-'90s and performing with the experimental rock group Brenda's Never Been, which mixed jazz and chamber music strings with punk rock stylings. Later, she gravitated to country and Americana songs, showcasing her powerful voice and songwriting skills.

KXCI began broadcasting in 1983, and operates with an eclectic crew of volunteer DJs and professional staffers. Notable programming includes long-running shows such as Kidd Squidd's Mystery Jukebox and Marty Kool's Blues Review.

While the noncommercial station has never been a fountain of money, its operations in recent years have been far more stable than its first decade, which saw a station manager fired while he was out of town on a business trip, and a disputed board election tossed out and a revote of the members conducted, along with a persistent flood of red ink.

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cathy rivers, kxci, randy peterson

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