KRUU: It Takes A Village to Make a Radio Station

Corey Hickenbottom is one of over 80 hosts who come up with original shows each week at KRUU, the community-run radio station in Fairfield.

In its first four years, Fairfield’s grassroots radio station KRUU 100.1 FM has become many things to many people. KRUU has been called the beginning of an open radio revolution, an exercise in democracy, a creative outlet for the community, a power-to-the-people headquarters, and much more. I am always hearing KRUU described in new and surprising ways, and they all may be right.

There’s the other part of reality, though. KRUU is just a tiny, 100-watt radio station in small-town Iowa. The reception fades as you reach the edge of town. The driveway needs paving and the station has a hard time keeping the snow cleared in the winter. It hangs by a thread most days—yet somehow, it has still managed to do some incredible things.

People Make It Work

I say “somehow,” but the “how” is obvious. It’s the people. The voice in the cornfield wasn’t just whistling Dixie when he said, “If you build it they will come.” The station is almost entirely volunteer run, from the terrific show hosts to the station’s top-notch tech team. Well over 100,000 volunteer hours have been given to KRUU; 1,000 hours are contributed each month. That’s the equivalent of seven full-time positions. KRUU is, in the most literal sense possible, whoever shows up.

Alan and Martha Kreglow showed up and donated 24 solar panels and an inverter. Frank Cicela and Lonnie Gamble helped facilitate the contribution of much of the needed equipment. Donations and volunteer hours from more people and businesses than I have room to mention were also given in a combined effort to make a solar-powered KRUU a reality.

Because they all showed up, on September 9, 2009, at 9 a.m., KRUU became the first and only solar-powered radio station in the Midwest, garnering press from around the state and the country. Radio Ink, a radio trade publication delivered to countless commercial stations, recently featured KRUU.

Not bad for a small-town low-power radio station.

Not Your Typical Station

In KRUU’s four years on the air, over 120 Fairfield residents have had their own radio shows. Show hosts come in all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life, but all are well-connected, community-centered souls who form the lifeblood of the station. In a town with a population of 10,000, odds are if you randomly gathered 100 Fairfield citizens, at least one of them has had a radio show. That’s not even counting the many wonderful people who have volunteered their time to help or the countless residents who have been guests  on KRUU, making it hard for any resident of Fairfield to play Six Degrees of KRUU without finding themselves connected to the station in some way.

And what radio it is! Through all the labels, KRUU is still just good music and interesting programs. From Therese Cumminsky and Diana Flynn’s hilarious twice-a-week morning show Off the Subject, to the late-night electronic music shows, there’s something for everyone. Eclectic programming and real variety 24 hours a day has been KRUU’s standard since the beginning.

Steve Boss cooks up a meal live in the studio and discusses all things food with incredible guests from around the country on Great Taste. Station manager James Moore brings together the local and the global with his mix of music and talk, featuring an amazing variety of guests from the worlds of politics, music, business, non-profits, and local events on Planet Erstwhile. Jeff “Prince O’Wails” Martinek’s echo-drenched Jukebox Boogaloo blasts like something out of the past and spins some of coolest music known to man. Huffington Post contributor Mike Ragogna serves up incredible conversations with some of the most interesting people in music, from up-and-coming singer/songwriters to well-established acts (Counting Crows, Los Lobos, Devo, Indigo Girls) on Mike Ragogna’s 2.0.

Joel Dilley masterfully selects the finest jazz he can get his hands on for Just Plain Jazz. Heather Miller-Rodriguez’s Lyrical Venus focuses on the best of female singer/songwriters and features candid and insightful interviews. Lauryn Shapter takes listeners on a stunning journey through the best roots, Americana, and bluegrass music on Gravel Road Radio.

Andy MacKenzie offers up novelty songs, classical tunes, and everything in between on the appropriately titled Intercranial Whizbang Hour. Brandon Nelson takes listeners year by year through the many musical worlds of the last half century on 50 Years of Music. Gary “The G-Man” Garles provides ample proof to his claim of being “the only government you need on Planet Rock and Roll” with Centripetal Sounds.

As I write of these shows, I don’t know where to stop. I don’t possibly have the space to describe all of the 80 shows produced each week for KRUU. What about Susan Hirschman’s Wildflower’s Cafe, Uncle Leroy’s American Stew, Paul Strubell’s Sports Talk, Dennis Raimondi’s Speaking Freely (which has featured interviews with the President, Vice-President, and Secretary of State), Rich Sims’ Ultra Lounge, ICON Art Radio, A View From The Pew, Writer’s Voices, and Irving Toast, Poetry Ghost? And did I completely forget to mention Iowa Source contributor Andy Bargerstock’s Fringe Toast? I have barely scratched the surface. Many of these shows deserve articles of their own.

In a world that seems to be getting more and more marginalized, with specific ideological groupings, and content made to fit your exact assumed tastes, KRUU asks people to listen to what their neighbors like, think, and feel compelled enough about to take to the airwaves to share. As a show host who has been on the air for almost four years, I’ve experienced the reality of having to come up with a new show every week. It doesn’t work without a healthy dose of passion, love, and commitment for what you are sharing. That’s what you’re hearing when you tune into KRUU. Programming chosen by passion and love, not by a mindless computer or market-tested playlists.

Give KRUU a Listen

September is Listener Awareness Month at KRUU, where we hope to reach out and inspire new listeners to give KRUU a try. As a non-commercial station, the goal is not to get you to tune in 24/7 and sell you things. If you don’t like what you hear, that’s okay, there’s a lot of variety on the station. Check the website for a full program schedule and listen often—you’ll be surprised what a small-town low-power radio station can do. If you don’t live in Fairfield, you can stream from anywhere in the world at We love what we’ve been doing and want to share.

At the end of the day, KRUU is simply living up to its name. The crew that can’t get enough of you and you.

Corey Hickenbottom, a life-long resident of Fairfield, hosts Country Music Jamboree every Tuesday morning from 10-noon.