By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
BOZEMAN – Ron Sanchez is part of radio history.
He moved to Bozeman from San Francisco in 1980 knowing he could get on KGLT as a DJ, and he brought modern underground radio with him. Two friends from the Bay Area music scene followed him soon after and both became influential in Bozeman radio.
The now veteran disk jockey played Wilco, Jimi Hendrix and some 1970s Fleetwood Mac on a recent Friday afternoon radio show, thumbing through his expansive collection of CDs and records and chatting with the audience.
Sanchez spent all morning prepping for the three-hour show. A volunteer job, DJing at KGLT takes up eight to nine hours, every other week, he says. That’s on top of owning and operating Career Records, a recording studio in Bozeman, and working a regular job at the Co-op.
“I can play anything I want and the audience is very accepting,” he said, off the air. “With commercial radio, you couldn’t do this. You have to play off a list. Here, my only list is in my mind.”
Sanchez has visions of tradesmen listening to his show while cleaning up the jobsite for the week, and of housewives tuning in while ironing, picking the kids up from school, and dancing around in the kitchen with a well-deserved glass of wine.
“I’m trying to create a mood,” he said.
KGLT is a 44-year-old community supported, alternative public radio station that hosts more than 80 different DJs. It broadcasts from the MSU campus at 91.9 and 97.1 fm in Bozeman, 89.5 fm in Livingston and 98.1 fm in Helena, and streams online.
Sanchez gets emails from regular online listeners in England, Wales, New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia, California and New York.
The station is part of a shrinking network of non-commercial radio nationwide, said KGLT’s marketing director Ron Craighead, also a DJ.
“There are fewer and fewer stations like this around the country. It’s becoming kind of an endangered species as licenses get sold. We’re still here because of support from the community, listeners and the university.”
Like Sanchez, many DJs have been with the station for years.
“People become connected to the station in a very special way, and all their friends and families—they share the connection, too,” Craighead said. “It becomes a family in a very real sense.”
“It’s all about keeping the station going,” he said. “It’s a pretty bare bones operation, and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve been a listener since I moved here in ‘88.”
Craighead’s Tuesday afternoon show is an eclectic mix of contemporary acoustic rock and lost vintage gems from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
Community radio isn’t maintenance-free. “You have to get involved,” Sanchez said, suggesting listeners get a schedule and get to know their favorite shows.
“It’s just a big musical experiment every day,” Craighead said.
Montana’s music outlaws
The KGLT fund drive is March 25 – April 7
KGLT is like a big Pandora that just won’t quit, said marketing director Ron Craighead. “Every three hours there’s a whole different flavor. That keeps it fresh.” And there are never commercials.
The station is largely listener-supported, making its annual fund drive a major source of operating revenue. This year, the fundraiser will be March 25 through April 7. Last year’s drive showed record support.
“I know many DJs around the world,” said longtime DJ Ron Sanchez. “None have the total freedom, and incredible listener support we enjoy at KGLT. We only have one [a year], unlike others [that] have three or four… That says a lot about our audience.”
The theme this year is ‘Montana’s music outlaws’, and fund drive giveaways include gift certificates, ski tickets and collectable KGLT t-shirts.
“We make a party out of it, and make it fun and engaging,” Craighead said. “We collect gifts from all the communities that we serve, and everybody comes together and becomes a part of this event.”
Log on to kglt.net for live streaming and a complete show schedule. During the fund drive, you can phone in a pledge at (406) 994-4492, or (800) 254-5458.