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Tune in Truckee

Photo by Ryan Salm/Sierra SunHartley Lesser, station manager with KTKE, mans the controls at the radio station.
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His is a voice that sounds so familiar to Truckee radio listeners it’s hard to believe that KTKE Station Manager and radio personality Hartley Lesser has been on the air less than two years.

But though the station has only been broadcasting since 2003, it has quickly become a local institution that has recently spurred further investment from the station’s ownership.

“We have owners who are now totally committed to KTKE,” Lesser said, referring to station owner Todd Robinson, who also owns a number of other small-town radio stations across the country.



That commitment has allowed the station to upgrade its broadcast and production studio with new equipment, hire more on-air DJs to add diversity to the station’s programming, and install signal boosters throughout the area to increase the range of KTKE’s signal.

“We’re being picked up way into Reno now, as well as the Carson Valley, all the way down to Meyers, all the way around the lake, all the way up to Loyalton and Sierraville, parts of Serene Lakes and all of Sugar Bowl,” Lesser said. “It’s a pretty big area.”



Focusing on an Adult Alternative (AAA) music format and a diverse selection of locally produced programming, KTKE aims to be the antithesis of a big corporate radio station.

“You can’t please everyone,” Lesser said. “We’re aiming at the 30 to 60 year olds. What we do is we concentrate on classic rock ‘n’ roll, blues, bluegrass and new folk, with heavy classic rock in the morning and afternoon.”

Chuck Dunn, a member of local blues band The Blues Monsters and the host of the weekly show Chuck Dunn’s Choose Blues Hour on KTKE, said he is happy that the station has a different philosophy than most other broadcasters in the region.

“You can turn on almost any radio station and hear the same songs on all of them. All these stations are playing the same Stevie Ray Vaughan songs, the same BB King songs, the same Eric Clapton songs …” Dunn said, adding, “I like to play the songs on those CDs that nobody is hearing on the radio.”

Dunn’s refreshing approach to his blues show has led him and Lesser to consider syndicating his and other KTKE programs; a move that would help bring in a little more revenue to the station and to the DJs, most of whom currently volunteer their time.

The new investment will also allow Lesser to reach out more to the local community via remote broadcasts from local events, better call-in capabilities and a new Web site that he hopes will stream some of the station’s locally produced programming.

“New kid” may be a misnomer for KVMR, which has been serving Nevada City and the Sierra foothills for 25 years. Listener supported since its inception, KVMR has attracted a diverse range of listeners to its wildly eclectic programming, almost all of which is produced by local volunteers.

KVMR is rather unique among public radio stations in that it does not rely on National Public Radio programming ” except for international news from the BBC, which is purchased from NPR. Instead, it relies on its own local news programs to keep its listeners informed about what’s going on in the region.

But while KVMR has a long history in the foothills, it wasn’t until last summer that a new translator and antenna on top of Mount Pluto allowed them to reach Truckee and Tahoe listeners.

It’s a welcome addition, said Truckee town councilwoman Beth Ingalls, who also acts as a sales and underwriting representative for KVMR locally.

“As I would travel down the mountain my dial would always find its way over there to 89.5 [KVMR’s frequency in Nevada City],” she said. “I’ve always listened to NPR and that sort of non-commercial radio format. In this time of corporate controlled media, I don’t think I could survive without an outlet like that to get a different viewpoint.”

With their new reach into the Truckee-Tahoe area, KVMR is now in the unique position of reaching both sides of Nevada County, something that KVMR General Manager Brian Terhorst said has been a long-term goal for the station.

“We’ve definitely planned on trying to cover what’s going on up in the Truckee region,” he said. “Part of the reason we were so hot on the idea of getting our signal up there is because, since the dawn of time the two ends of the county have been divided.

“And we thought that through the magical medium of radio we could bring the two sides of the county together.”

Terhorst also said that the station has plans to establish a Truckee-Sierra news bureau with a reporter dedicated to covering issues in the Truckee area. Those reports would then be included in the station’s nightly news programming.

Though both KTKE and KVMR see themselves as local alternatives to the larger corporate-controlled radio stations available to Truckee listeners, neither sees the other as direct competition.

“We don’t see KVMR as competition because they’re public radio and they do a lot of different things that we can’t do because we’re not listener supported,” Lesser said.

He points to two stations out of Reno ” The X and The River ” that are would-be competitors to KTKE. But, Lesser said, “their take on music means you will probably hear the same song within a five-hour period. But you won’t here [at KTKE].”

Ingalls agreed, “I don’t think that we’re really competitors with each other. I think we’re offering completely different products.”

And besides, she added, “You can never have too much local information … [The two stations] are so vastly different from each other that I would hope people wouldn’t feel that way.”


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