Small town radio

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer May 11, 2011 12:08 pm

Tony Calumet was recently named general manager for Pacific Empire Radio Groupís La Grande stations. Calumet, an Iowa native with 30 years experience in broadcasting, says he plans for the stations to be more involved in community affairs. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
Tony Calumet was recently named general manager for Pacific Empire Radio Groupís La Grande stations. Calumet, an Iowa native with 30 years experience in broadcasting, says he plans for the stations to be more involved in community affairs. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer

New manager: Accent will be placed on local happenings

Pacific Empire Radio Group in Union County has a new general manager, and he’s looking to step up community involvement and coverage of local issues.

Tony Calumet arrived here recently from Yakima to ramrod the Lewiston, Idaho-based company’s local stations that include Supertalk KLBM/KBKR serving Union and Baker Counties, Classic Rock KUBQ in La Grande,  Boomer Radio KKBC in Baker City, and KRJT in La Grande and Elgin.

In an interview this week, Calumet said listeners should soon notice big changes in program content. He said a new accent will be placed on local happenings.

“We need to be a vital part of the community. I don’t believe we have been for a while,” he said.

Calumet is an Iowa native who earned a degree in communications and teaching from the University of Northern Iowa, and later a master’s degree in public relations from Northwest Missouri State.

He has worked in radio 30 years, both on-air and behind the scenes as sales or general manager and other executive positions.  Stops along his career path have included Kansas City, Mo. and Oklahoma City, Okla.

But he’s spent 22 of his career years in small town radio, and that’s what he said he likes best.

“I love small towns. They’ve been my way of life, so La Grande’s like home,” he said.

Pacific Empire Radio, owned by John Taylor, operates 16 radio stations in three states. Calumet said Taylor has instructed him to find ways to tie the stations more closely to the communities they serve.

“John is making a strong commitment to the communities and also to upgrading the staff,” Calumet, who also is Pacific Empire’s vice president of sales, said.

Calumet said he plans to add people to the staff to gather and air local news. One feature planned for the near future is a talk show that will give listeners the chance to call in and give their views on issues that affect them.

He said the show will cover political topics such as wind power and tax levies, but will also include humor, and snippets about local events.

“What’s most important here is local, local, local. We’re going to present it all,” he said.

Calumet also said Pacific Empire — which already runs the popular Johnny Ballgame show on Supertalk — will move deeper into local sports coverage.

He said he has plans to present a football and basketball game of the week, and add more coverage besides. A “Coffee with the Coaches” talk program will start next fall.

“We’re really dedicating ourselves to doing high school sports the right way. We’re going to cover all the sports. Eventually, we’ll be committing not only our AM but also out FMs to sports,” he said.

Calumet said Pacific Empire plans to launch live summer and winter concert series in La Grande, events that will feature regional, local and national performers.

He said he hopes the concerts, sponsored by local and regional businesses, will start next year.

“They’re Main Stage shows with local, regional and some national talent, and they’re geared to families with no cost to the communities,” he said.

Calumet said that since he arrived in  La Grande, he’s spent significant time talking to people in the community, including government and business leaders. He said the concert idea is getting a warm reception.

“I’m getting good response from city officials and local businesses. They’re excited about it,” he said.

While focusing much of his attention on program content, Calumet is also keeping a close eye on the business side of radio. He said he is putting his teaching experience to work, training staff in sales and customer service.

“I’m heavy into sales training. Revenue is a top concern, but I care more about the staff and clients,” he said.

Before hiring on with Pacific Empire, Calumet worked for New Northwest Broadcasters in Yakima.

His wife, Karla, is a health consultant in Yakima who has plans to move to La Grande soon.

The couple has three grown children.