Posted Online: Feb. 05, 2011, 10:30 pm

Kai Swanson is interim manager at WVIK

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By Jonathan Turner,

Photo: file
Kai Swanson
Kai Swanson is the new interim general manager of WVIK-FM, Augustana Public Radio, Rock Island. But he's no stranger to the National Public Radio affiliate on the Augustana College campus.

Former GM Frank Sundram left in mid-January after discussions with college president Steve Bahls. Mr. Swanson, executive assistant to the president, also has served as college liaison to WVIK's general manager. Mr. Sundram came on in 2008 from managing a public radio station in Panama City, Fla., and with more than 25 years of experience in radio and television.

"We just came to a point where Frank saw other challenges and wanted to move to those," Mr. Swanson, 46, said Friday. "We wanted a transition to be as smooth as possible, something I would be able to do for the station. We'll be starting a search soon and, hopefully, within six months identify someone."

Mr. Swanson has been in his job at the president's office -- where he does a lot of work in communications support and community relations, such as serving on boards and committees -- since 2005.He has served the college since his graduation from Augustana in 1986. Past positions include news editor for WVIK, college public relations director and editor of theAugustana College Magazine.

Mr. Swansonworked at the public radio station for nine years after graduation and is usually on the air during every pledge drive. He will divide his time between WVIK -- which he called a "wonderful public radio station that's peopled with an outstanding staff --and Mr. Bahls' office.

"This is a very key priority, not just for the college. It's one of the top community outreaches of Augustana in our home region. It's also a very high priority for me," Mr. Swanson said.

"It's both professionally and personally important for me to see this station get to a place where it's got a balanced budget, poised for growth," he said. "In recent years, the station suffered a lot of cuts and retrenchment. The station has -- for reasons not of its own doing -- been in a mode of either stasis or retrenchment.

"That simply has to end if it's to remain the vital community resource it is," Mr. Swanson said, noting full-time staff has been cut in half over the past 10 years, to six current employees, with a number of part-time contributors. A new development director,Jenny Blohm (a 1994 Augie grad), started this past fall.

"People turn to it for a different kind of broadcast news, that speaks to the consumer, not at the consumer; to be a valuable voice, diverse in support of the arts, the Quad City Symphony Orchestra," said Mr. Swanson, who hosts pre-concert conversations for the orchestra. "There's no reason this station can't grow."

"Our community asks a lot of those people, of this station, to continue to be that one place on the broadcast dial, where you don't need to pay a subscription, have a special dish. You only need radio, touching the world of Beethoven, Bach, the world of ideas on programs like 'Morning Edition,' 'All Things Considered,' the weekly opera."

"There's not any more room to cut," he said. Underwriting from businesses is "not where it should be," and government funding is "a fraction of what it was 20 years ago, and that places a greater burden on listener support, letting them know what a priceless resource is here at 90.3 FM," Mr. Swanson said.

Augustana provides about 8 to 10 percent of revenue for the station's operating budget, he noted.

"The product merits community support. The community support will come," Mr. Swanson said, adding marketing of WVIK has not been what it should. "We need to grow, need to be creative."

"As a near and mid-term strategy, it's imperative we have to be smart, find ways to grow, make a compelling case to our community," he said. The college will undertake a national search for a new station manager.