Editor’s note: Engagement editor Ben Buchnat and senior culture editor Sam Crisler did not contribute to the writing or editing of this story.
When Kerry Semrad was in college in the late 1990s, she worked at A Novel Idea Bookstore in downtown Lincoln. Every so often, Semrad would see Dave Hoffman, a former KZUM radio programmer, when he would stop by to purchase books or drop off a CD for the employees to listen to. Hoffman had his own jazz show “Dave’s Closet” on KZUM, which Semrad started tuning in to.
A year after she graduated, Semrad moved to Chicago and made her way back to Lincoln in 2012. Upon her return, Semrad turned her dial back to the familiar station, reacquainting herself with the community. This connection between radio and community is a huge part of KZUM, according to Semrad, who is now the general manager at the station.
This year, Lincoln’s listener-supported community radio station celebrates its 41-year anniversary. And for 41 years, KZUM has aimed to “educate and build community through broadcast media, with diverse and independent voices that enrich the perspectives of our audiences,” according to its mission statement.
According to Semrad, KZUM has done so by focusing on representing everyone in the Lincoln community. One such community is the diverse local music scene. Semrad highlighted the Lincoln Exposed festival that occurred last weekend as an example of the musical talent Lincoln has.
“You hear so many of these bands and you’re like ‘oh my gosh this is homegrown, this is in my own town,’” she said. “If we are a local station, then we have to support our local artists and our local musicians.”
According to Semrad, that task is easy as there is an abundance of talent in Lincoln. Through holding concert series and playing local musicians on the radio, KZUM accomplishes the task of giving local artists a platform to share their creativity with the Lincoln community.
Ryan Evans is the current program director at KZUM and has been a part of the station’s community for 15 years. Evans highlighted the emphasis KZUM has on playing local music.
“When it comes to music, the station, I always say, you hear more local music from Nebraska on KZUM in one week than you do on most other stations, at least Lincoln commercial stations, in a year,” he said. “We’re proud to have this forum as a resource for people to be exposed to music from Nebraska.”
KZUM has a Nebraska-focused music program called “Hear Nebraska FM” that broadcasts live performances and interviews with musicians. According to Evans, the local music scene today is as robust as it’s ever been. Semrad said the station encourages local artists to promote themselves using their KZUM broadcasts, and KZUM also sends interns to take photos and videos at shows or other events for artists to use for promotion.
The station allows for local musicians to network and receive exposure by taking a group of artists to South by Southwest, an entertainment conference and music and film festival in Austin, Texas, each year. Semrad said this is a great opportunity for artists to promote themselves on a global scale. Additionally, by having local music venues as sponsors, KZUM can shine a light on Lincoln venues, drawing in touring acts and possibly inspiring non-local musicians to stop at KZUM.
According to Semrad, being locally focused is the most important thing to KZUM.
“We promote what’s happening in our town, good or bad, we want to make sure that we represent every voice that’s in our community.”
Evans said the station wants to help expose people in Lincoln to the quality of culture and art present in their own backyards, and Semrad agreed that listeners of KZUM are more aware of that presence.
“If people listen to KZUM, they understand that our community is a beautiful and diverse community and perhaps that promotes understanding of what happens in our community from neighborhood to neighborhood and beyond,” Semrad said.
KZUM not only highlights the music community, it also shines a light on nonprofits, allowing free PSAs and programs dedicated to local nonprofits.
Semrad said KZUM provides insight on Lincoln’s community, just as it has for the past 41 years.
“It’s just going to be a special, wonderful place to hear about what makes up Lincoln and what makes up this great community that we live in,” she said.