Tag Archives: KIOS-FM

A Rich History is Leading to a Rich Future

September 26, 2019 by
Photography by Contributed

This year is the 50th anniversary of KIOS-FM, and development director Michael Lyon has a lot to be excited about. “It is a triumph in itself that we’ve been here for 50 years,” he says, “but also that we’re in a position to keep going another 50, better than ever.”

Lyon joined KIOS in 2006 as a local anchor of “Morning Edition,” and took over as development director in 2017. To him and the other radio employees, the anniversary is a moment of celebration and rebirth for the station: KIOS held a celebratory open house in September bringing in guest speaker Susan Stamberg—the first woman to anchor the nightly news nationwide—and the station is also adopting new branding, material, and avenues for broadcast.

KIOS would not be possible without support, and that support started with the government. Public radio fell under the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, in which Congress declared “It is in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of public radio and television broadcasting, including the use of such media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes.”

Following this act, public radio stations opened across the nation, including KIOS, thanks to two founding fathers—Craig Fullerton, Ed.D., then-assistant superintendent at Omaha Public Schools; and broadcaster Jim Price. “Jim Price was a journeyman broadcaster, a traveler, and a live musician,” explains program director Todd Hatton. “This is why you could tune in and hear either Dmitri Shostakovich or Grand Funk Railroad, depending on the time of day.” Together the founders envisioned a station devoted to educational broadcasting for students and the public welfare of Omaha—a mission born out of a shared love for education and the medium of radio itself, Hatton says. The station came to life at 10 a.m. on Sept. 15, 1969, from the basement of Central High. Its first message for the city was a humble, anti-smoking PSA.

Joining together, 90 public radio stations, including KIOS, were the founding, charter members of NPR, first incorporated in 1970. As a charter member, KIOS enjoys some historical distinction and notoriety, but operates no differently from other stations in the NPR tent. “It wasn’t that we were picked,” Hatton explains. “It was the vision of the people who founded KIOS, working in concert with like-minded radio broadcasters throughout America, that created NPR.” Five decades later, NPR now boasts around 900 member stations, taking nationwide that mission of educational and public broadcasting held by Price, Fullerton, and their contemporaries.

That mission continues in full force today. “We exist to bring the world to local listeners,” Lyon says, “and what’s good about the anniversary is the opportunity for new ideas at the table that coincide with advancements in technology.” He says that industry experts are all in agreement: radio is as strong as ever. “We’re very conscious as a team of industry trends, and a lot of our upgrades have been looking for ways to keep up, like the huge demand for on-demand radio…we are a voice bringing things to the community, but we also want to give a voice to the community.”

KIOS FM second historical photo

The opportunities to create new programming and rethink distribution have dovetailed nicely into the station’s commitment to community, and Hatton is particularly excited about the developments. “It represents a shift in philosophy: it used to be that curating radio content was top-down—now, it’s the other way around.” KIOS has worked closely with local nonprofits and individuals, giving time to their stories and reinforcing that connection, and the programming under Hatton’s helm has delved into expanding features and reporting on the community.

Recent features—including one focused on the young Methodists who refused confirmation in protest of the church’s LGBTQ positions and another detailing JP Lord School’s extraordinary and innovative program for special needs students—resonated deeply with listeners. “These are sound-rich stories with a real sense of place and atmosphere that’s only possible on radio,” Hatton says. “You can take your time, let the story tell itself; by shifting to feature pieces like these, we can use our resources very strategically.”

“NPR calls stories like these ‘driveway moments,’” adds station manager Ken Dudzik, “because people don’t want to leave their cars until they’re finished.”

Changes to the station programming must be weighed carefully, though, and the team is careful to mind this. “Our listeners trust our schedule to be reliable; you want to hear the program you want to hear when you know it’s going to be on,” Hatton says. “But in order to make room for new programing and to create a tent big enough for new audiences, you do have to tweak and adjust a little… big events like the 50th anniversary are a good time to do that,”  The airwaves will see some shifts, but the biggest new developments will be online. The station is hoping to launch several on-demand streams by the end of the year, including curated playlists for jazz/blues and adult album alternative listening. “We live in a city with a rich musical tradition,” Hatton says, “and our station is just 10 blocks away from Saddle Creek Records…with streaming, we can find a home for that programming.”

When asked about challenges the station has faced over the years, Dudzik is frank: “the challenge is the same as it always is: maintaining ongoing membership.” Dudzik is clear that member support is absolutely vital to the health and viability of KIOS—support that he is extremely grateful for. “It’s a lot of work to ask for money, but when we go on the air and ask for pledges, we want everyone to know this is your station.” The challenges of the moment involve finding ways to sustain funding, but also to grow membership—something Dudzik hopes the station’s new efforts to attract new audiences will help accomplish.

Lyon agrees. “A part of our future will be ways to collaborate with other nonprofits in the community. Having Susan Stamberg at the Joslyn has been extremely rewarding, and we are in a place to become a more relevant and viable resource for the community.” All three are confident that the future is bright, as Hatton puts it succinctly: “KIOS has had a rich history, and it will have a rich future.”

Visit kios.org for more information.

This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

NPR throwback

Michael Lyon

September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After years singing opera, this transplanted Brit finds a niche in American standards.

He studied with some of the world’s finest opera coaches and vocal teachers; sang the lead in famous operas like Tosca, La Bohéme, Aida, Pagliacci, and Madame Butterfly; performed as soloist for oratorios and masses by Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Verdi; and graced the main stage at Carnegie Hall as a featured soloist.

So why is Michael Lyon singing cover songs of Sinatra, Bennett, and Bublé for the Thursday-evening crowd at Ryan’s Bistro? He’s living his dream—a dream he has re-formed many times over.

“It took me until my mid-50s to understand that what I am is a performer,” says the singer in his West Omaha home. And what a performer he is!

Dressed casually in black, Lyon sings the standards with the air and confidence of a seasoned professional. His beautiful tenor voice carries a rich tone, but he holds back on the power his voice can reach. He hits high notes with ease and in tune. He’s smooth but never smarmy and keeps the schmaltz at bay. He doesn’t rely on gimmicks; he has the talent and training to let the music and lyrics do the talking.

 “…I knew down to my very toes that I had to sing opera.”

“We get people in here who think they’re listening to a recording, a sound system,” says Julia Stein, bar manager at Ryan’s. “He’s awesome. We love him here.”

Is this what Lyon envisioned over 30 years ago when he set out to be a great opera singer? No. Is he satisfied with his life as Omaha’s go-to tenor for special events? “Yes,” he says without hesitation. “I have become very adept at surviving in this world.”

Lyon’s world began in England’s county of Cornwall, where he grew up in a small dairy farming community. Neither parent displayed any musical abilities, so when their little son opened his mouth and made a beautiful sound, the only nurturing of his talent came from the school choir…until he got kicked out at age 10 for “goofing around.”

Lyon eventually channeled his feistiness into a single-mindedness that paved the way for his future. When he was about 20, he listened to a recording of an Italian opera “and I knew down to my very toes that I had to sing opera.” And so he did.

With newfound purpose, Lyon won a position with the Bristol Opera Company. Within a year and still without vocal training, he secured the lead in a production—as a baritone. “I then decided that I had to study seriously, which I did, and won several competitions,” explains Lyon.

“A guy was leaving Ryan’s and said…’How come you’re not somebody?’ And I said, ‘I am somebody, just not necessarily the somebody you want me to be.’”

Flush with confidence in his talent, Lyon emigrated in 1981 to Los Angeles, where he continued his vocal studies. He credits opera star Baldo dal Ponte for “giving me my high notes” and transforming him into a tenor. In 1984, Lyon met his future wife at an opera workshop. He and Kristin, an Omaha native, spent the next decade and a half performing in L.A.’s numerous opera and music theatre venues. They were at home on the stage and in demand, but singing didn’t pay the rent. The bottom fell out when both lost their day jobs within a month of each other.

Michael, Kristin, and son Max relocated to Omaha in 2000. With limited opportunities to pursue opera here, Michael and Kristin began a successful real estate career. Michael also teamed up with KIOS-FM as the local host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” from 5-10 a.m.

But Lyon, who retains only a tinge of an accent from his native England, knew his whole identity was wrapped up in singing. After an eight-year hiatus, he bought a sound system and remade himself into “a hip guy.” Word-of-mouth brought success quickly.

“An events planner at Stokes [Grill & Bar] told me about Michael,” says Chris Blumkin, a management consultant and wife of Ron Blumkin, the president of the Nebraska Furniture Mart. “We went to hear him at the Zin Room downtown. He has a genuine, warm way about him. We’ve hired him five times for corporate and family events.”

Lyon has never lost sight of who he is. That’s why sideways compliments from customers don’t faze him.

“A guy was leaving Ryan’s and said, ‘You’re so great. How come you’re not somebody?’ And I said, ‘I am somebody, just not necessarily the somebody you want me to be.’”