By Emily Johnson
Patti Aroneseno was wished a ‘Happy Birthday’ by stranger after stranger who passed by the KVNO phone center station from Aug. 27 until Sept. 3. Strange though it seemed, the passersby were not celebrating Aroneseno’s birthday. As assistant development director at Omaha’s only public classical radio station, however, she received her fair share of well wishes from UNO and Omaha community members who turned out to celebrate the station’s 38th birthday.
“Since we moved where we had our phone center set up, we were more visible to people and students passing in the hall,” Aroneseno said. “We had some students just walk in and wish us ‘Happy Birthday’ and make a donation. One of the most fun things was [when] Cupcake Island donated almost 200 birthday cupcakes, so we had people coming in to get cupcakes. That was just a lot of fun.”
All week, volunteers handled phone calls from the community and collected drive donations from phone pledges.
Interim Music Director Ben Rasmussen said pledges varied from $10 or $15, to as much as over $500. The donations weren’t all monetary, however; local vendors provided food donations and people sent in MP3s of themselves singing ‘Happy Birthday’ for the station. KVNO’s Classical Kids, local musicians, TV personalities, community members and UNO students and faculty (including UNO Chancellor John Christensen) dropped by to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ live and on air.
Rasmussen most enjoyed seeing the KVNO Classical Kids come and perform in the studio. Each month, KVNO recognizes a grade school student who is participating in vocal and instrumental arts.
Another favorite visit that stood out in his mind was that of UNO professor and Director of the UNO Chamber Choir Matthew Harden, who dropped by with the UNO chamber choir.
“They squeezed into a very tiny room; it was very warm, and they sang ‘Happy Birthday’ for us,” he said. “We actually got it on tape and used it later throughout the drive. That’s my favorite.”
Although the weeklong Birthday Gift Drive fell short of its goal, raising $40, 691 of an aimed $60,000, Aroneseno said the goal was “higher than we expected to obtain.” The station was very pleased by the number of community members that participated this year.
“We tried many new, particular things during this birthday gift drive that we have not tried before, and everything we tried was a huge success,” Aroneseno said. “We had a lot of local TV and radio personalities come into the studio. We had Dave Wingert from KGOR. He not only recorded an MP3 that we used over the air, but he came in and he pitched an hour with Otis Twelve.”
The Birthday Gift Drive coincided with KVNO’s “Kids in Concert” fundraiser, which ended Aug. 31 and collected 85 instruments for Omaha Public School students. Aroneseno said the fundraiser was very successful and surpassed KVNO’s expectations.
For Rasmussen, the fundraiser offered a chance for him to work on his personal goal of education outreach and bring music into the classroom.
Having worked at KVNO for five years and participated on the board of Classical Kids, the UNO alumnus hopes to draw more student musicians by “being passionate about music and helping other people get passionate about music.”
“Especially young people,” he said. “It’s sort of my personal mission to reach a younger audience and to really make this special for kids in grade school, middle school [and] high school level. As a classical music station, it’s sort of an unusual idea at first, [thinking] ‘How do we reach out to our community?’ It’s a good stepping stone, because it’s music related. I think that’s why it was chosen, because it’s something our audience would be able to help with and be able to relate to, because they’re listening for classical music. A lot of people who listen to us are former musicians. It’s the perfect type of audience.”
KVNO recently began covering UNO football and basketball games, and will also follow this year’s hockey season.
The station won three 2010 Awards of Excellence from the Nebraska Broadcasters Association on Aug. 12, its second year of recognition by its communications colleagues.
Robert Franklin, director of UNO Television and KVNO Radio Media Operations, won a gold (first place) award for Best Public Service Program for producing the radio documentary “Homeless in Nebraska.” KVNO also brought home a bronze (third place) award for Best In-Depth News for producing the “Graffiti Debate” produced by KVNO News Director Robyn Wisch. They also received a silver (second place) Best Play-by-Play award for the UNO vs. Washburn University Men’s Basketball game that was announced by David Gustafson of UNO Athletics and executive produced by KVNO.
Rasmussen attributed the awards to the quality of work from KVNO employees.
“We’re all trying to make sure we’re being as good as we possibly can be,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re out to necessarily win awards. I’m sure it’s in the back of some people’s minds, but we’re just trying to do the best we can.”
The station’s new emphasis on sports coverage is the first of such an effort in years, he said, and the station is working overtime to heighten focus on sports and news coverage. He hopes this will encourage students to be more active in news events and internships.
“They’re making sure that the job gets done, and it gets done right,” he said. “We’ve recently started an investigative reporting department. It used to be [that] people would just read the news off of the wire. Now they’re going in-depth, city council news, Nebraska state senators, that sort of stuff.”
Aroneseno hopes future drives can reach out to other schools districts beyond Omaha Public Schools and embrace more programs with the community.
“Hopefully we will have more community events,” she said. “We’re having a member event in October at the KANEKO. That is something we have not done before.”
Above all, Aroneseno said, the station will continue to play “great classical music.”
“We are a treasure,” she said. “We are a cultural gem, and we are the only ones who provide this commercial-free classical music to the community. We invite all members of the UNO community to take a few moments and listen to us, and at our next birthday celebration come on out and participate, because we would love to have you.