KUHS Hot Springs, AR: Taking A Unique Approach to Community Radio

KUHS is a low-powered FM radio station housed in a building which also has a microbrewery and pizza joint. In 2000, KUHS station manager Zac Smith dreamed of founding a community radio station in North Carolina, but lacked to resources to do so. Years later in 2012 after he and his family had moved to Arkansas, the FCC opened a filing window for LPFM licenses. He and his wife, Cheryl Roorda, owned an underutilized piece of real estate (prior to the station opening) and worked on bringing the building up to functional standards “We did the math on tricking [the building] out and put together a several-tier plan that would go from the radio station and end up with the full restaurant and brewery,” said Zac.

Zac was inspired to start his own community radio station by WNCW Radio in Spindale, North Carolina because WNCW “dramatically changed the flavor of western North Carolina.” He wanted to create a similar culture in Arkansas by thinking of ways to make Hot Springs an attractive place. Another motivation for Zac was that he and Cheryl are both musicians (tuba and accordion, respectively) who love music and listening to the radio. The inspiration for the multi-business platform came to him while at a coffee house. He took note of the interactions
between people. After experiencing the vibrance of community-based organizations, he realized people enjoyed gathering in a face-to-face setting.

“It struck me that a place where people were already together sharing food and drink and conversation would be a great Segway into music, stories and whatnot that you could hear on a radio station.”

Their building was initially divided into three, long, shotgun spaces. Two spaces are larger and nearly the same size while the third is more narrow. The brewery and pizza shop occupy the two larger spaces, while the radio station is in the more narrow space. The building is designed in a U shaped. KUHS is located at the front of the building. Pedestrians can see the lobby and DJ booth from the sidewalk. Visitors can turn the corner at the rear of the station to get to the brewery. Previously, the brewery was a piano repair store. Their bar is made of repurposed pianos left behind after Zac and Cheryl purchased the property. The restaurant is located after turning the final corner from the brewery. SQZBX is the name of the pizza joint & brewery.

Zac is the station manager of KUHS. He and his wife own and operate SQZBX. Zac is the brewer. He learned how to brew beer in his backyard because he had a passion for beer and saw an opportunity to brew craft beer. “I brew simple clean beers that go well with food. I’m a great admirer of German and Czech beers, and follow the old purity law: water, yeast, malt, hops, nothing else.”

He also is the executive chef of the pizza joint. Zac learned to make pizza dough as a teenager during his first job off the family farm. While he doesn’t work the line anymore, he constantly checks the quality of the food. Though the businesses are separate and only share the building and same management, KUHS and SQZBX feed each other in many ways. Many of the station’s DJs decided to work for SQZBX, which opened two years after the station opened. If something wrong happens in the studio, an off-duty DJ has enough knowledge to handle hiccups.

“The radio station is a huge part of our story, and people often wander down the hall while their pizza is in the oven and peek in on the duty DJ. Of course the DJ community did a lot to spread the word about SQZBX, to the point we had to have a refresher on commercial promotion. But having a built-in community who knew our place as a haven for expression really helped the restaurant grow a culture of inclusion, service, and authenticity.”

Three instrumental factors that helped KUHS transform from a dream to reality were Cheryl, station engineer Bob Nagy, and Low Key Arts. Cheryl contributed a great deal in the initial construction of the building including finishing the floors, ceiling and walls. She also managed the finances for the project. Bob had plenty of experience as an engineer with three other radio stations before coming to KUHS. Zac and Bob designed an action plan for the station and presented it to the board of Low Key Arts, a nonprofit community arts organization. With the board’s approval, they began fundraising for a year and a half, ultimately raising $35,000. Volunteers helped design the studio, chairs and desks, in addition to making other valuable contributions to the station. Bob advised the station to use solar power with the funds. Now, KUHS is the first and only solar powered station in Arkansas.

KUHS is operating in their third year. Their programs consist mostly of music shows hosted by variety of DJs. The station also runs talk, poetry, health and a women’s programs as well as a game show. More formal journalism is one of Zac’s long-term goals.

“I would love to see us do a better job of telling stories of Hot Springs on air in a formal manner. As the station manager, that’s the direction I want to take the station in and help my DJs get some more resources to help us record and tell more stories of Hot Springs.”