Mike Murphy, Station Manager and 20-Year Guardian of KKFI, Retires

(KKFI, 90.1 FM, Kansas City, Missouri)  


“Mike,” says Development Director Bill Sundahl, “is a living breathing embodiment of Community Radio.”

On May 1, when Mike Murphy submitted his 30-day notice, KKFI said no.  Clearly, they said, that’s not enough time.  How about 90 days? 

Murphy agreed.  Then, as the end of July approached, the station made another request:  How about the end of August? 

KKFI’s reluctance to let Murphy go is no mystery.  Since his 1996 arrival, Murphy has held most every position—Active Member Chair, Volunteer Coordinator, Chief Operator and Interim Chief Operator (twice), Station Manager, Traffic Coordinator, all while simultaneously hosting weekly music shows, serving on the Programming Committee, providing technical support for special initiatives…and, adds Station Manager Mike Lytle, certifying proper building maintenance. 

“Most every morning,” Lytle recalls, “Mike went up on our roof to verify that the HVAC system was working.  This was not his job.  But, always, Mike saw what was needed and did it.”

“Mike,” says Development Director Bill Sundahl, “is a living breathing embodiment of Community Radio.”

On August 9, Mike Murphy retired.  He leaves KKFI, Kansas City, and community radio stronger for his service, a legacy of defending free speech and independent thought, of celebrating music, of media advocacy for peace and environmental protection.

Friend of Community Radio, Friend of Pacifica

Murphy’s first commitments to KKFI were forged through crisis and recovery.

In 1999, a recently hired station manager proved ill-suited to the station’s independent spirit.  Murphy, who had only recently become an Active Member, joined the resistance, signing on with the newly formed “Friends of Community Radio.”

The struggle went on for years.  Murphy and other Friends were kicked off the air; a lawsuit reinstated them.  Ultimately, the group reclaimed the station.

“The experience,” Murphy says, “built a sense of solidarity at the station…[and] helped me better appreciate community radio.”

Upon his return, now a member of the Programming Committee, Murphy set out to add to KKFI’s lineup.  He contacted Pacifica Affiliate Coordinator Ursula Ruedenberg who told him about Audioport and the wide selection of Pacifica programs available to affiliate stations, benefits the previous management had neither made known nor used.

Soon, Pacifica programming expanded on KKFI, and KKFI began contributing to Sprouts.   

Music…lots of it, best if it’s local and live

For the past 15 years, Murphy’s 6 AM to 8 AM Wednesday Morning Buzz has moved listeners through what may be the worst morning hours of the working week. 

Committed from the start to artists who “shatter genres and push boundaries,” from John Cage to Neil Young, Murphy also used his hours to lift up the local music scene, a charge he sees “as being hand in glove with community radio’s mission.” 

“I feel so blessed,” Murphy insists.  “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how grateful I was for those opportunities.  It was humbling.”  

His innovative summer concert series treated listeners to “a wonderful thing, a live concert while driving to work;” and his occasional interviews—with musicians and activists—Keith Emerson, Jim Hightower, Jon Anderson, Larry Kirwan, Denny Laine—were special pleasures for audience and host.

“I feel so blessed,” Murphy insists.  “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how grateful I was for those opportunities.  It was humbling.”  

Supporting Peace, Environmental Protection and Grassroots Action

“The year 2011,” Murphy recalls, “was a particularly good year.”  KKFI hosted the Grassroots Radio Conference, the Homelessness Marathon, and Farm Aid.  The Occupy Movement got underway, and Murphy went—with a recorder—and brought participants back to the station. 

“I tried to provide a 100,000-watt megaphone for those folks,” Murphy explains.  “I played the role of training wheels, not pedaling but stabilizing.”

This conviction—that community radio must smooth the way for the just cause—stands at the heart of Murphy’s years at KKFI.

Active in local peace movements since the lead-up to the Iraq War, Murphy calls support for KKFI and community radio “a matter of life and death” and sees pledge drives as opportunities to tell callers, listeners and volunteers alike that, “if every other media outlet had been playing Democracy Now! or some equivalent (during the lead up to the war), that war might have been stopped.”

Committed to environmental defense, Murphy has served, since 2011, as an interim producer of EcoRadio KC, taking his recorder “out where environmentalists are, documenting what they do, making sure they know they have a place on our airwaves.”

And, on Memorial Day this year—after he had given notice, Murphy recorded a protest of a Kansas City manufacturer of triggers for nuclear weapons whose workers and neighbors die of cancer at unusually high rates extraordinarily young.  Seventeen people were arrested for civil disobedience that day.  Aired first on KKFI, Murphy, later, submitted the program as a 2-part Sprouts, a contribution especially meaningful, he says, as an intersection of his commitments to peace and environmental protection.

Leaving in the Morning

On July 31, Murphy opened his last Morning Buzz with “Leaving in the Morning” by J.J. Cale.  He tells his listeners that he “looks back with gratitude,…takes nothing for granted.”  His plan, he says, “is to do nothing until he comes up with a plan.”

Asked about his retirement, Nilufar Movahedi, host of KKFI’s Global Roots Radio, talks first of his humor, his compassion, his dedication to community radio and then adds a wish:  “I hope to hear him amplified again soon!”