Weekday afternoons at the KRVM studio at Sheldon High School are fairly quite after school hours. The sound of the broadcast fills the studio while the members of the station’s staff finish out the work day. But the seeming quiet of the scene is illusory, as the sound of the community radio station can be heard throughout the southern Willamette Valley by KRVM’s 20,000 plus listeners.
Eugene residents who’ve tuned into the station regularly anytime in the past 30 years should recognize the voice of one person in particular: “Jivin'” Johnny Etheredge, who has been broadcasting as a volunteer at the station since 1980. Etheredge, the station’s former program director, has been working in radio since 1970 and says that he has no intention of stopping now.
“You’re gonna have to pry my fingers off of the command console or change the locks to get me outta here.”
Despite his long on-air career, Etheredge says that he has not become jaded. His passion for music began when he saw his first concert at age fourteen. The concert, which Etheredge still has the ticket stub from, featured The Beach Boys, Chad & Jeremy, and The Lovin’ Spoonful.
“I walked out of that concert hall a different person.”
Over the course of his career Etheredge has managed to interview all of the performers on that stage, which he considers to be one of his biggest accomplishments. “At the very heart of the matter I am first and foremost a fan.”
Etheredge’s love of music caused him to begin a career in commercial radio in the 1970s. In 1980, Eugene’s 4J school district, which operates KRVM, hired Etheredge to be the station’s program director. In addition to his job duties developing the station into a full-time broadcaster, Etheredge volunteered his free time to host shows on the station.
Although he left the program director position in 1993 to pursue teaching, Etheredge has continued to broadcast on the community station. Etheredge currently hosts three shows on KRVM, Monday night’s 60s Beat, Saturday morning’s Country Classics, and Sunday’s Son of Saturday Gold. Etheredge says that being a disc jockey has kept him “close to the music.”
Current KRVM Program Director Ken Martin affirms Etheredge’s love of music and calls his knowledge of it “encyclopedic.”
In his career Etheredge has witnessed radio evolve from the labor intensive enterprise it was in the 1970s into the highly automated format it takes now. Etheredge says that technology has allowed radio to improve and broadcast more widely, but he says that it has also become more homogeneous than it was in the past.
“Community stations are the last bastion of local programming.”
Etheredge, and the station’s other volunteer DJs contribute to the station’s full-time, full-service broadcast. The station’s content is partially listener-sponsored, and the remainder is underwritten by local businesses and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Etheredge says that KRVM, and Eugene’s other community radio stations KLCC and the University of Oregon’s KWVA preserve “local color” that syndicated commercial stations, which often only have one local show in the morning, cannot replicate.
It’s the impact that community radio can have on people that Etheredge has found the most rewarding during his time with KRVM. He recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of his on-air career, and he met many people who had been listening to him for decades.
He adds that in many ways radio host is a solitary job, as DJs spend hours alone in a booth, but meeting listeners was a big validation for him.
“You are really entertaining people, and are in a small way a part of their lives.”