By Christina Calloway
Duane Ryan came to Portales six decades ago with a vision to start a radio and television program from the ground up.
KENW was born as a public broadcasting station 40 years ago, but Ryan, the station’s director of broadcasting, said there were challenges along the way.
KENW broadcasts to the eastern side of New Mexico and parts of west Texas.
In the beginning
The roots go back to 1967, prior to reaching PBS status, when the station on the Eastern New Mexico University campus had a staff of 15.
By 1968, Ryan said they were telecasting to Portales in black and white with children’s programs that could have rivaled Sesame Street. But with just 10 watts, the reach didn’t stretch past a few blocks.
The staff was operating out of the attic of ENMU’s Student Academic Services building, which they nicknamed the “Tower Room,” with areas separated by large egg cartons.
Ryan applied for a $475,000 federal grant to help the station reach a greater audience, but he needed a $125,000 match.
That good fortune came about after a KENW employee had coffee with the wife of former U.S. Rep. Harold Runnels, Ryan said. That Congressman teamed with former U.S. Sen. Aubrey Dunn, who wanted a Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo. Together, they pushed both causes to reality.
After receiving the federal funding, KENW was built and on the air in 1974.
“For many people, we were the third station they could receive,” Ryan said. “We’re still here.”
Q&A with Duane Ryan
Question: What inspired you to start the station?
Ryan: I’ve always been interested in theater and radio and television. I grew up in (Los Angeles). So I was teaching at a junior college in Utah and this job came open. … I thought it would be fun to come in on the ground floor. That’s why we’re here. We raised five kids here. It’s really been a group effort. With a lot of work and help from everybody including the community, the university and the staff, it’s been a fun and worthwhile project.
Q: Why do you think the station has survived the changes in technology and media?
Ryan: I think we all believe in public broadcasting; we consider ourselves the public libraries on the air. There’s a need for television with no commercials, available to all people in the area, rich or poor. With that commitment, we want it to be local. We believe strongly in localism. Our challenge is we have a large geographic area to cover. We now have eight digital transmitters. We still have a lot of free television and free radio with information, entertainment and culturally enriching programming that will better people’s lives.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories?
Ryan: When students come back to tell us how they have succeeded in their lives. Those are the moments that continually happen now.
Q: Where do you see the future of KENW?
Ryan: Well I think it will move to distributors by Internet, both radio and television. We do post some podcasts of our radio. It will move more and more to digital platforms. I think the station will always survive. There’s a public service to train students to learn the art and craft of broadcasting.
What they’re saying
• “Duane Ryan is the station. It was his idea, his inspiration. We would be a lesser university without Mr. Ryan or the station.”
— ENMU President Steven Gamble
• “How could I be so lucky to have three TV shows and two radio shows? It’s an endorphin kind of response when you do things people like. How could we be so lucky to have Duane Ryan?”
— Tony Gennaro, ENMU professor emeritus of biology who hosted several nature-based educational programs for KENW over the years.
A reception is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sept. 27 to celebrate KENW’s 40th birthday.