Last month George Preston became general manager of local classical music station KCME 88.7 FM, and he believes his new mission is not only to grow a listening audience but also to bring the community together through Mozart and Beethoven.
Preston replaces Jeanna Wearing, who left the general manager post after 18 years but will remain with the station as corporate sponsorship director.
Preston most recently held a radio job in Chicago, but in the coming months you’re likely to meet him on the streets of Colorado Springs, where he plans to bring the music to the people.
He took some time this week to talk to the Business Journal about himself and his new challenge.
What attracted you to the job at KCME and what ties, if any, do you already have to Colorado Springs?
I’m coming up on 30 years in classical radio, and this job at KCME represents an opportunity to put that experience and practical knowledge to work as the leader of a great cultural institution. I’m passionate about the power of classical music to lift people above the fray of their everyday troubles to connect with perhaps the greatest invention of the human mind.
Whenever I need reassurance of the fundamental good of the human race, I look to the genius of Mozart or Beethoven as inspiration. The universal themes and incredible depth and beauty of classical music invite listeners of all backgrounds, races, creeds and classes to come together to celebrate their diversity, rather than focus on their differences. It’s my goal as general manager of KCME to promote classical music as a much-needed place where we can find common ground and celebrate the achievements of these great composers and performers.
Aside from working to make KCME the best station it can be, I want to do whatever I can to strengthen the cultural infrastructure of Colorado Springs. I’d like to leave a legacy of cultural opportunity for my kids and for generations to come.
My old friend Linda Weise, who is the founder and executive director of the Colorado Springs Conservatory, is a great example of what can be achieved in this town through vision, energy and hard work, so she serves as an inspiration to me. Linda is one of my previous ties to Colorado Springs, but I have a much older one. My late father, Col. Robert A. Preston, was an Air Force chaplain for more than 30 years. He brought the whole family to Colorado Springs back in the 1960s to visit the Air Force Academy with its stunning chapel and to enjoy the natural beauty of the region. Those memories are very dear.
What jobs have you held in the past that have prepared you for this role?
My latest stint was at Chicago’s legendary classical station, WFMT, where I did afternoon drive-time and also hosted and produced internationally syndicated broadcasts from Lyric Opera of Chicago. Previously I was at WNYC, New York, as music director, host and producer for about a decade. WBUR, Boston, was my radio home before that, where I wore many hats. My radio journey began at a little commercial classical station in Safety Harbor, Florida (Tampa Bay). For much of that time I was also a freelance singer and actor.
Who owns and operates KCME, and how is it funded?
KCME is a community licensee. Yes, we are public radio, but not affiliated with NPR. We have a professional staff (but there are always rewarding volunteer opportunities), and we are overseen by an incredibly knowledgeable and supportive board of directors. We also have a vital community advisory board.
About 70 percent of our operating budget comes from listener donations. We also receive a CPB grant each year, and we have corporate sponsors, or underwriters, who see great results from their on-air messages.
What plans do you have to invigorate KCME and grow its listening audience?
KCME and I are going to be out and about! We’re doing our first-ever live concert broadcast of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic from the Sky Sox’ Security Service Field the evening of July 20, and it won’t be our last remote. We’re going to increase our presence at live events all over town in an effort to truly be the voice of culture in Colorado Springs.
I’m also encouraging everyone who works at KCME to tap into their fundamental passion for sharing great music as a vital and relevant part of our everyday lives, so that our listeners can connect with us and with the music in a visceral and uplifting way. This music makes the world a more beautiful and harmonious place, and KCME is the source for Colorado Springs.
What are some things members of the business community should know about KCME that they might not already know?
I’m thrilled that Jeanna Wearing, our former general manager, has stayed on as director of corporate sponsorships. If your business is looking to reach an incredibly affluent, loyal and well-educated demographic, you should call Jeanna at 719-578-5263. KCME is ranked in the top 10 stations in southern Colorado, and our corporate sponsors not only build a lot of good will with our audience, they see results.
Here are some KCME listener stats: 16 percent have annual incomes above $100,000; more than 50 percent are college graduates; more than 25 percent hold advanced degrees; and more than 80 percent are homeowners. These folks love KCME, and they love and support our corporate sponsors.