Pride in the Media

Grassroots Radio

Local LGBTQ-friendly station KPFT changes its tune (and its programming) under new leadership.

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David Baes (photo by Alex Rosa for OutSmart magazine)

For 50 years, members of Houston’s LGBTQ community have played a starring role in the support and operation of KPFT 90.1 FM. The radio station has occupied a 100-year-old house in the heart of Montrose since its inception in 1970, when Houston’s pioneering LGBTQ activist Ray Hill co-founded it. Today, KPFT remains a treasured part of the community.

KPFT’s management has changed hands multiple times over the years, and is now in the care of David Baes, a gregarious broadcasting professional who took the helm as general manager on January 15. An openly gay man, Baes looks forward to strengthening KPFT’s ties to Houston’s LGBTQ community.

“There is so much talent here, and everyone is so positive. I feel sure we can get this station to turn in the direction it needs to go.”

—David Baes

Baes brings many skills to the table, including his knowledge as an engineer, outstanding people skills, financial wherewithal, political acumen, and an engaging on-air personalityproficiencies he honed during his 35 years as on-air personality “Dave Bradley” in the commercial radio world. Baes will need to use all of those skills as he takes on his new station’s unique challenges.

KPFT is the rarest of broadcasting animals. The nonprofit listener-sponsored community radio station is one of only five U.S. radio stations affiliated with the left-wing Pacifica Foundation. While refreshingly independent from the commercial giants and their cookie-cutter formats that rule today’s airwaves, listener-sponsored radio is difficult to keep afloat. KPFT bucks the corporate model by not accepting advertisers. Instead, audiences donate their money, time, and talent to keep the station above water.

Paying the bills was a big concern for nonprofit media outlets even before the economic calamity provoked by COVID-19. Still, the Houstonians who support KPFT are strongly committed to the unfettered exchange of ideas and creativity that KPFT has delivered for half a century.

A Man of Many Skills

As an Army kid, Baes moved around the country a lot until his family landed in Wichita, Kansas. That’s where, at the tender age of 11, the bright, outgoing Baes was outed.

“I was never given a chance to ‘come out’,” Baes recalls, chuckling. “My cousin did it for me. When my mother heard about it, she sat me down and said firmly, ‘You are normal. You are OK.’ My mother and I have always enjoyed a warm and honest relationship. It was an asset to me throughout my childhood. Even now, it makes a big difference.”

Baes began his career in radio at age 13, and he continued strengthening his skills through high school. His technical aptitude carried him through college, and in several professional positions after graduating. His background includes both radio and television work.

Baes recently worked as the director of operations for the PBS affiliate in Wichita—an experience that equipped him to identify areas in need of immediate attention at KPFT. So far, he has updated KPFT’s translators in Huntsville, and is currently working on improving signal strength in Galveston to extend the station’s reach beyond Houston’s city limits.

Unfortunately, the stately old home in Montrose that has housed KPFT all these years has fallen into deep disrepair, forcing the crew to largely vacate the building and work remotely. The building also suffers from regular break-ins, and the walls harbor extensive black mold. Baes is working to secure the structure and solicit bids for mold remediation to make the building functional again.

“It would be so nice to have a space that is not a risk to human life,” Baes states with a laugh. “The old house on Lovett Boulevard is paid for, but my dream would be to move the entire operation to a place that is newer, healthier, and better suited for our needs.”

As the station’s new general manager, Braes is uncomfortable being called “boss,” even in fun. “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge. There is a huge difference between a boss and a leader,” he emphasizes with a smile.

Rethinking the Format

For years, KPFT has operated with a “scattershot” programming format that offers listeners a full spectrum of ideas and interests. Over time, the station began attracting its deepest bench of listeners with its LGBTQ programming and independent music platforms, particularly during lunch hours and on weekends.

With this in mind, Baes is considering an improved music-based format. His goal is to not only freshen the station’s sound and make it more consistent, but also expand listener demographics to attract a younger audience that will sustain the station in the decades to come. Plans are underway for a more diverse, progressive playlist not found on other stations. By featuring local artists who are considered “too fringe” for mainstream stations, as well as local news and information geared to Houstonians’ interests, Baes believes KPFT can become true “community radio.”

However, Baes holds no illusions regarding the challenge he faces. “I know KPFT is a handful, but I have always believed in the power of humanity,” he concludes. “There is so much talent here, and everyone is so positive. I feel sure we can get this station to turn in the direction it needs to go.”

To learn more about KPFT, visit kpft.org.

This article appears in the March 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Kim Hogstrom

Kim Hogstrom is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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