KCRW LA & Berlin

KCRW is one of the most popular radio stations in Los Angeles. In 2017, the LA public radio station opened a sister city station in Berlin. chatted with KCRW Berlin's Susan Woosley and Karen Roth.

How did it all start with KCRW and what inspired you to bring KCRW to life? Can you tell us a bit more about the concept you created?

Our group had previously been active as the Friends of NPR Berlin (FNPR), under the former 104.1 FM frequency holder, NPR Berlin. John Kornblum, Marie Warburg and Karen Roth co-founded the Friends of NPR Berlin (FNPR) in partnership with National Public Radio (NPR). The objective of FNPR was to raise awareness and community support for 104.1 FM, funding production and local community building efforts that were beyond the budget of NPR.  

What does KCRW stand for?

Radio stations on the West coast are assigned the call letter ‘K’, and those on the East coast, the letter ‘W'. KCRW is a National Public Radio member station broadcasting from the campus of Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, where the station is licensed. Founded in 1945 to train servicemen returning from World War II in the then-new technology, FM broadcasting—the additional call letters “C-R-W", stand for College Radio Workshop. KCRW was a charter member of NPR in 1970, making Santa Monica College the second community college to own a public radio or television station.

What made you decide to open a sister city radio station and bring KCRW Berlin to live? Tell us about this journey!

Karen’s background was investing in and working with entrepreneurial start up software companies.  A long-time resident of LA and fan of KCRW prior to moving to Berlin, Karen was introduced to KCRW’s President Jennifer Ferro in 2014, while FNPR was in the early stages of formation. Jennifer became our champion teaching us radio and helping produce our first short local pieces from many miles away. Karen and Jennifer immediately saw the similarities between the Berlin and LA communities. Our first collaboration was hosting KCRW in Berlin in 2015, including three of their shows and show hosts Jason Bentley, Madeleine Brand and Frances Anderton.

When NPR informed the MABB it would be returning the license to 104.1 FM, Karen and Jennifer decided to formally collaborate creating KCRW Berlin. We applied for the frequency against stiff competition with 10 other local stations. The hearing for the frequency took place on, of all days, American Independence Day, July 4, 2017. KCRW Berlin learned that we had been awarded the frequency just a matter of weeks before airing our first broadcast on October 16, so we had to prove our nimbleness right from the start. We hit the ground running and continue with this momentum today.

Just as in 2018, our focus in 2019 centers around producing unique local content, airing relevant world news and providing access to compelling, engaging story telling - in English. This promotes brand awareness and assists with fundraising efforts. Fundraising plays an essential role in our DNA, because KCRW Berlin is supported solely through listener donations. We do not receive GEZ fees or government support. We rely instead on private and corporate donations and sponsorships. Our audience relies on our news shows as a top source of information and considers our reporting personally important.

The KCRW Berlin brand is strengthened through the proven US public radio outlets with whom we partner, such as NPR, KCRW and WNYC, PRX-PRI, and APM, that provide rigorous reporting, interesting and education cultural exchanges plus a platform for local, mid-Atlantic and international public dialogue.  Our audience is also highly-engaged and active in the Berlin community. We further strengthen the KCRW Berlin brand by partnering with trusted organizations around the city to which our listeners can connect in the form of programs and events.  Our corporate sponsors enjoy the advantage of this connection as well: studies show that our listeners hold a more positive opinion of companies that support NPR programming, instilling a “halo effect” that predisposes their desire to do business with our sponsors.  

How was it different from your expectations and how did Berliners respond to your service?

We had an overwhelming response to our service. Two weeks prior to our first broadcast, we launched our Facebook page with the simple statement "Coming October 16th, KCRW Berlin 104.1 FM - STAY TUNED!” - and reached almost 6000 users within a matter of days.

KCRW Berlin is a unique arrival on the German broadcasting scene. It is an innovative startup, modelled on the community-oriented public radio services in the US. We knew that partnering with KCRW would be a win-win situation for us. As NPR’s third largest member station, within a network of over 900 stations, KCRW has renowned brand recognition due to its unique mix of content centered around music discovery, news, cultural exploration and informed public affairs.

Our audience is composed of native English speakers living in Berlin and Brandenburg, as well as native German speakers and the many new Berliners who share English as a common language. We immediately garnered a huge jump in our 18 to 35 listening audience with KCRW’s Eclectic 24 music programming. We're also pleased to hear that a number of Berlin and Germany based media outlets regularly tune in for daily news reports from flagship shows such as All Things Considered and Morning Edition.

Our local news and information services, including a weekly review of the events shaping our lives in Germany’s capital, also play a strong role in integrating new Berliners into the city. Additionally, our listeners regularly comment on the sense of community our programming provide them, from our music features to our audio essays and storytelling show, to our “KCRW Berlin Presents…” events with local festivals and events, to our station IDs from both famous Berliners and listeners alike.

Berlin and Los Angeles are both highly creative cities - how does each impact your storytelling?

Storytelling: Berlin is an incredibly diverse city, and that diversity naturally becomes a part of our reporting. We hear perspectives from Berliners, immigrants, people from all kinds of backgrounds and walks of life. Those voices all come together to create the colorful sounds of our station, and our hope is that it reflects the polychromatic spectrum of our city, Berlin.

Creative Cities: Berlin has so many parallels to Los Angeles: film, art, music, politics, a global connector of people and ideas. It shares the spirit that we find in Los Angeles – an international destination driven by arts, culture, music, food, politics and public policy. KCRW Berlin covers all this and more in its reporting, from news  to music, to culture and events and our own community page, Omnified.

How do you nourish the relationship and dialogue between the two cities?

In addition to airing KCRW culture and politics content on KCRW Berlin, we regularly host visiting KCRW  journalists as well as the uber popular KCRW DJs (see also below “Visiting Talents Program.”) We also partner with Los Angeles and U.S. based organizations on German-American panel discussions, ranging from reinventing democracy to populism to integration.  

What can Angelenos and Berliner expect next? Any upcoming projects or events they'll better not miss?

We’ve just premiered two unique music shows in our local line-up, along with our flagship music show, Brave New Rave: The Fink + Forty Show, hosted by Fin Greenall and Sven Fortmann, exposes listeners to the myriad of new sounds influencing music makers across Europe; The Mexican Radio Radio Show features high-energy tracks from and interviews with synth punk, post punk Neue Deutsche Wellen and New Wave artists. We were also thrilled to add a Berlin edition of KCRW’s legendary Henry Rollins show to our airwaves!  We are in the stages of planning at least two music events, one to coincide with our upcoming Fall pledge drive, so be sure check our website in the coming weeks for more details.

We regularly welcome KCRW hosts and DJs in Berlin as part of our Visiting Talents Program. The program features U.S. journalists and DJs from radio, print and television engaging in international exchange through unique programming, special reporting and exclusive events. As mentioned previously, KCRW Berlin is a nonprofit station supported by funds raised by its listeners. In addition to public talks and music performances, our much appreciated KCRW Berlin financial supporters will also have the opportunity to attend more private, smaller events with our visiting guests. Again, please check our website for more details.  We are also putting the final touches on our LA-Berlin Salon series. Under the motto “Two Personalities. Two Cities. One Shared Passion,” two guests sharing the same, but not necessarily identical, vocations sit down for a one-on-one unscripted conversation. The sixty minute Salon will be recorded for radio in front of an exclusive, intimate audience.

Last, but not least, we partner throughout the year with unique events across the city, bringing you up front and behind the scenes with exclusive coverage and special ticket giveaways. To find out more about our “KCRW Berlin Presents” events, check our events page on a regular basis or  sign up for our newsletter.

Karen Roth – Co-Founder & Shareholder

Ms. Roth is the Co-Founder and Advisory Board Treasurer of KCRW Berlin. Prior to founding KCRW Berlin, she was an Operating Partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Greylock Partners for 10 years, where her portfolio companies included Successfactors, Wily Technology, Mobile Automation and AtHoc.  Karen has been Vice President of Wireless at AskJeeves and Chief Financial Officer at Net Effect Systems. She started her career at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where as Senior Manager, she developed the Southern California Internet practice, servicing clients such as GeoCities and Kingston Technology. Karen earned her Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Loyola College. Currently, Karen is on the board of KCRW where she sits on the   Finance and Strategy Committees. She has been a Senior Advisor to the American Academy in Berlin for 14 years. Karen also is on both the Berlin and Los Angeles committees for Human Rights Watch and worked with Berlin based researcher Juliane Kippenberg of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division on her project “Protecting Children from Hazardous Child Labor and Mercury Exposure”. Karen’s primary residence with her three sons is New York, but she spends time in both Los Angeles and Berlin.  

Susan Woosley - CEO & COO

Responsible for the day-to-day operations of the station, Susan previously served as VP operations and marketing & operations manager for the Friends of NPR Berlin.  Susan has a background in public affairs & public relations, human resources and sales & marketing. Prior to joining the Friends she conducted special projects for the American Academy in Berlin and served on the human resources Europe team at Daimler Financial Services. Before returning to Berlin in 2002, Susan worked in federal affairs for Salt River Project’s Washington D.C. office and for the PR and communications company Burson-Marsteller in D.C. and Miami. She worked in sales and marketing at Washington National Cathedral.  A foreign service child, Susan grew up primarily in Tehran and West Berlin. She cut her professional teeth during high school and college at the U.S. Mission in Berlin, U.S. Consulate in Vienna and U.S. Embassy Warsaw. Susan first began listening to NPR programming  in Tehran, transitioning to AFN’s cult following when she moved to West Berlin.  Working for U.S. public radio in her chosen city of Berlin combines the best of both worlds for Susan.

Jennifer Ferro - President KCRW

As President of KCRW, Jennifer Ferro has worked to transform the institution from Southern California's flagship public radio station to a worldwide community that connects through the discovery of music, news and culture both in person, online and on the air.

KCRW LA & Berlin


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