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KCLU Reporter Wins Top Honor

One-man news crew Lance Orozco is named Journalist of the Year by Los Angeles Press Club.

June 21, 2004|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

It is early in the morning and Lance Orozco, the one-man news crew for Ventura County's public radio station, is working his beat.

First, it's up to Santa Barbara to interview residents worried about fire danger in their exclusive canyon neighborhood. Then it's over to Oxnard to talk to commuters frustrated by traffic tie-ups stemming from replacement of the Ventura Freeway's Santa Clara River bridge.

Finally it's back to the radio station, squeezed into a freshman dorm at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, to bang out copy for the evening newscast and splice together a feature for "Morning Edition."

It was a typical day for the veteran newsman, but one that reflects the kind of on-the-ground community reporting that recently earned him Journalist of the Year honors -- the latest in a string of awards for Orozco and small, listener-supported KCLU-FM.

"To be honest with you, the awards are nice and everything, but it's not what I'm most proud of," said Orozco, 46, a Sherman Oaks resident hired in 2001 as KCLU's news director.

"I'm proud of the fact that people are recognizing our station as a place to turn to for news," he said. "And I'm excited about the fact that this has garnered some media attention, because it helps more people find our radio station."

That is no easy task for the five-person station, perched as it is at the edge of the nation's second-largest radio market, Los Angeles.

Now approaching its 10th anniversary, KCLU-FM (88.3 in Ventura County, 102.3 in Santa Barbara County) competes daily with radio signals from bigger, better-financed stations across Southern California, many with small armies of editors, reporters and anchors.

Still, KCLU has managed to hold its own.

Earlier this year, the station was awarded 10 Golden Mikes for news coverage by the Radio & Television News Assn. of Southern California. It marked the third year in a row that KCLU has won more Golden Mikes than any other Southern California radio station.

In April, KCLU received five awards for news coverage by the Associated Press Television-Radio Assn. of California and Nevada. Included was the station's first AP Impact Award, for coverage of the wildfires that ravaged Southern California last fall.

A week ago, Orozco was named radio's Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club, beating competitors from larger stations.

"As great as this award is, and it is very deserving for Lance; this is what he does every day," said Mary Olson, KCLU's general manager. Cal Lutheran holds the station's Federal Communications Commission license and provides studio space and other support but is not involved in programming or other day-to-day operations.

"I'm immensely proud, immensely gratified, just so pleased at his success," Olson said. "Lance is not only incredibly talented, but he's one of the most decent, hard-working journalists I have ever known."

A 1980 graduate of USC, Orozco came to KCLU after nearly 20 years as a television reporter and weathercaster in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. He was on the air for 3 1/2 years at KCBS-TV Channel 2 in Los Angeles and for 11 years at KEYT-TV in Santa Barbara before taking the position at KCLU.

Orozco wasn't sure that he wanted to work at such a small station. KCLU was launched in October 1994 with about 5,000 listeners.

Station officials say it is the only public radio station in California that does not receive government funding. Instead, about 70% of the station's $578,000 annual budget comes from listener donations, about 20% from business sponsorship and the rest from in-kind university contributions.

"My friends thought I was crazy, because that's kind of where you start your career," Orozco said. "But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be fun to cover the kind of news broadcasters don't do much of anymore. That was the whole allure. No car chases, no Britney Spears. I could actually cover real things that affect people."

Orozco hasn't looked back. He reports on everything, including the launch of a salad bar program in Ventura schools and former President Reagan's death and funeral.

And as his own assignment desk, he's been able to pursue stories of interest to him, all the while chronicling community events for a growing audience of about 80,000 listeners a week in the two coastal counties. "The thing I feel best about is that people react to us," Orozco said. "Every day, I get tons of e-mails and phone calls. Even if it's not positive input, it tells me people are listening.

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