Lance Orozco is one of Southern California’s most honored and recognized journalists. Yet he doesn’t work for the Los Angeles Times or a commercial megastation.Orozco has instead landed dozens of awards from area press groups by making an unlikely news powerhouse out of tiny KCLU-FM in Thousand Oaks, a Ventura County suburb northwest of Los Angeles. The station employs just four full-time staffers but has won a flood of praise for the extensive local coverage spearheaded by Orozco, its news director and reporting dynamo.
Last month the Associated Press Television and Radio Association of California and Nevada awarded KCLU and Orozco nine of its Mark Twain Awards, including one naming him Radio Reporter of the Year. In 2004, the Los Angeles Press Club dubbed him Journalist of the Year. Orozco and KCLU have also topped other small newsrooms to land more than 40 Golden Mikes, the annual honor of the region’s Radio Television News Association.
RTNA President Steve Kindred calls Orozco “a go-getter—the kind of guy that any local market would want to have.” Orozco “serves as the local news voice” for KCLU’s coverage area, Kindred says.
The cascade of honors highlights Orozco’s tireless reporting and his goal to make KCLU, as he puts it, “not the public radio station for this market, but the news station for this market.”
Five years ago, the station licensed to California Lutheran University was airing much less local news, and Orozco was a seasoned commercial TV reporter looking for a change. Over two decades in southern California, he had worked his way up to the big time, delivering weather and reporting for the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles.
Then low ratings prompted a changing of the guard, and he lost his job. “It’s like big-league baseball,” says the friendly and talkative Orozco. “You get to the majors, and you blow out your knee.”
A friend told him about the news director job at KCLU, which he dismissed at first as a better fit for a cub reporter. But covering car chases and other commercial-TV staples had worn him down, and he had always dabbled in radio on the side and loved how the medium could paint pictures in listeners’ minds. KCLU offered a blank slate where he could set his own agenda of the stories he’d always wanted to cover.
Big broadcasters neglect the station’s coverage area of Ventura and Santa Barbara, Orozco says. So he seized the opportunity to make KCLU the go-to spot for comprehensive local news, and he covers everything—not just issues you’d expect to find on public radio. “News is news,” he says.
For example, he says KCLU is more likely than other small pubradio stations to cover live and breaking events. In 2005 the station won a Los Angeles Press Club award for its on-the-scene coverage of President Reagan’s funeral. “Reporters did a good job of describing the scene and letting listeners feel like they were there,” the press club said.
Two years ago KCLU grabbed listeners’ attention with all-out coverage of widespread brush fires that consumed 70,000 acres and threatened hundreds of homes. Orozco and his colleagues teamed up to provide three 14-hour days of live coverage from their studios and from the fire’s front lines.
Orozco recalls delivering a report amid hundreds of residents who drove to the scene to watch the fires burn. He was humbled to hear his voice echoing back to him from their radios. The station still hears from listeners about the coverage, he says.
Not all stories are as dramatic. Last week Orozco interviewed a French philosopher visiting the University of California-Santa Barbara, and he reported on an assessment of coastal resources.
Whatever the news, Orozco produces a 6-minute feature to air during Morning Edition every weekday and writes morning and afternoon newscasts, relying as little as possible on wire copy. One day a week, he drives to Orange County to contribute to regional programming on KOCE-TV, the public TV station in Huntington Beach. He works upwards of 60 hours a week. “My wife’s not real happy about that,” he says.
Mary Olson, KCLU’s g.m., gives Orozco much of the credit for doubling the station’s cume over the past four years. “We may be a small station, but we don’t sound like it,” she says. “I would put our sound and our product up against any station in the market.”
Orozco says the benefits of KCLU’s hyper-local strategy are not just short-term but a way to compete with satellite radio and other media in the future. He urges small stations to embrace local news to distinguish themselves.
“Little stations can make a mark,” he says. “And sometimes, being in a smaller market is better.”
KCLU in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
In 2008, Orozco was named small-market reporter of the year for the fourth time in the state's Associated Press broadcast awards competition, the Ventura County Star reported.
In 2004, the Los Angeles Press Club named Orozco Journalist of the Year among radio reporters and hosts. He bested Warren Olney and Larry Mantle on larger L.A. pubradio stations. The club said: "The top candidate displays a proven ability to move from the most immediate breaking news events to the most sensitive soft news features, achieving the ultimate challenge of a journalist. The diverse samples provided reflect a talented journalist who maintains professional strength under pressure and insures that the real story is told, for those involved and those listening."