When it comes to handling tense situations, Kevin Larsen has held jobs ranging from a youth counselor to a 911 dispatcher.
For Larsen, those jobs and his past broadcast experience have prepared him well as the news director at Yankton radio station KYNT. He started the position this month but had already worked at the station in a part-time capacity.
“I think those jobs have provided me with the skills that are needed as news director,” he told the Press & Dakotan.
The 32-year-old Larsen grew up in Canova and graduated from Howard High School. He earned a two-year degree in television and radio broadcasting from Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska.
Larsen said he has followed the advice of an NECC instructor. “My professor always said, ‘Find the truth and tell it.’ And that’s what I have done throughout my radio career,” the broadcaster said.
His radio career started with Mitchell station KORN/Q107, followed by a station in Chadron, Nebraska. He returned to South Dakota for the news director position at Pierre station KCCR and eventually KYNT in Yankton.
Doyle and Carolyn Becker own the three South Dakota stations as part of Riverfront Broadcasting. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the Beckers. They took a chance on a kid right out of school and, except for Chadron, I have always worked for them,” Larsen said.
He credited the mentorship and valuable experience gained working alongside two of South Dakota’s long-time broadcasters, J.P. Skelly of KORN and Scott Kooistra of KYNT. Kooistra ends his broadcasting career Saturday at the Yankton station.
One of Skelly’s rules: “If it bleeds, it leads.” In other words, start the broadcast with a car accident or other hard-hitting news item.
“I still follow that (advice). I start the daily newscast with, if unfortunately, a tragedy. But I also end the newscast with a ‘feel-good’ story,” Larsen said. “That’s the approach I’m taking at KYNT, always looking to end with that kind of story. Jeff Erickson, who hosts our morning show, also features a ‘good news of the day’ segment.”
The Mitchell radio job was part-time, so Larsen followed up on a friend’s advice and applied for a full-time job at the Our Home youth facility in Parkston.
“I thought I would try it and see what happened. At the time, I had just turned 21 and was the youngest person ever hired in the history of Our Home. Three years later, I was still there,” he said.
“From that job, I took away the knowledge of how to approach anybody. People are intimidated when you bring a microphone and put it in their face. But I have the skills from that job where I can approach a very shy person and talk to them.”
Larsen took a full-time radio job at Chadron, Nebraska. After a 10-month stint, he returned to South Dakota to work at Pierre station KCCR.
“I was the news director in Pierre for three years. I got to interview the governor and everyone in Pierre. I got to know a lot of people, and I met my wife, Hillary, in Pierre,” he said.
“It was huge working at KCCR. Their primary focus is news, and I had the opportunity to interview the governor and other state officials. In Pierre, you have a significant amount of state employees, and the same as here in Yankton. I think my experience covering state government in Pierre will play well with my work here in Yankton which has a great abundance of state employees.”
The Larsens moved to the Yankton area while Hillary pursued her law degree at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. Kevin worked part-time at KYNT, gaining valuable experience getting to know the Yankton community.
The opportunity allowed him to interview Yankton government, business and civic leaders, providing him with a valuable foundation for his current full-time role.
While working part-time at KYNT, Larsen worked full-time as a 911 dispatcher in Union County. The position provided him with the ability to handle pressure and to talk with people who are experiencing a traumatic event. Those traits have helped him in dealing with covering stressful situations for the radio station.
“You could be covering a tragedy where you need to approach somebody,” he said. “You may be standing next to someone who is watching their business burn to the ground before their eyes, and you need to talk to them about it.”
Larsen has joined KYNT full-time during a time of great change at the Yankton station. Long-time news director Dave Leonard had retired, and shortly afterwards, the staff was shocked and saddened by his sudden death.
Kooistra had stepped into the vacancy and continued the work until Nelsen had been hired as the permanent replacement.
“Scott Kooistra had done a fabulous job in the interim and throughout his career,” Larsen said. “Scott has done radio longer than I’ve been alive. Scott has interviewed so many people and has touched so many lives. You go anywhere, and they know Scott. He can talk with anybody, any time of the day or night. That gift comes from within.”
When it comes to coverage, Larsen is very interested in local affairs ranging from government to agriculture.
Because he had already worked at KYNT, Larsen found the transition smooth as he took the reins as news director. He believes in the ability to remain flexible for whatever arises.
“When it comes to news, you can’t really plan,” he said.
Larsen has already joined Yankton organizations and wants to become even more involved in the community. With the pandemic winding down, he sees more opportunities to do what he loves — getting out and meeting people.
“It’s a great career,” he said.
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