Air Komando: Host of tech talk show enlists legions of followers with clear explanations

Friday, November 3rd 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

Kim Komando grew up in a home that was ahead of its time. Her mother, a developer of Unix operating systems at Bell Laboratories, had her daughter working at a computer by age 9.

Ms. Komando originally dreamed of becoming an architect, but her computer skills proved to be stronger than her design skills, and in 1985 she earned her bachelor's in computer science from Arizona State University.

For the next six years, Ms. Komando worked in marketing and sales at IBM, AT&T and Unisys, where she made sales history by closing an $11 million deal with a Fortune 500 company. It was during that time that she also decided to put her skills and interests to work in her off hours.

Today, Ms. Komando is known as "The Digital Goddess." Her weekly radio talk show, The Kim Komando Computer Show, airs on more than 400 affiliates, including Dallas' KLIF-AM (570) from 4 to 7 p.m. Sundays as well as stations in Canada, Australia, Asia and Africa.

Her syndicated newspaper column appears in such publications as the New York Daily News and the Los Angeles Times. She also is the computer editor for Popular Mechanics magazine and contributes articles to assorted magazines. She has a half-dozen books to her credit and serves as chairman of the board of the national radio syndication company, WestStar TalkRadio Network.

Dallas Morning News special contributor Paula Felps spoke with Ms. Komando recently about her role on the cutting edge of computer-oriented talk radio, how it's changing and where she sees it heading.

And yes, Komando is her real last name.

DMN: You've been doing this longer than any other computer-oriented talk show. How did you come up with the idea, and where did you start?

KOMANDO: Back in 1991, I was working at Unisys doing corporate sales, and I was bored out of my gourd. Someone told me I had a voice for radio, so I went down to the local station and said I wanted to do a talk show about computers. They were like, yeah, right, whatever, go away. So I pitched them the idea every day and finally they put me on at 10 o'clock on a Saturday night, figuring I couldn't do too much damage. It ended up taking off, and I did that locally on KFYI [in Phoenix] until 1995.

DMN: When did the show become syndicated?

KOMANDO: We took it national in November of 1995. My father had always told me that when you do a business deal, either do it with the biggest, baddest company or do it yourself. So I called ABC and CBS radio, trying to get a show. ABC said a computer show would never work because nobody would listen. The guy at CBS said the whole computer thing was a big fad and that the Internet was never going to amount to anything. I bet he doesn't work there anymore.

DMN: So how did you end up with your own syndicated show after getting turned down by the big guys?

KOMANDO: Fortunately, in your youth, you have the idea that you can't fail, so I didn't let anything dismay me. I didn't know anything about syndicating a radio show. So I grabbed the guy who could do the technical stuff, Barry Young, and said you do the technical stuff and I'll handle the marketing. We had no idea that that's not how it works. But I started calling people at radio stations, telling them about this show I had that I wanted to do on their station. It was the first time the host of a show had ever contacted them, so they'd listen to me. Then about a year into it, it started taking off, and we had 50 affiliates. Now we own the sector.

DMN: What's the biggest change that you've witnessed since you started doing the show?

KOMANDO: Obviously, the Internet is now huge, and that's changed a lot of the way things are done. The industry itself is changing in a way that favors the consumer. They're not just releasing gizmos for the sake of releasing a product now; they're creating something for the sake of the consumer, something they can really use. The push of technology has made computers more accessible to the average Joe. At first, my show appealed only to people like me, who were into computers and technology.

DMN: What are the biggest changes you've seen among computer users, other than seeing the market grow larger?

KOMANDO: People aren't afraid of technology now. They're tired of getting ripped off and buying off on promises that this is the last computer or product they'll ever need. They're also a lot funnier now.

[The market] is no longer reserved for computer geeks. It's hard to find anybody who doesn't have at least one computer question, and it runs the whole spectrum. That's great for me, because I need the variety.

DMN: What age group is most likely to listen to your show?

KOMANDO: Well, we're programmed to the 25- to 54-year-old market, but our national ratings are pulling in huge numbers in the retirement sector. That's been a big area of growth for the industry in the last couple of years.

DMN: What is the most common problem or question you hear from your listeners?

KOMANDO: Right now, the No. 1 thing I hear is how do I find out where someone has been on the computer? People want to find out where their husband or kids have been on the computer. That's the big one right now. But I also get a lot of what can I put on my computer system so I can see where my employees are going, without them knowing it. Then there's the inevitable question of what computer can I get that lasts forever.

DMN: There are a number of people out there doing similar things, writing books and columns and hosting a show. Why do you think you've gained such a strong following?

KOMANDO: I think because I make it accessible. Not everyone understands wireless frequency and Bluetooth, and the thing that I've always done is put it in terms that people understood. When you make it something that the average person can understand, they're going to pay attention. If I don't understand something, I say so. If I do something stupid, I admit it on the air. I'm just human. I answer e-mails and talk to people who come out to see me. I'm not on any high horse or anything; I wouldn't be where I am without them and I always remember that.

DMN: You have a lot of material for kids on your Web site. What role do you see technology playing in their lives, and how has that changed the way they approach the world?

KOMANDO: To them, the things that we find so fascinating are just an everyday occurrence. Technology is just a part of life. To them, it's more like a game you try to figure out, and I learn a lot from them. I have a kid who's 15 who's worked for me since he was 11, and now he's a network engineer. They have no inhibitions. When you ask them to do something, to figure out how to make something happen, they do it with enthusiasm and diligence. They're the ones who want to make it all work and believe they can do anything. I think everyone can learn from that.

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