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Public radio WLRN sets up shop in Key West, news veteran Klingener leads the charge

WLRN's Florida Keys reporter Nancy Klingener is at her desk in the radio station's new bureau on the third floor of the Studios of Key West, 533 Eaton St. The radio station began leasing the space Monday.
WLRN's Florida Keys reporter Nancy Klingener is at her desk in the radio station's new bureau on the third floor of the Studios of Key West, 533 Eaton St. The radio station began leasing the space Monday.

Nancy Klingener landed in Key West as a reporter for the Miami Herald at a time when film was developed in darkrooms and the newspaper had a two-person bureau on Duval Street.

It was supposed to be a two-year gig.

Twenty-five years later, Klingener is still reporting on the Florida Keys, now for WLRN, the Miami-based public radio station that on Monday opened a bureau in Key West's Old Town.

"It's a dream beat," said Klingener, 48, a Massachusetts native who started her career in South Florida and never looked back, making the Keys her home.

As of this past Monday, she no longer has to work out of her home. WLRN is now in a third-floor office at the Studios of Key West, 533 Eaton St.

It's storage closet-sized, just enough space for a couple of desks and chairs, but for WLRN the bureau is an investment in its news-gathering mission.

"Life in the Keys is unlike life anywhere else in the United States," said Tom Hudson, vice president of news for WLRN. "Nan has got this really special ability to capture that and to tell the stories of the Keys in a way that resonates with all of us on the mainland."

The Studios, a nonprofit offering gallery shows, concerts, readings and art classes, along with artist studio residencies, moved to the Eaton Street building last year after buying it for $2.2 million in 2013.

Klingener suggested the Studios, a block from Duval Street, given its prime location and constant schedule of events.

"There is always something happening here," said Klingener, a longtime freelancer who became WLRN's full-time Keys reporter last July.

WLRN's studio is next-door to Danette Baso-Silvers, who makes custom stationery such as invitations, and Michael Marrero, a playwright and photographer, both Key West natives. Klingener's husband, Mark Hedden, a photographer and bird-watching expert, has his own studio down the hallway.

WLRN has had a partnership with the Miami Herald for nearly 14 years but the news outlets operate independently. The Keynoter is a sister paper to the Miami Herald.

WLRN, based in Miami, with a downtown office and studio space at the Miami Herald's headquarters in Doral, recently hired a full-time reporter to cover Broward and Palm Beach counties and has a part-time correspondent in Tallahassee.

The only other specific geographical beat is the Keys, which in addition to its colorful characters and subtropical culture is ground zero for subjects such as climate change, water quality, commercial fishing, wildlife, hurricane season and access to health care given its rural nature.

"We're stretching ourselves because the opportunity is there and the public has been supporting it with membership and by listening," Hudson said.

Key West, where Klingener and Hedden live with their German shorthaired pointer Elly, is a laid-back, oceanside small town with a one-of-a-kind population and an endless supply of news.

"Every time you walk the dog or go to the grocery store you see someone you know, but at the same time it is never boring," Klingener said.

WLRN, though, airs stories from across Monroe County.

"My commute is either two blocks or 200 miles," Klingener said. "Either I ride my bike or I drive two hours to Key Largo."

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