In many years, KBGA tries to raise money for something specific, such as new computers for the college radio station's offices on campus.
"In a year where enrollment is so low, we need all the help we can get for operating costs," said Kyle Verhovshek, the radio station's general manager.
The station aims to raise $20,000 during its annual weeklong fundraiser, which will go toward maintaining its mission: community-minded and individually curated music shows and news programming such as "Word of Mouth," in addition to "fresh needles on the turntables," Verhovshek said.
During the Thon, which runs from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, DJs will solicit donations with a number of perks and challenges.
There's KBGA merchandise, including five different T-shirt designs plus headphones with the station's logo.
Local businesses have donated goods and services, including the Bound By Glory tattoo shop, Bernice's Bakery, Shakespeare & Co. and many more. A full list will be available on kbga.org, where they can be purchased directly.
The popular challenges include favored stunts from years past. On Sunday, DJs are looking for donations to force them to jump into the Clark Fork River the following day. On Monday, there are ski packages from the Montana Snowbowl and Lost Trail Powder Mountain ski areas.
On Tuesday, there's a more permanent dare: The tattoo challenge.
For $5 apiece, listeners can submit an idea for some ink. Just like a raffle, they can submit the same idea over and over. They all go into a hat, and Verhovshek and three other KBGA devotees will get tattoos based on the drawing.
On Wednesday, there's a raffle for guitars and artwork by Abe Coley. Thursday is the MarioKart challenge at the VFW, which is open to the public for a $10 entry fee.
On Friday comes the exercise challenge, in which Verhovshek and Derek Martinez will pedal and perform other calisthenics based on donations. Those will be live-streamed on the station's website, so listeners can "donate to the cause and see us suffer in real time," Verhovshek said.
The Thon wraps up with the traditional EndOfThon show Saturday, Feb. 6, at Stage 112, 112 Pattee St. starting at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 at kbga.org/store. The night features performances by People Under the Stairs (L.A. hip-hop), Hosannas (Portland, Oregon, psych-dance), plus locals Farch (hip-hop) and Shahs (indie-pop).
KBGA broadcasts out some 70 shows a week on the airwaves and steaming online, with an estimated 100 active DJs and anywhere between 300 and 400 who step in and help out now and again.
They include both college students and interested local residents, all of whom sign up, get trained and propose a show.
"We're as much as community radio station as a college radio station," Verhovshek said.
And so the programming reflects the broad interests of the city.
Some popular shows include "Ink Mathematics," a garage-psych program DJ'ed by Collin Pruitt; Peacemouse's mix of experimental jazz, noise and myriad other genres; Verhovshek's own "A Brief History of Music," where he dedicates a full two-hour slot to a particular artist, such as Chicago instrumental quintet Tortoise or David Bowie.
"Jazz Junky" makes space for current artists like John Hollenbeck alongside veterans like Sonny Rollins.
Local singer-songwriter Larry Hirshberg's "Leveling with Larry" makes room for experimental music with his own picks like Aretha Franklin, R.E.M. and Superchunk, to name just a few.
The weekly top 30 lists are a world away from mass-media metrics, such as the most-played tracks on Spotify or iTunes.
The playlists add a local flavor that can help land relatively little-known touring acts like Shannon and the Clams and Bat Manor in the top 5, or give a good plug to local acts who self-release their work.
Music managers Michael Siebert and Seth Goerlich add six or so albums per week from the myriad submissions, which can vary from 20 to what "feels like 70 or more," Siebert said.
They pick albums that they feel will mesh well with the tastes of DJs and the broader audience.
In addition to the Thon, KBGA has regular concerts throughout the year: the Birthday Bash, Family Fair plus events at Free Cycles to help the nonprofit raise money to stay in its current facility on South First Street West.