By Andrew Mount
When we think of institutions central to society’s advancement, we cannot ignore community radio.
A very real distinction exists between the more widely known public radio and the aforementioned, singularly sovereign instrument of media. Public radio often is funded by quasi-corporate and government interests vested in the status quo to one extent or another, keeping it bound to conventional modes of social discourse. Independence from such influence, on the other hand, makes community radio capable of challenging every assumption we have about where we are headed as a civilization.
One of the most enduring and dynamic community radio stations in Southern Oregon is KSKQ, 89.5 FM (Ashland) and 94.1 FM (Medford). A project of the Multicultural Association of Southern Oregon, the station has operated continuously on “volunteer power” since 2005. A large founding group of independent media enthusiasts sprung up spontaneously to support KSKQ’s birth. Some are still with the station 13 years later.
As a rule, public radio stations are associated with National Public Radio (NPR) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which receives the majority of its funding from the federal government. The smallest station that can receive general funding from CPB must have a budget of at least $300,000.
NPR affiliates have a much broader national and international focus than community radio. KSKQ itself lives in the shadow of Jefferson Public Radio, the geographically largest NPR affiliate in the country.
Holding the license for KSKQ, the Multicultural Association of Southern Oregon was founded in 1994 to promote appreciation between cultures, to fight against racism and other forms of discrimination. KSKQ was founded on a deep belief that the airwaves serve a public good by broadcasting voices that would not be heard on commercial radio. The station’s overarching commitment to social, economic and environmental justice grants grassroots organizations the opportunities to amplify their messages through public-service announcements, interviews, recordings and live broadcasts.
Uniquely diverse programming generated by KSKQ’s broad array of hosts is insightful, poignant and regularly controversial. The first radio station to bring Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” to the region, KSKQ is the only Pacifica Radio affiliate in the mythical State of Jefferson and for hundreds of miles in every direction.
Although KSKQ plays many high-quality, syndicated shows from Pacifica and Public Radio Exchange, the basis of community radio is locally produced content — both music and talk. Community radio can empower local voices and highlight local issues. KSKQ is now taking this to the next level with its first crowdfunding campaign aimed at fostering both a local news department and greater community activism. (See http://youcaring.com/kskqfunding).
Among the defining moments in KSKQ’s history: The station applied for a low-power FM construction permit in 2000, received it in December 2004, began web-streaming KSKQ content in 2005, received a 100-watt LPFM FCC license in November 2007 (the first community radio station in the Rogue Valley), received a construction permit for non-commercial educational license in 2008 and began broadcasting via propane generator from Table Rock above Hyatt Lake at 18 watts in June 2011.
After a summer that volunteers spent digging a 165-foot-long, 30-inch-deep trench through solid rock and installing lightning grounding, KSKQ finally connected to grid power in December after the first disabling snowstorm. KSKQ at last reached its assigned full power of 560 watts in early 2012 after its “power to the tower” campaign enabled the purchase of digital transmitter equipment and specially tuned antenna.
Without this proactive voice of community, passage of Jackson County’s landmark non-GMO ordinance would have been potentially problematic. Yet, partly as a result of KSKQ’s access to the airwaves, 66 percent of the electorate was enrolled in this triumph of social and environmental justice.
As we approach an era of accelerated change on Earth, one that may reformulate the very foundations of social order, how will the voice of the people rise above the tumult? Satellites and Internet nodes are vulnerable to solar flares and global warfare. We even face legislative edicts that may undermine net neutrality and thus overall access to information.
Local radio transmissions seldom are subject to such calamity. More to the point, when we are not asked to filter our information through the lens of corporate/consumer culture, a whole spectrum of new perspectives becomes available.
The essential truth is this: Community radio is a creative commons that belongs to everyone. If you want to speak to the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon, you could today be heard on whatever topic you feel relevant to the times. The only caveat is that no one is permitted to marginalize people, demonize cultures or unfairly polarize the political climate while using this community resource.
KSKQ does not discriminate between legitimate voices of social accord. Yet it has drawn the line at voices that might be perceived as overtly racist. Case in point: KSKQ confronted the potential violation of its charter when a popular programmer sought to address the question of Zionism as a global conspiracy. For perhaps predictable reasons, this was one show that, in the eyes of station management, could not air, and the program was “pre-empted.” Thus, a difficult decision was made, one that preserved some cultural sensibilities in the area, but ruffled more than a few fellow community-radio advocates. The programmer no longer is with the station.
Societies undergo predictable cycles of evolution. After democracy follows the potential for totalitarianism if the principles of an egalitarian society are not preserved. If there are actual conspiracies behind the gross consumerism and eco-cidal tendencies of our political economy, they should be revealed unfailingly. Yet if community radio’s key function is to unite people under a banner of common vision, one would like to guard against any and all extremism in our speech.
Many KSKQ programs are devoted to whole-systems solutions and practical changes that each of us can embrace more fully if supported by popular sentiment. Ultimately, the work of community radio is to keep society transparent to itself, helping to inform a consensus reality that will heal our lives.
Without a safeguard against the deterioration of participatory democracy, which is of course wholly dependent upon people being informed by instruments of free speech, we are asking for trouble. If everything is reduced to a marketable quantity, what is information then but a tool of the corporate state?
Political realities aside, we at the local level are directly served by greater access to a free flow of information about our communities. KSKQ believes it represents this voice in Southern Oregon. With a 100-strong volunteer force of programmers and manager/directors, this pioneering station has no fundamental bias but employs the airwaves to public benefit.
What will it take to grow a deeper and more cohesive democracy in America? It will take less commercialism and more mutually supportive cooperation. If everything is denominated in dollars and cents, we cannot have a hopeful society. Instead, we redeem our ideals by keeping attuned to the wider voice of the people — always available on community radio.
It is arguable that without community radio, there would be no mythical State of Jefferson. Wherever society wishes to evolve and flourish, there must be an unexpurgated, unfiltered, freely accessible well of truth(s). Let us commit to preserving this cornerstone of freedom in these propitious times.
See KSKQ.org for more information and to listen live.