Words

Fading Frequency

KMRE community radio’s uncertain future

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Two trends in broadcast media appear to be moving in tandem and accelerating. One is the continued consolidation and monopolization of media in the hands of fewer and fewer players. The other, not surprisingly given the first trend, is the increasing homogeneity and bland sameness of broadcast content—you can drive across the country and the same syrupy voices, the same moribund tunes, the same bloviating talk shows are heard across the dial and throughout the travel. The unique, the special is crowded out and the people’s radio has becomes merely a delivery vehicle for corporate advertising.

The Pacific Northwest is not immune to the trends.

In August, progressive radio talk station KBAI 930 AM became a classic hits station. Shakeups continue with the remaining local content of Cascade Radio Group, already a media conglomerate.

With the airwaves and the frequency nodes on the airwaves already an endangered commodity, the board of directors of the SPARK Museum voted to sever operations with KMRE 102.3 FM, long hosted and sponsored by the antique radio museum downtown. Their decision was organizationally appropriate for SPARK, but it has plunged the nonprofit independent community radio station into an uncertain future.

“SPARK Museum has been a great host to us for all these years; however due to space issues, we will need to find a new location for our community studio,” KMRE Station Manager Suzanne Blais said.

The Federal Communications Commission rarely grants licenses for community stations. KMRE must continue to broadcast as they look for a new location or lose its license and the public’s access to the airwaves.

“If this signal goes away, it is likely that Bellingham and Whatcom County will never see access to the community airwaves again,” Blais said. “If local media is important to you, now is the time to show up.”

The change comes at a time of expansion for the station. KMRE has steadily upgraded their studio over the last year and more than doubled the amount of local programming they broadcast, providing more than 30 local programs.

“This is a big step for us—it’s an opportunity to evolve into a separate organization from the SPARK Museum, which has many challenges, but is also very exciting,” Blais said.

KMRE features local arts and educational programs like “Spark Science,” and “Up Close and Personal.” It is also one of the few remaining sources for classic-style radio dramas. Viking Radio Theatre, Bellingham Terror, and the Chuckanut Radio Hour are locally produced at KMRE.

Thanks to a partnership with Daylight Properties, KMRE’s transmitter is located on top of the Bellingham Herald building, allowing the signal to reach north to Ferndale and south into Skagit County. With a potential change in location, the station seeks to know if the community wants it to continue broadcasting or if it is time to hang up the microphones.

“If you love community radio, the local shows we produce on KMRE, and public access to airwaves, we need to hear from you at one of these meetings or over the next month. This is our chance to decide what KMRE will become. We are working very hard to ensure that KMRE stays on the air but we can’t do it without public input,” Blais said. “Together, we can ensure our community has a voice on the air for years to come.”

Full disclosure: Cascadia Weekly Editor Tim Johnson is a cohost of Cascadia News Now with Stephanie Kountouros at 5:30pm each Wednesday at KMRE 102.3 FM

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