Music

Powered Up

Radio free KMRE

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Over the years, and on several occasions, I have written about my love for radio. In this age of streaming services offering a whole world of commercial-free (for a monthly fee) instant musical gratification, listening to the radio is becoming kind of a throwback jam. It’s what a person does only out of necessity, when they either can’t get a signal strong enough to support streaming or whatever device they’re using as a musical conduit is down to 3 percent of its battery life and fading fast.

Or so I thought.

What I’ve discovered since outing myself as a loyal listener is that many of you are also involved in a romance with radio. Indeed, of all the plentiful and varied things I’ve expressed affection for in print—goats, pancakes, band names that are so bad they’re good, staying indoors at all times—radio is the one you’re most likely to tell me you love too (with the possible exception of goats. Because they’re goats).

In addition to learning that a goodly number of you are also fellow travelers along the proverbial FM dial, I’ve gleaned some of your listening habits. A fair number of you are, like me, prone to changing stations according to mood, whim or plain curiosity. However, some of you prefer to permanently park it on one station and remain there in perpetuity.

No matter how you listen, if you’re a radio fan in Bellingham, odds are pretty good you’ve spent some time with the fine folks of KMRE at 102.3 FM. The nonprofit, volunteer-run station has been a staple of community radio in its local listening area (and streaming on the internet, for those of you who are into that) for going on a decade and a half, and after spending that time celebrating the Golden Age of Radio, the visionary minds that determine KMRE’s future have decided to time-travel to a more modern era.

Of course, if you’ve been listening, you already know that. At precisely 3:10pm on April 26, KMRE made a major programming shift that now sees the station offering a mix of rock, blues, Americana, jazz, folk, world music and more, aimed at giving audiences an eclectic sampling of sounds from an age not quite so far in the historical rearview.

However, the music has always kind of been the mashed potatoes of KMRE’s schedule in that everyone loves mashed potatoes, but they’re not why a person sits down to dinner. In my opinion, the station’s true appeal has always been in its hyperlocal programming, a roster of shows that shines unique light on the community in which we live.

According to KMRE General Manager Kevin Leja, that programming will remain the cornerstone of the station—which means favorites like the Chuckanut Radio Hour, Community Voz, and Bluesland won’t be going anywhere. In fact, the plan is to play on KMRE’s strengths and to make those offerings richer and deeper.

“Our new branding, ‘Community Powered KMRE,’ means we are truly powered by our community,” Leja says, “by our listeners and their stories, our volunteers and our financial supporters. Our goal is to empower unserved and underserved community voices through local and national programming, great music, and promotion of local nonprofits and individuals doing good work in our listening area.”

Even though a programming overhaul consumes a great deal of time and energy, that’s not all KMRE has been up to. Big dreams don’t always necessitate a big budget, but there’s something to be said for having enough money to throw at a thing. Toward that end, the radio station has been planning a big party to celebrate the rollout of the changes they’re making, as well as to raise funds to finance them. They’ll be taking over the newly remodeled Leopold Crystal Ballroom on Fri., May 3 for a benefit show dubbed “Powered Up” featuring quite possibly the only continuously active Bellingham band that predates KMRE, the Atlantics. The night will also include what is reputed to be “dozens of raffle items,” as well as an opportunity to meet Leja and other radio station staff and quiz them about their plans or offer suggestions for the future. Try and refrain from requesting individual songs to be played during KMRE’s next musical block—unless said request comes with a large monetary donation, in which case Leja and crew might be amenable.

For a station whose charms have long been connected to a bygone era of radio, KMRE’s programming change is less a new direction and more a seismic shift—and it might be just what Bellingham’s longest-running public radio station needs. Whatever happens, I’ll be listening.

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