Mike Ficher keeping it together at KPOV.At noon on Thursday, June 26 KPOV, Bend's low power FM community radio station will have been on the air for three years. Operating out of the back of the historic Boys and Girls club building that extends nearly the entirety of the block between Bond and Wall streets, the station now features a well-polished combination of news, commentary and music that's found near the end of the FM dial at 106.7.
As has also been the case with KPOV since its inception, the station has a knack for organizing events as they'll do once again by throwing a party the following Saturday. Actually they're not calling it a party, but rather a "hootenanny," celebrating on the surface the station's birthday, but to station insiders the festivities could very well mark a new phase for the community radio station. It's quite likely that by late June, or soon afterward, KPOV will have received the OK from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to transform the station into a full powered FM outlet.
Currently, KPOV, which touts itself as "Bend Community Radio" on the airwaves and on its website (kpov.org - the only site to stream a Central Oregon radio station), operates under a low power FM (LPFM) license from the FCC that restricts its output to 100 watts and its signal to a mere 3.5 miles. Loyal KPOV listeners know that it doesn't take but a few miles either north or south on Highway 97 or the same distance east or west, for that matter, to lose the signal.
Mike Ficher is the president of the station's 12-member board of directors and also hosts "The Ultimate Oldies Show" on KPOV. The program is a comprehensive rundown of pop music spanning the 1940s-70s and is ripe with Ficher's endless knowledge of music trivia. Ficher says that the decision to take the station to full power was based both on practicality, as well as on the ideological motivation of the station's volunteers. Like many other LPFM stations throughout the country, KPOV was created thanks to a 2000 decision by the FCC to grant licenses to community groups looking to hit the airwaves.
"There are limitations to the LPFM station in the topography of Bend. We have a lot of folks who want to listen but can't. We live in an area that has hills and that can impact the reception," Ficher says of the station's output, which proves true. A drive within city limits proves that the KPOV does fade in and out depending on your locale.
"The second reason we want to do it is that most of the volunteers feel pretty passionate about the benefits of alternative media. We want to ensure that alternative media has a strong presence in Central Oregon," Ficher says.
The chance to take a community radio station to full power came this fall when the FCC made a semi-rare decision to open up a window for non-commercial full power permits. KPOV was originally competing with two other organizations for the rights to 88.9FM, but both of those organizations have since withdrawn applications for the frequency. According to a KPOV press release, the Bend station paid $4,000 to United Christian Broadcasters to cover that organization's application costs at which point the UCB agreed to drop out of the running for 88.9.
According to Ficher, the next step toward the realization of becoming a full-power station is the issuance of a "construction permit" which would give KPOV precisely three years to build up its infrastructure and take the airwaves. Ficher isn't quite sure precisely how far the signal would extend, but says the boost in signal strength would send KPOV throughout much of Central Oregon. As of now, KPOV is not surprisingly quite Bend-centric, with news and discussion programs tackling detailed facets of community life. Ficher realizes that the move to serving the entire region would obviously lead to a change in listenership.
"The intent will be to broaden our perspective. We need to find a balance between addressing Bend-centric issues and talking about issues that have to do with the cities of, for example, Redmond and La Pine," Ficher says, but continues on to emphasize that the station is focusing on acquiring its permits before digging too deep into questions like this.
Yet, as Ficher admits, the question of the increased and more varied listenership that would result in the increased broadcast range is valid. There is currently somewhat of a niche crowd that tunes into KPOV - a rather large niche, but still a niche - creating an outside-looking-in perception that the station "is angling toward a more progressive, leftist agenda," as Ficher describes the judgment.
With the exception of a few part-time office workers, KPOV is completely volunteer driven, from the board members all the way down to the on-air DJs. The programming for the most part is generated by these volunteers, thus creating a program schedule that ranges from local labor news to old time bluegrass to an all-Beatles program. Dropped in between are a few syndicated programs, most notably "Democracy Now," the nationally known news show featured on independent radio stations throughout the country. All in all, Ficher and other KPOV board members say that KPOV's programming is very much a reflection of the people who volunteer their time at the station.
With that in mind, Ficher, keeping with the station's mission statement, is open to bringing in contrasting viewpoints into the fold. And it's likely that as the signal stretches toward Madras and other areas outside of Bend in the coming years, there will likely be some new blood trickling into the station.
"We're trying to be open to anyone who wants to come. We have criteria for our programs, but we're open to any thought process. We're community radio - we're open to the whole community," Ficher says, underlying the ideology (centered on the notion of servicing voices that are otherwise ignored in the mainstream media) that has fueled KPOV for its three years on the air and the four years of planning that took place before that.
Although the exponential increase in coverage seems inevitable, Ficher also takes some time to give KPOV a score card of sorts.
"The growth has been tremendous. The talent that we've been able to attract and the energy that the DJs and volunteers bring to the station is amazing," he says, complimenting the station's progress, but then pauses for a moment.
"Is it what we intended it to be? In some ways I would say yeah. We wanted to be an eclectic station serving voices that were underserved. And I think we still have work to do in that area. But we have really diligently tried to stick to our mission," Ficher says.