The building set back from a parking lot adjacent to Bond Street, behind a chain link fence, is unassuming. A door painted brick red opens into a basement level ciderblock building painted white. What had been a maintenance building for the school district has since been converted into a labyrinth of office cubicles and recording spaces. One recording studio has egg cartons stapled to the walls and ceiling to serve as a sound buffer, and another studio, no bigger than a phone booth, is padded with dark foam. There is a small stage area where bands crowd in for Saturday evenings' "Center Stage" live recordings of local musicians, and although technology has largely eliminated the need for the cluttered stacks of LPs, there are still shelves of records and CDs.
This month KPOV turns 10 years old—a milestone that is both impressive and encouraging. Radio may seem as antiquated to some as drive-in movie theaters, but KPOV has nestled into Central Oregon's 21st century media landscape, and pumps out a constant stream of local news and a smattering of music as varied as the population here—from cowboy songs to jazz numbers.
Station Manager Pearl Stark explains that the station grew from a confluence of several local nonprofits. "People who were already heavily involved in the community," she says. "That allowed he station to jump on the air fully formed with 40 shows," ranging from environmental shows to music hours. And, much like advocates for growing food locally, proponents for community radio stations like KPOV talk about the importance of "local." Stark plainly says that stations are a "chance for people to learn about their neighbors and connect to the community."
Historically, radio has represented its sense of place better than other forms of media—consider iconic shows like the Grand Ole Opry and A Prairie Home Companion, or even music itself, often labeled as the Seattle, Minneapolis, or British scene. But over the past 20 years, radio, more than any other medium, has experienced the quick consolidation of ownership and control of stations by corporate interests. In the mid-1990s, the nation's 10,000 radio stations were owned by some 5,000 entities. By 2008, four companies—most notably, Clear Channel—had gobbled up more than half of the radio airwaves, and were increasingly elbowing out locally produced programming in favor of formulated playlists and nationally syndicated talk shows.
Yet in an effort to counter this trend, in the early 2000s, community organizers and pirate radio station enthusiasts from around the country tried to convince the Federal Communications Commission to open up the airwaves to low-powered FM stations (LPFMs); small, community-focused stations. Surprisingly, they won approval, and during the mid-2000s, roughly 800 hyper-local stations like KPOV popped up from coast to coast—including 54 in Oregon, like one in Sisters that hosts story-hour readings by elementary school children, and a popular station in Woodburn, an agricultural community with a large Latino community, that broadcasts in Spanish and has shows about migrant workers' rights.
But over the past 10 years, about as quickly as they launched, many of those stations failed. With success rates somewhere less than restaurants, many LPFM stations found that maintaining 24/7 programming was too heavy a challenge, and more than half of those granted FCC licenses when KPOV was starting up have since failed, or exist somewhere in the realm of ham radio operators.
On the contrary, KPOV has grown, expanding its coverage. In 2011, it boosted to a full-powered station, and now supports three part-time staff members and underwriting representatives, and hosts youth camps, like one in mid-June teaching interview and recording skills to teens.
Like National Public Radio, the station receives its largest support from membership—residents who pony up some money for what is an otherwise free service. In addition, the station generates revenue from hosting several successful events over the decade, including an Arlo Gurthrie concert in 2008 and a (mostly) annual Beatles sing-along. On Tuesday, KPOV will host its 10th anniversary celebration with Around the Bend Players performing old-school radio shows, and music from Five Pint Mary and MOsley WOtta, interspersed with audio memories from KPOV's history.
"Yes, it feels like a victory; not only that we're still here, but that we're growing," says one of KPOV's original board members Erika Riley. "It started as a fun thing," she recalls, "and became obvious what we were doing was important."
KPOV 10th Anniversary
7 pm, Tuesday, June 30
Tower Theater, 835 NW Wall St.
$20 adv, $25 at door