Little radio looks to get bigger

In her car in the Winco parking lot Saturday night, Connie Saldana heard a little piece of community she'd never heard there before &

a local music show broadcast by KSKQ, a low-power FM station operated by the Multicultural Association of Southern Oregon.

"It wasn't the strongest signal, but we hope to reach the entire valley eventually," said Saldana, treasurer of the multicultural association and the radio station. "Right now we're grateful to reach downtown Ashland."

The little community radio station licensed by the Federal Communication Commission in December 2004 took to the airwaves late last year after providing its programming online for two years. But technical difficulties with its homemade antenna, posted on private property on Old Highway 99 south of Emigrant Lake, limited its regular radio audience at 94.9 on the FM dial.

"It was just south Ashland," station manager Jason Houk said. "When you went up to Mount Ashland, it sounded really good, but in town, by Walker Avenue, the quality really went down."

Using donations, the station bought a new antenna and volunteers installed it over the weekend, Houk said.

Now, the station that strives to advance understanding and social change by focusing on local voices often left out of national media conversations can be heard throughout Ashland, but drops off south of Talent. A few listeners have tuned in from Medford and even Eagle Point, though, Houk said.

"I knew we could get that signal into town," said Michael McGuire, a broadcast engineer with 21 years' experience at commercial stations in the Rogue Valley who now volunteers at KSKQ.

A 100-watt station such as KSKQ typically can reach listeners within 3.5 miles of its transmitter, an FCC Web site said, but McGuire knew the Rogue Valley's terrain can bounce a radio signal.

The station has even bigger dreams, though. Organizers said they have applied for a full-power, non-commercial, educational license that would expand the station's reach.

"That will be a lot more expensive," Saldana said.

Houk said the station is waiting for federal officials to resolve technical and legal details related to its application for a full-power license, so it isn't gearing up for any expansion right away.

However, it is ready to welcome more listeners and community members who want to be heard on the radio.

"We want to make this available to the community," said Saldana, adding that she hopes organizations throughout the Rogue Valley will tap the station to get their messages out.

The station has an annual budget of about $50,000, mostly funded with grants, donations and memberships, she said. The station's steering committee will meet today to push ahead with new fundraising and planning for Ashland's fourth annual Independent Media Week next week.

An introduction to the basics of producing a radio show is set for — to 2:30 p.m. April 13 at KSKQ's studio at 330 E. Hersey St. No. 2, Ashland. Houk said the station has an accreditation program to train local producers, who then create at least eight of every 12 hours of the station's programming.

The station now has talk shows on permaculture, labor issues, philosophy, Native American issues and conspiracy theories and suppressed science, as well as music shows featuring punk, the Grateful Dead and eclectic mixes not usually found on commercial or corporate radio.

It also broadcasts programming from Pacifica Radio, including "Democracy Now!" and others.

"We try to have a national scope and a community focus," Houk said.

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