By Bill MacKenzie
Want to start a Portland radio station featuring left-leaning talk shows all day, but need $10,000. Not to worry. Say your station will be an “arts and music” outlet and a taxpayer-funded program of the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) will pick up the tab.
RACC, which says its grants “provide artists and arts organizations with financial support,” has an Opportunity Grant Program funded by the City of Portland. It’s designed to provide grants to Portland-based nonprofit arts and cultural organizations to help meet special opportunities or assist organizations with emergencies that arise during the year.
Phil Busse, director of the Portland-based Media Institute for Social Change and former managing editor of the Portland Mercury, submitted an Opportunity Grant application to RACC in 2012. The application said Busse wanted $10,000 to facilitate “a locally-focused music and arts-information radio station that will be broadcast throughout Portland starting in January 2013.” There was no mention of any plans for the station to focus on progressive talk shows.
According to the grant application, the Institute was partnering with Common Frequency, a California-based nonprofit that provides technical assistance to community-based and low-powered radio stations. When Reed College abandoned its radio station, Common Frequency acquired it. But the license didn’t provide complete coverage of Portland, allowing only for radio coverage east to west from the Willamette to 82nd Ave, and north to south from the Columbia River to the Sellwood neighborhood.
The $10,000 would apply towards the purchase an FCC license. “The additional license the RACC grant would fund would allow sufficient coverage on Portland’s west side to truly create a city-wide station,” the Institute’s grant application stated.
The RACC Board approved the special Opportunity Grant to the Institute on July 20, 2012.
Then the music station was hijacked.
In November 2012, Portland’s KPOJ-AM 620, a welcoming home to progressives, shifted to Fox Sports Radio 620. Previously, KPOJ had featured a three-hour morning show with an outspoken progressive host, Carl Wolfson, along with progressive talk shows featuring Thom Hartmann, Randi Rhodes and Mike Malloy.
Local progressives responded with fury to KPOJ’s format shift. BlueOregon, a blog describing itself as “the water cooler around which Oregon progressives will gather”, initiated a campaign to collect signatures on a petition aimed at saving progressive talk radio on KPOJ. But KPOJ and its owner, Clear Channel, didn’t yield.
So XRAY.FM, the new music and arts-information station championed by Busse, will, instead, feature progressive talk during the day when it goes on the air in January if all goes as planned.
The Cascade Educational Broadcast Service, a Portland nonprofit working to launch the new station still says its goal is “to create a station that broadcasts new independent music and a plethora of rare historic vinyl by the innovators, but not officially bound by any specific genre descriptor.”
“I can already see the town dancing to the beat of XRAY.FM,” Jeff Hylton Simmons, an early advocate of the station, said in an Awesome Foundation online posting.
But the station’s website makes it clear that it’s primary objective is not music, but to be “a progressive, independent radio station.”
XRAY.FM will embrace the “mullet model”, as the station’s Facebook page puts it, “business in the front, party in the back.” Programs will focus on progressive talk during the day and relegate music to the night.
Talk show hosts on the station will include Carl Wolfson and Thom Hartmann, both well-known progressives. Jefferson Smith, co-founder of the Oregon Bus Project and a onetime Democratic legislator, has also signed on as senior advisor on board development and community engagement.
RACC says its OK with the shift to progressive talk. “We are satisfied that XRAY.FM is delivering strong local music programming and content as described in their grant proposal to us,” Jeff Hawthorne, RACC’s Director of Community Affairs, wrote in an e-mail to me. “It appears that the applicant is fulfilling its artistic mission as described (by the Cascade Educational Broadcast Service). Whether the station also delivers other types of content wouldn’t preclude our investment in arts programming.”
Meanwhile, BlueOregon is back at it trying to stir up opposition to Clear Channel and KPOJ, pleading for folks to sign a petition asking the FCC to deny Clear Channel’s license renewal for KPOJ. Blue Oregon is arguing that Clear Channel has an obligation to provide progressive radio programming because it “has a legal obligation to operate the airwaves in the public interest, with balanced news and informational programming.”