XRAY.fm: Brought to you by Portland taxpayers

xray-fm-1000px-screengrab*304XRAY.fm, a new left-wing radio station in Portland, plans to launch on Saturday, March 15th. Portland taxpayers may not know it, but the launch wouldn’t have happened without their generosity.

The station’s backers highlight the support they got from a Kickstarter campaign that generated $103,762 in pledges. What they don’t highlight is how the station got its start by hijacking what was supposed to be “a locally-focused music and arts-information radio station” with start-up funding from a taxpayer-funded program of the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC).

Until recently, RACC, which says its grants “provide artists and arts organizations with financial support,” had an Opportunity Grant Program funded by the City of Portland. It was 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 left-wing 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 was to go 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.
The Cascade Educational Broadcast Service, a Portland nonprofit working to launch the new station, said its goal was “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.

Then the music and arts-information radio station got 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 the new music and arts-information station championed by Busse, will, instead, feature progressive talk.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 once put it, “business in the front, party in the back.” Programs would 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, as well as Adam Klugman, also formerly with KPOJ, who describes himself as “the perfect host for a radio talk show dedicated to fanning the flames of 21st century progressive populism.”
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 and will be offering a show, Thank You Democracy.

RACC says its OK with the station’s 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.

How about you? Want an Opportunity Grant from RACC for a radio station featuring conservative talk shows? Sorry. The Opportunity Grants were a victim of Portland’s 2013-2014 budget cuts.

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