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.

Only in Portland: $6.7 million loss on hotel investment portrayed as “a financial success” by Portland Development Commission

The Nines Hotel

The Nines Hotel

The Portland Development Commission (PDC) is preparing to write off $6.7 million owed on loans to construct The Nines Hotel in downtown Portland, according to the Portland Business Journal. The write-off would occur by the PDC accepting $11.5 million to repay an $18.2 million balance still due on four loans made by the PDC for The Nines project.

The hotel hasn’t made regular payments on the loans since 2009, when the PDC agreed to let the business pay as its cash flow allowed.

Still, PDC tried to make the deal sound like a good thing. “We see this project as a financial success,” Lisa Abauf, PDC’s Central City manager, told the Business Journal.

Only in Portland could a big loss of taxpayer money be big gain.

Wait for the same thing to happen with the Oregon Convention Center hotel championed by Metro when rosy predictions of its financial success are proven wrong.

A truly depressing visit to a Barnes & Noble store

In the 1998 movie “You’ve got mail”, Meg Ryan, the owner of a small, neighborly bookstore, feared the consequences of a new colossal and impersonal big box bookstore opened nearby by Tom Hanks.

Maybe she should have waited a decade.

Then she’d have seen a seen a seismic shift, with big-box book stores threatened on every front. That threat is vividly on display at the Barnes & Noble store at Bridgeport Village in Tigard, which seems to be giving up on the old-fashioned printed word.

On a recent visit to the store, I was first confronted with a brightly lit space featuring not newly-released print books, but the Nook eReader, released in the U.S. in the distant past of November 2009.

After passing through the Nook display, I anticipated racks of books that were there when the store was a Borders superstore. Instead, I encountered a large area that felt like I was back at Woolworth’s, a five-and-dime chain that flourished in the 1900s before succumbing to competition in 1997.

Spread around the space were displays for “greeting cards,” “stylish stationary and groovy gifts,” “quirky and cool gifts,” candles & scents,” and “lunch bags”. No print books in sight.

Surely there would be books around the corner, I thought. Nope. That space is occupied by the Barnes & Noble Café.  How about beyond that? No books there either. That’s occupied by racks of magazines, from Psychology Today, US and Vanity Fair to Comic Heroes, Buddhadharma and Clean Eating.

Rows of print books were only in the middle of the first floor, adjacent to an escalator with a “Temporarily out of order” sign. Prescient perhaps.

I took the elevator up to the second floor expecting an expansive area crammed with books. Again there were rows of print books in the middle of the floor, but also a large space featuring “Building,” “Learning” and “Arts & Crafts”. Filling the space were LEGO kits, kid’s toys, Sparkle Tattoos, Feather Fashions, a Perfume Science Kit and venerable games like Twister, Sorry and Clue.

All of this doesn’t bode well for Barnes & Noble’s once mighty print book and magazine retail stores.

Those stores, which have been generating most of the company’s profits, have been dealing with a slow decline for years. Revenue from retail stores in the third quarter ending Jan. 25, 2014, for example, fell 6 percent to $1.4 billion. Revenue in stores open at least one year, a key retail metric, fell 4.9 percent.

All this despite the bankruptcy of Barnes & Noble’s principal competitor, Borders, in 2011.

This is consistent with the numbers on printed book sales at retail stores across the country. Government statistics show that overall bookstore sales have been treading water since 2003, with printed book sales through retailers taking a big dip in 2011, 2012 and 2013.  Meanwhile, eBook sellers, which offer a wider selection and lower prices, continue to grow.  Even Barnes & Noble’s former CEO William Lynch told a Bloomberg reporter he read his books on a Nook. “I don’t really read physical books that much anymore,” he said.

The market for print magazines, the other big print section of the Barnes & Noble store, isn’t booming either. Single copy sales of print magazines dropped 11, 9, 8, 9 and  8 percent annually during 2008 – 2012.

The economic picture for print magazines is gloomy, too. Total ad pages for the 211 magazines tracked by the Publishers Information Bureau in 2012 fell 8.2 %, to 150,699 for the year – a substantially sharper drop than the 3.1% drop seen in 2011.

 Maybe it won’t be long before Barnes & Noble has to close the book on its retail print book and magazine stores.