I'm fairly new to the Rogue Valley, and I was surprised the other day when someone told me KMED radio was Oregon's oldest radio station. If that's true, can you shed any light on how that came to be?
— Matthew R., via email.
For many years, KMED used the tag line "Oregon's oldest radio station."
But the station dropped the reference in the late 1990s, said Program Director Bill Meyer.
"We don't really reference our heritage," Meyer said.
Historians often are bearers of bad news to cherished traditions, and as commonly happens, facts from the past don't always coincide with faded memories or wishful thinking.
Local radio historian Ron Kramer, who searched through radio archives in Washington, D.C., provided some background on KMED, which has aired in the Rogue Valley since December 1926.
Bill Virgin, a merchant who sold radio sets in downtown Medford during the 1920s, gathered with some friends and tested out what amounted to a bootleg station transmitting from an Ashland barn in 1922, according to Kramer. That effort was neither licensed nor connected with KMED, but Virgin had a continuing role in the region's radio activity until his death in January 1928.
In September 1922, Virgin acquired a license for KFAY in Medford, but it followed by several months a license acquired by KGW in Portland. The Portland station remains on the air, but changed its call letters to KPOJ in 2003.
KFAY had a close relationship with Robert Ruhl, publisher of the Mail Tribune, Kramer said, and the broadcast outlet was known as "the Mail Tribune station."
KFAY left the air in 1924 and its license was returned to the Commerce Department (the Federal Communications Commission wasn't yet regulating such matters), and it wasn't until 1926 that Virgin applied for another license and was assigned KMED, which went on the air in December.
Blanch Virgin inherited the station and was one of the earliest, but not the first, female radio station owners, Kramer said.
So while it may be the oldest local station, KMED will have to settle for a show-or-place status in Oregon's radio derby.
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