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KSKQ has a power surge

Medford listeners can now tune into Ashland's KSKQ radio station at 89.5 FM.

The once low-powered station that struggled to reach listeners outside city limits is now broadcasting across the Rogue Valley, according to station operators.

"Everything has changed," program manager Carson Bench said.

For the last few years, the station operated at just 18 watts, reaching receivers in most parts of Ashland and some in Talent.

But the station's small antenna at the top of a fire lookout on Table Mountain near Hyatt Lake was replaced Jan. 4 by a directional antenna, allowing the station to broadcast with more wattage and reach a larger geographic audience.

The new antenna was turned on at just under 100 watts, and station operators hope to gradually up the wattage, first to 280 and ultimately to 560 watts.

As the station's watts are increased, the FCC will monitor and test its frequency to make sure it isn't interfering with other stations in the Rogue Valley, Bench said.

The cost of the new antenna — including installation, fees to survey its location and costs for the FCC to monitor it — have reached more than $15,000, according to Connie Saldaña, treasurer for the radio station and its operator, the Multicultural Association of Southern Oregon.

The money has been raised almost exclusively through listener donations, with the exception of one grant the station receives, according to Bench.

Bench said he's heard reports that the new 100-watt broadcast can be heard as far across the valley as Jacksonville and Grants Pass, but expects the signal has room to improve.

As the wattage is increased, Bench said the signal will become two to three times clearer and stronger across the region.

"The signal is just going to get stronger and better," Saldaña said.

With the signal expansion, Bench said KSKQ will be opening itself up to a greater listener pool — more than 10 times the people it's able to reach now.

Bench said Ashland's potential 22,000 or so listeners could increase to about 275,000 as the signal expands.

That will be an obvious benefit for the volunteer-run community radio station, which broadcasts mostly locally produced programs of music, storytelling and talk shows.

"I know we're going to find more people who have a thirst for this type of radio," said Bench, who hopes the expanded signal will attract new programs and new underwriters — both of which could bring more donations to the station.

"We're listener-supported radio," he said.

Saldaña and Bench said more listeners and more donations could make the station financially sustainable and less reliant on operating grants to stay on the air.

"I'm looking forward to the boost in sustainability," she said.

Saldaña said she hopes the change will offer more opportunities for the station, including Spanish language programming and more youth radio programs.

"All in all, it's going to increase our audience," she said. "It's community radio, which means hearing your neighbors on the radio."

The next step in expanding the signal to a full 560 watts will be raising an additional $7,000 to buy a stronger, remote-controlled transmitter needed for the antenna, Saldaña said.

"Hopefully it will come quickly," she said. "This will be a dream come true."

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.

Ellen Hufft is station manager for Ashland's KSKQ, which recently increased its power from 18 to 100 watts in an effort to reach listeners throughout the Rogue Valley. - Bob Pennell