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Grassroots radio still growing

Now 13 years old, Ashland’s KSKQ-FM radio may be facing choppy financial waters, but is showing its resiliency and survivability with a training class for future show hosts, new service to Medford, a crowdfunding drive and an impressive and growing array of programs you won’t find anywhere else.

The impetus for launching non-commercial KSKQ was the desire to air a show no one else would carry in Southern Oregon — Amy Goodman’s radical progressive news show, Democracy Now! It still airs in the liberal-minded community of Ashland, but all-volunteer staffers note that many people forget to listen to the station or even put it on their car radio.

If you’re ready to jigger your car radio, it’s at 89.5 in Ashland or 94.1 in Medford. It streams online at KSKQ.org 24 hours a day.

The station is welcoming to people creating new shows and learning how to host them. A glance at their schedule shows the colorful result, including Bee Bop Jazz, Reggae Dub, Calling All Cowboys, Latin Playlist, Philosophy Talk, Taste of Consciousness, Girl Talk, Grateful Dead Hour, Rockabilly n’ Blues, Metal, Farm Talk, World Music, Alternative Economics, an Organic Conversation, Sunday Morning Classics and the Green Show Show, which is about the Green Show at Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“I started here in ’08. What blew my mind when I started listening was that ordinary people can do radio and make program proposals and get trained to host the show,” says Michael Niemann, a host and teacher of International Relations at Southern Oregon University.

“What I love about is that it’s independent and you have freedom of thought and expression here,” says Jan Elliott. “I feel validated in the sense that I can participate in integrating the community.”

Elliott organized a six-session course at Osher Life-Long Learning (OLLI at SOU). It covers the media in society, on-air etiquette, what you can and can’t say on air, the history and legal framework of radio in general and KSKQ in particular, she notes, with the core being hands-on experience at the station. These are about the technology — and you get to speak on the air and record station IDs. On a second tutorial on site, you practice developing a plan for a show.

KSKQ (notice it sorta evokes "Siskiyou") is using OLLI to tap into Ashland’s considerable senior population.

As with most nonprofits, the flow of revenue is “precarious … We need to overhaul the whole operation in a bigger and better fashion,” says board member Rik Jensen. “We’re excited to increase our profile in Medford.”

The station plans to sell its collection of CDs and raise $2,000. It plans a crowdfunding drive soon, to benefit the news operation. Presently they only read headlines and try to stay away from “corporation-driven media,” Jensen says.

It will have a music benefit Nov. 18 at the Bellview Grange. It has on-air fund drives in spring and fall, specializing in commitments of $10 a month. The next one starts Nov. 8.

“It’s free-form and fun,” he says. There’s never a dull moment. It’s quite something, a real adventure.”

Jason Houk, prominent social activist and host of Whistling in the Dark, says on the KSKQ website that he plays “revolutionary and folk music, showcases the folks who are making positive … change. The show is 'concentrated civics,' a forum to discuss community actions, our many social justice campaigns and how you can take direct action.”

The shows are cooked up by 60 volunteers in the local community, with some canned stuff from other alternative stations around the country, including the rich offerings of KPFK in San Francisco. Regular folks from the broadcast area are often called in to add their thoughts and experience to such shows.

There is no boss-manager; everyone is equal, but there is a board of directors. Its 500-watt directional signal is broadcast from Table Mountain, a 6,113-foot peak near Hyatt Reservoir. A new translator was erected for Medford. The station is owned by the Multicultural Association of Southern Oregon.

KSKQ’s mission is “to create cross-cultural educational opportunities where people of all backgrounds can interact in an environment of goodwill,” says its website. “Our editorial policy encourages diversity in programming, but racism, hate speech and statements that promote exclusion are not allowed.”

Major needs now include a donated house or building, solar power, computers and microphones.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.