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Now hear this: JPR extends to Grants Pass

That unfamiliar sound on FM radio by the time you read this story should be Jefferson Public Radio's Rhythm and News Service reaching Grants Pass for the first time in five years.

The engineers are fine-tuning it right now, JPR's Paul Westhelle said Wednesday afternoon.

The popular service is returning to Grants Pass after a complex deal in which JPR acquired space on the dial from a religious broadcaster to replace a slot it lost to another religious broadcaster through an embarrassing oversight five years ago. The Rhythm and News Service will be heard at 97.7 FM.

It's a good feeling, Westhelle said.

We tried numerous things over the years. But none would work for one reason or another.JPR acquired the new frequency from the Educational Media Foundation, a religious broadcaster, as part of an unrelated agreement over a translator in the Klamath Basin. In a dispute over that translator, Westhelle said it became increasingly clear JPR would win out over EMF based on a complicated Federal Communications Commission point system.

Westhelle said JPR will lease space for a new 10-watt translator from privately owned Sis-Q Communications at a site on nearby Onion Mountain in order to provide the service.

JPR serves a large swath of Southern Oregon and Northern California through a far-flung system of 35 translators. Its return to Grants Pass removes some of the egg it got on its face in 1997 when it failed to jump through the routine bureaucratic hoops required to protect its frequency from aggressive competitors.

The service was knocked off the air in Grants Pass when an adjacent FM frequency was taken over by the Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Radio organization in Tupelo, Miss. Two other JPR components ' its classical and news services ' remained on the air in Grants Pass. But listeners looking for All Things Considered or Car Talk or The Grateful Dead Hour found hymns and sermons instead.

JPR's Ron Kramer at the time told a group of upset listeners that JPR had simply failed to file the routine paperwork to protect the translator.

We're looking after a lot of translators, Westhelle said Wednesday.

The FCC generally gives full-service stations precedence over translators such as JPR's that are merely passing programming on to a wider area. JPR over the years hired consultants only to find there were no frequencies available, with the possible exception in rural Selma that didn't work out.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail