50 Years in the Making: the Portland Orbit Meets KBOO

I’ve always wondered about KBOO our local community radio station. Sure I knew what they did there, duh, make radio, but I’d only walked past the building and never had a reason to go inside. The colorful mural seems new to me since the last time I’d been by. When I heard the station was having an open house with food, drink and station tours, it felt like the time to visit.

I got a feel for the place as I walked through the door. I was greeted and told the party was in the backroom. “There is a party?” I asked, making sure I had the right day and time. “If you’re here it’s a party,” was the response.

The station has the energy and atmosphere of any college radio station you might have had a chance to walk through. Posters, photos, notices and stickers were on every available surface. There were shelved records and cds, overheard political talk and of course, audio and broadcasting gear. I was standing in a hallway digesting a ginger snap when I was approached by Erin Yanke KBOO’s program director. She was kind enough to offer a station tour and a chat. The open house was celebrating the station’s present location of 35 years in the Central Eastside Industrial area. With previous locations in Belmont and downtown since the station began in 1968, it made sense to find a place where a lease with the option to own could be signed. “The way we get to think is different,” Erin explained about the past decision to buy a building. While KBOO is free from the hassles of a landlord or worries about rising rents, money is always a concern with aging equipment, keeping up with technological changes and paying a staff of twelve people.

The staff’s job, in part, is about wrangling the 500 volunteers that are in and out of the station at any given time. This involves keeping them “trained up” and helping them find volunteer opportunities. Anyone looking for knowledge about broadcasting has come to the right place.

I appreciate KBOO for offering freeform radio along with good signal strength. Erin described the freeform aspect of the station by saying, “what we do is so varied.” The station, as she noted, really is one place that does many different things. Back when I had days off during the week, I could keep KBOO on all morning catching Noam Chomsky during one show and getting to hear the riffs of the Air Cascadia broadcast later in the morning. My hopes of meeting some on my KBOO heroes, most notably Abe and Joe were dashed when they hadn’t appeared while I was there. Then again there’s always that wariness about meeting one’s idols.

I had been wondering about the best way to sift through all the programming to discover new shows. I like being able to access the morning public affairs shows through iTunes. KBOO also streams live and archives shows so they can be listened to later. Erin mentioned volunteers promoting KBOO at street fairs who can recommend shows based on people’s interests. These days the website is the best resource. It has program information and schedules which helps in finding of what’s being broadcast.

I’ve realized that the station supports different communities within the larger community when Erin pointed that there were foreign language shows beyond Spanish language programming that airs. She told me about a long running Dutch show that ended when the host died and how it was replaced by a Slavic show. Being at KBOO gave me a sense of the kind of community the station attracts. I got a chance to talk to a freelance writer and  a songwriter in my brief time there. KBOO seemed like a hotbed for people with creative aspirations.

I ran out of time before I could get the tour but I wandered around enough to get a feel for the place. While there, I was reminded that KBOO is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to build a city of media makers. While I see myself as a media maker it seemed especially inspiring, after seeing the promotional video, to hear the call for funding go out so they can continue their mission to continue powering the voice of independent journalism. Listening Monday morning I heard in-depth conversations about environmental concerns and native american rights–important topics that are rarely explored on other stations in the amount of time KBOO offers.

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The station is celebrating its 50 year anniversary with an exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society that runs until July 27, 2018.


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