KMHD: 30 years of jazz radio going against the grain

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Ah, the radio.

Radio is magic. Radio is vital. And radio is political. The Pink City can be as typical as anyone when it comes to radio waves, especially if you’ve followed the glorious rise of Clear Channel Communications (now known as iHeartMedia, Inc.), a large American company that took full advantage of telecommunications. Act of 1996 – a shrewd and possibly lobbyist-led piece of legislation that deregulated another industry in the name of the free market enterprise – to acquire, to date, some 1,200 radio stations across the American landscape and to dictate much of what we listeners listen to. The law allowed sole ownership of up to eight stations in a market at that time (amended later in 2003 to allow up to 45 percent ownership). Where there is politics, there is usually money. A lot. And Clear Channel took it to heart.

Today, iHeartMedia’s next closest competitor is Cumulus Media, which owns some 525 stations (six in Eugene), followed by CBS Radio, Inc. (formerly known as Infinity Broadcasting), which owns 117 stations. paltry, to give away or to Portland Stations in 2009. iHeartMedia, whatever good it may have done or done for radio, is also the main reason commercial radio is the homogenized, monopolized and financially successful mess. that it is, at least from the listener’s point of view. And it changes all the time.

Faced with the wave-sucking juggernaut of iHeartMedia (which owns nine of Portland’s radio stations), a tiny radio stronghold like Portland’s KMHD simply shouldn’t exist. It aired on the airwaves in 1984 on the campus of Mt. Hood Community College with the mission of playing music indigenous to America – jazz – and was made up largely of retirees and enthusiasts, mostly from amateurs, and has since spent 30 years on the air. function, without actually serving the MHCC student body as a communications lab. Despite its flaws, it is one of the oldest listeners-funded jazz stations in the country.

As grants to support the station began to dry up, a problematic pandemic for all public radio stations supported by listeners, along with other management issues, KMHD reached a crossroads five years ago. Oregon Public Broadcasting President and CEO Steve Bass, on an annual tour of various public broadcasting facilities, learned during a discussion with then MHCC President John Sygielski (affectionately and necessarily known as “Ski”), that the university station needed help and was considering selling the KMHD license to help make up for a $ 4 million budget shortfall and dramatically reduce funding for l ‘State.

“There were 63 volunteers,” says OPB vice-president of programming and current station KMHD manager Lynne Clendenin, who has worked for OPB for 26 years, “who were all retirees and jazz enthusiasts. There was only one MHCC student. [Bass and Sygielski] talked about a partnership. We didn’t want the college to let go.

Bass took the idea to Clendenin and other members of the OPB board, where a plan was made to come up with a license management agreement to MHCC and put the station under its wing. In 2009, the agreement was concluded and the operation of KMHD was placed under the auspices of the OPB (with the exception of an HD2 license which the MHCC kept). There were, of course, major concerns and fears on several levels and on several fronts.

“Some people were suspicious,” Clendenin admits. “OPB had recently moved to a more mixed, more news radio format. There were concerns that we were taking jazz off the air.

Enter another potential driving force. Current KMHD Program Director Matt Fleeger, a longtime radio enthusiast who had been involved at various levels in radio for 18 years, learned of Bass’s proposed deal with MHCC while he was working at radio in San Antonio, Texas, and was intrigued by the movement. He had some experience in consulting with radio format changes and felt he had something to add to the party. After working as a consultant for Bass, when the program director position opened up, “I applied immediately,” he says.

KMHD Program Director Matt FleegerKMHD Program Director Matt FleegerFleeger was hired in 2009 and immediately set about refining the focus of the station. “There were some dissatisfied DJs out there,” he says, “bad blood with the management and the DJs. Their main complaint was that they wanted to be more professional.

Radio tradition wanted new KMHD managers to start from a clean slate, but Fleeger took a different approach. “Jazz is not dead,” he says. “It’s the richest thing to mine in the 21st century.” Rather than firing everyone and starting over, Fleeger wanted to seek out the passion, knowledge and musical diversity of DJs. Some stayed, but many left, taking a bitter taste with them.

The one who made the transition, but left for different reasons, was Steve Pringle, now a successful KINK on-air personality. He hosted the very successful Friday highway blues show for 16 years and witnessed the inner workings firsthand. “I saw them [staff and management] come and go, ”he said. “Basically, KMHD had become cancer on its own. He couldn’t do anything. The paid staff had so much animosity towards each other. And they didn’t want to change anything. They couldn’t execute it. “

Pringle was offered the station manager position just as the deal was made, but the KINK opportunity was too great to pass up. Despite the turmoil and the transition, “In my opinion, everything went well,” he says. “It was going to sink. They brought this kid Matt Fleeger and brought him forward.

Musician, teacher and 2012 Oregon Music Hall of Fame inductee Calvin Walker: photo by Tim Sugden courtesy of About Face magazineMusician, teacher and 2012 Oregon Music Hall of Fame inductee Calvin Walker: photo by Tim Sugden courtesy of About Face magazineCalvin Walker, a longtime Portland musician and now director of student services at MHCC, was at the station for 11 years doing development (i.e. fundraising). As the transition began to take shape, he says, “people were generally mortified. Everywhere you hang on, there will be culture. Mount Hood was a special place. When it happened, it made everyone paranoid. But life is changing. It is commendable what they have done. It’s cool that it’s still a jazz station.

It has been an arduous process over the past five years, to remove and replace, to build professionalism, to refine the focus of the station, but most importantly, to do things that would not only satisfy regular listeners but could maybe attract new ones. There were ruffled feathers and bruised egos, but ultimately this station which is run by essentially one full-time employee (Fleeger), two part-time employees and dozens of volunteers is able to tap into the OPB’s existing infrastructure, thus reducing its overheads, while continuing to make great strides.

The numbers are on the rise, from some 75,000 listeners in 2009 to around 125,000 today, according to Fleeger. The station relies on very few fixed programs (the big sign is Live from Lincoln Center, the only pre-programmed show KMHD actually buys), while also covering jazz in its broadest sense – from direct jazz to rich slices that include Latin music, blues, traditional jazz, experimental, funk and more. This concentration and refinement led the resort to win a major resort of the year award in 2012 awarded by JazzWeek, an industry publication, for markets with one to 25 jazz radio stations. It was a huge victory.

“All of the volunteers were extremely proud,” Clendenin said of the award. “It proves that there are some there, there.”

In his official statement, Bass praised the station’s accomplishments in the three years since the MHCC and the OPB formed the partnership to operate the station, including increasing its audience and becoming a more important part of the landscape. Portland culture.

Besides, “JazzWeek’s Recognizing the road traveled by KMHD is a testament to the excellent work done by KMHD staff and volunteers, ”said Bass. “This partnership made it possible not only to preserve but also to promote an important cultural asset and a unique format.

Still, Fleeger says, “I think we’re at about 70% of what it could be.” And by that, he means extended programming. He is always on the lookout for passionate talent. His MO for finding enthusiastic volunteer DJs is simple: “I sit down with them and we talk about music. I tell them to make me a mixtape of their favorite music.

On Sunday nights, DJ Carlton Jackson, himself a major player in Portland’s music scene as one of the city’s top drummers, is a solid textbook case. Fleeger had heard Jackson on the air making replacements for KBOO radio in Portland, which he had been doing since 1983, and then met him at an event. “He introduced himself and said, ‘Hey, I heard you on KBOO. I like what you do. Come to KMHD.

DJ Carlton Jackson shares his take on KMHDDJ Carlton Jackson shares his take on KMHDIt was a process that would be repeated throughout the station with the development of programming and DJs by Fleeger. The couple sat down and compared the musical notes. Fleeger suggested an idea for a show that would become the foundation of KMHD’s Sunday, The message, three deeply moving hours which are strongly inspired by the African-American experience as expressed in jazz. Jackson, like most DJs under Fleeger’s wing, yearned for professionalism, a hallmark of the resort these days. “[The station] let everyone do what they’re good at. I make it interesting, ”Jackson says of his personal edict. “I put it in context. “

More changes are in sight, more growth, more professionalism. Not bad for a small resort which, in this world, shouldn’t really exist.


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