Thin Air Radio is one of the few low-power stations in the country
by Mary Stampf
Since 2000, about 100 volunteers have helped Lupito Flores launch and operate Spokane’s low-power, 100-watt community radio station, Thin Air Radio on 92.3 and 89.9 FM.
Its programs incorporate perspectives and discussions on peace, social, economic and environmental justice, human rights, democracy and multiculturalism. “We seek to give back a small slice of the air waves to the community, to voices not heard on commercial radio,” said Lupito.
He became aware of how mainstream media covered environmental and conservation groups as a volunteer while studying English literature and technical writing at Eastern Washington University. “They were not covered or not covered fairly. If there was coverage, it was 30 seconds focused on a protester, not on the speakers,” said Lupito, who is now station manager of Thin Air Radio. “I saw media twisting and sensationalizing issues.”
During college and after earning his bachelor’s degree in 1991 and master’s degree in 1995, he worked with Save Our Wild Salmon, the Kettle Range Conservation Group, the Idaho Conservation League and Save the Hanford Reach Campaign of the Audubon Society. He also volunteered with the Sierra Club and the Lands Council, helping with their newsletters.
“As media consolidate and fewer corporations own more media, community radio is more important than ever,” he said. “The FCC is allowing the largest media corporations in the world to gobble up the last frequencies, stations and newspapers.
“A global network of major media is owned by seven corporations. In 1998, media conglomerates reached 75 percent of the world. Fox News and other media giants have a blatant bias and take political sides, vilifying and name calling,” he said.
|Lupito in the studio|
“We need free media to be a watchdog for abuse of power. Our media is in bed with power. The government even hires journalists to develop news pieces to push a slant, idea or product through Video News Releases (VNRs), which are fake news—propaganda. Nearly 25 federal organizations spend $250 million producing hundreds of VNRs as fake TV news segments.”
In 1999, while working with Kettle Range and Save the Reach, Lupito learned that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was offering a new FM service, low-power, 100-watt FM. “With most mainstream media controlled by huge corporations, citizen radio was appealing. Organizations and people working for peace, social justice and environmental sustainability never had a fair shake. Learning the FCC was giving a sliver of air space, I knew I had to act,” he said. There are many regulations. A 100-watt channel needs to be locally owned by a nonprofit in existence for at least two years and be for noncommercial community radio.
When low-power FM was instituted in 2000, 3,000 applied—about 60 percent were churches. In Spokane, five people came to the first gathering of people interested in a low-power station. They met at the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane.
In 2000, the application process began. Lupito and planners filled out pages of documents, hired a broadcast engineer and asked Citizens for Clean Air to serve as the nonprofit. The Community Building, at 35 W. Main, offered space for the station.
In 2001, a seven-day window opened in Washington, and Clean Air applied, but heard nothing until February 2003, when they received the permit.
Over the two years, they raised funds and kept up interest. By the summer of 2003, they had 100 founding members, who each gave $100 or more.
By October 2003, they bought equipment. Lupito found parts of two towers and a local ironworkers union donated labor to make them into a 120-foot tower.
The Prometheus Radio Project, a low-power support group that does “station raisings,” in the tradition of barn raisings, drew about 100 volunteers from around the country—Hawaii to New York—to help raise the tower and build the station. Lupito helped with a station raising in Louisiana. Prometheus also held workshops, training people to use the equipment and do interviews.
“It was an engineering feat,” said Lupito, describing working within the restriction requiring a low-power station to be three clicks away from any nearby station. A Sandpoint station is at 95.3, so Thin Air had to locate its transmitter antenna 10 miles west of downtown on the West Plains to avoid conflicting with that station.
On October 26, 2003, they flipped the switch and went on the air with 12 of the 64 program proposals submitted.
Because it was crackly downtown and could be picked up on the South Hill and North side, they needed a translator or repeater to rebroadcast the signal to a wider area on another frequency—92.3 FM—but the FCC would not allow Thin Air to own that frequency.
The Peace and Justice Action League applied and was given that 50-watt frequency. Then Thin Air Radio could be heard downtown, throughout Spokane and as far as Coeur d’Alene, Spangle, Fish Trap and Deer Park.
“Most people listen to the station on the translator,” said Lupito. “Some also listen to it online at kyrs.org.
The week the translator went on in February 2005, they learned the Sandpoint station had a permit to move its station closer to Spokane, which would knock Thin Air off the air.
“We were discouraged,” Lupito said. “We looked at several options. We wanted to play by the rules.”
So they held a conference call with their broadcast attorney, the Prometheus Radio Project and their engineer. They talked with the staff of Senator Maria Cantwell, a champion of the low-power FM bill in 2004.
The law says low-power FM cannot be three clicks away from an existing station, but does not say it can’t be two away, so they asked Senator Cantwell’s staff to check with the Congressional Research Service. With the Senator’s advocacy, the FCC agreed they could relocate to another frequency, 89.9 FM. The stations two channels away from that frequency granted waivers by August 2006. The antenna was re-adjusted.
“The regulations show how the FCC and media corporations dominate what we see, hear and read,” Lupito said. “The window to apply for low-power stations is closed, so there will be no more. Spokane is one of three big cities in the country to have a station. Most are in rural areas, but the cost of operations means many have stopped.
“Thin Air gives voice to the populations underserved and unserved by commercial or public radio,” he said.
The 60 programs—most of which are weekly—include two local teen programs, Raise Your Voice by high school students and Detention hosted by middle school students; a Spanish program and a Russian program; a locally produced environmental show, Earth Matters Now; Gospel Hour and Persian Hour. Kim Thorburn has a program on public health issues. Brad Read does interviews on global and local issues on Zombie Nation. There Goes the Neighborhood looks at city and county government.
Music filling times when there are no programs includes reggae, hip hop, punk rock, blues, jazz, country, inde rock, world music and native music. Thin-Air is listener-supported radio, relying on listeners to be members at $25. Locally owned small businesses can underwrite programs.
The station has applied for its own nonprofit status as Thin Air Community Radio with a board of 14 directors to develop policies and build committees, so it is no longer a steering committee of Citizens for Clean Air.
Lupito, as the only full-time staff, raises funds and manages day-to-day operations. He worked on it five years as a volunteer, then quarter time, then half time. In February 2006, he came on full time with a half-time program coordinator and an underwriting coordinator working on commission. There’s a volunteer coordinator and coordinator for the on-air fund drives. The office assistant is a part time volunteer.
For information, call 747-3012.
Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - © June 2007
Thorburn settling into new postFormer health district leader sets new goals at Planned Parenthood
April 18, 2007
Two weeks after starting work as medical director at Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest, Dr. Kim Thorburn still has to double-check her office phone number when she returns a call.
Otherwise, though, the woman who was publicly fired last fall as
health officer for the Spokane Regional Health District says she's nearly up to speed in a new position that allows her greater latitude
to pursue a broad range of community health goals.
Sexually transmitted infections, reproductive decisions and teen pregnancy prevention are top issues for Thorburn, 56. She'll oversee clinical operations of the agency that treats more than 18,000 clients, mostly young women, each year.
"To me it is one of the most important areas of public health," said Thorburn.
But the part-time post, which will pay $63,000 a year, is more than just another job.
For Thorburn, who was ousted from a public platform that allowed her to head the state Board of Health, it's a new vehicle to continue a quarter-century career while remaining in the Inland Northwest. "We like it here, yes," said Thorburn, who lives with her husband in Spokane.
For Planned Parenthood officials, hiring Thorburn could elevate the political profile of the local nonprofit affiliate.
It was Gribble who contacted Thorburn last fall, after health district board members voted to terminate her nine-year contract, citing ongoing and intractable communication problems.
"I really thought this was an opportunity for Planned Parenthood because of Dr. Kim's sterling reputation," Gribble said. "I called and said 'Let's chat.' "
Thorburn, who received a $125,000 settlement from the health district, said while she didn't need the money she's now making at Planned Parenthood, she did need a position with purpose. "That's what I discovered made some difference," she said.
Among Thorburn's duties will be expanding the number of agency clinics from five sites to 10 in the next five years, increasing vaccinations and, perhaps, coordinating the use of Spokane patients in national clinical research projects.
Outside of her new position, Thorburn is expanding her profile as well. She's the host of a new radio program – "Dr. Kim Talks" – on low-power radio station KYRS, and she's hoping to become a regular consultant and public speaker.
"I've got a gig lined up at the Washington State Medical Association," Thorburn said. The topic? "How to Handle Politically Charged Issues."
The irony is not lost on Thorburn, whose health district tenure included intemperate e-mails, criticism of her clothing and allegations of shouting matches with board members.
Five months without work offered plenty of time for reflection, said Thorburn, who acknowledged she mourned the loss of her job, which was in jeopardy for two years.
"I probably wasn't reading the signals early enough," she said.
Community members who protested Thorburn's firing said they were pleased at her new career direction.
"Dr. Thorburn is brilliant, and she will make an impact on any agency she joins," said John Roskelley, a former Spokane County Commissioner and health district board member who hired Thorburn.
Linda Finney, executive director of Leadership Spokane, said Thorburn would be a "good fit" at Planned Parenthood and a welcome presence in the region. "I'm glad we won't lose her as a leader or a bird watcher," said Finney, referring to one of Thorburn's hobbies.
Thorburn said she's just grateful to be past the contentiousness of last year.
"It's water under the bridge. I'm moving on," she said. "They can take my job, but not my community."
~A film dedicated to all the political
prisoners around the world~
By 11th Hour Films
Starring Shahrokh Nikfar
(Host of The Persian Hour on KYRS)
ON BENDED KNEE
Press Release of Senator Cantwell
FCC Agrees With Cantwell and Keeps Spokane’s KYRS Radio on the Air
Cantwell worked to preserve Spokane community station, continues push to encourage local radio nationwide
WASHINGTON, DC – Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved KYRS radio’s bid to move from 95.3 FM to 88.9 FM, ensuring that the Spokane-area low-power FM station can remain on the air. After the FCC initially indicated that the move might violate existing low-power FM statues, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) asked the Congressional Research Service to examine whether the Commission correctly interpreted the law on which it based its concerns. The resulting report, which Cantwell forwarded to the FCC, determined that the bid for a frequency change by KYRS did not violate current statutes governing low-power FM. The report gave the Commission the flexibility to allow KYRS to change frequencies. In its approval of the move, announced Wednesday, the FCC determined that the frequency change is in the public interest. Cantwell has long worked to encourage media diversity and support low-power FM radio, and has teamed up with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) to back legislation that would encourage more community radio stations.
“This decision will keep another voice in the Spokane media market and encourage a wider range of views here in the Inland Northwest,” said Cantwell, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC. “This is especially important during a time when our country is seeing a race toward mass media consolidation. Here in Washington state, we have 15 low-power FM stations, and this number might soon grow. I’m going to keep fighting to remove the artificial barriers that keep these stations off the air because local, community-based stations are key to preserving media diversity.”
“We are so grateful for the senator’s tenacity on our behalf,” said KYRS Station Manager Lupito Flores. “We’ve been under threat of encroachment by an out-of-state commercial station for more than a year, worrying whether we would be able to stay on the air. Senator Cantwell should be commended for working with the FCC to find a solution that is good for everyone. The senator is a great champion for Low-Power FM community radio, and we really appreciate all she's done for our little community radio station.” KYRS—a 100-Watt low-power Spokane station among the largest and most successful low-power FM stations in the country—reaches over 300,000 people through its primary signal at 95.3 FM and its translator station operating at 92.3 FM. However, in September 2003, the FCC granted KPND—a full-power Idaho station also broadcasting on 95.3 FM—a construction permit to build a new broadcast facility closer to Spokane. This new facility will increase the station’s broadcast power, allowing it to reach the Spokane market while still serving its primary market in Sandpoint, Idaho. Once KPND completes the facility, its signal at 95.3 FM will cause harmful interference with the KYRS signal. Because FCC rules clearly state that a low-power FM station can receive interference from a full-power station, but cannot cause interference to the full-power station, the new KPND antenna would mean an end to KYRS unless the station moved its primary signal to another frequency. The FCC decision allowing KYRS to move its primary signal to 88.9 FM means the station can stay on the air after the completion of the new KPND antenna. KEWU-FM (Eastern Washington University) and KHQ-TV (Channel 6) both agreed to the move as well. Cantwell has worked to encourage media diversity and support low-power FM radio. In 2004, Cantwell joined a bipartisan coalition of her colleagues, including Senator McCain, to introduce a bill that would lead to growth in the number of low-power FM radio stations nationwide. In 2005, Cantwell and McCain introduced the Local Community Radio Act to expand low-power FM service and include additional protections to radio reading service for the visually impaired. Cantwell and McCain were able to add this legislation as an....