October 14, 2005
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KMHD hopes to usher in new listeners
Rachel Kramer
The Advocate

When walking north from the main mall, enormous floor to ceiling windows provide a view into the world of KMHD, a local jazz and blues radio station on Mt. Hood Community College’s campus.

According to Calvin Walker, development director for KMHD, it is not a surprise to have such a station in the area. “Portland is a big music town, so there is always [jazz and blues] music going on,” Walker said.

Although KMHD is on campus, it is not a part of the radio program. After the 1990s, the school cut funding and KMHD became a public radio station. In the last four years, listenership has increased from 57,000 weekly listeners to 104,000 weekly listeners.

In the early 1980s, MHCC decided to improve the radio program. According to Doug Sweet, the KMHD station manager, to enhance the program, they felt they needed a radio station, so the students would have a place to operate.At first, the college paid for the station. Throughout the ‘90s, however, MHCC began to cut the budget, until it finally stopped paying all together. The station currently supports itself. The relationship with MHCC students has also evolved since KMHD began.

“Over the years, they decided it was not going to work very well, being run by students,” Sweet said.

As most students only attend MHCC for two years, the turnover rate was too high. According to Sweet, they needed more long-term management. Currently, the staff of KMHD is made up of people from the community. Sweet does invite students from the radio program to help with production work, however.

This year, KMHD has had several improvements made to its system. A new transmitter was bought and is now online. This has increased their power by 1000 watts. They have also added digital radio service, or high definition radio.

“Most people don’t have receivers for it,” Sweet said, “but, now that it is on the air, we hope people will begin to buy receivers for it.”

The high definition radio provides the same information, jazz, blues and National Public Radio shows, but in a different transmission format. The new transmissions are clearer than analog.The station is also rebuilding studios and using new equipment in both their production and air rooms.

KMHD also joined with two other public stations, All Classical 89.9 FM KBPS and Catholic Broadcasting Northwest 88.3 FM KBVM, and jointly bought an antenna. After negotiations with KOIN-TV for a better spot on their tower, they now have their new antenna another 500 feet higher. This gives KMHD an increased range, allowing them to transmit to Salem and Corvallis.

When looking ahead to the future, according to Sweet, the main thing KMHD is looking to do now is to find better space. KMHD has become “cramped” in its current location, especially since the station added a new staff member this year, Dan Gurin, operations and traffic coordinator. “We had to really work to find office and work space for our new staff member,” Sweet said.

According to Sweet, expansion outside of Mt. Hood Community College is one possibility.

“If the college can find us a better space we can certainly do it here as well,” Sweet said.
Most of the station’s listeners are located outside of Gresham. With the station’s transmitter located in the west hills of Portland, many listeners live in Portland, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Lake Oswego, down to Salem and north into Washington.

With the studio’s location on campus, they sit on the eastern edge of their listenership.

“When people want to see what we do, we are a long way from our listeners,” Sweet said.
The station finds it difficult when they want to interview jazz musicians who come to Portland, as the commute to the station can be 45 minutes both ways. Often, according to Sweet, the musicians do not have the time.

Another fight the station is preparing to wage is the need for younger listeners. According to Gurin, it is important for the long-term sustainability of the station that new generations find jazz and blues music.

“I would like to see [KMHD] usher in a new generation of listeners,” Gurin said.

According to Walker, the station has a middle age audience, ranging from 45 to 80. With music education disappearing from schools, jazz and blues are also losing their influence.

“Classes in middle school and high school would feed the investigation about jazz and blues music,” Walker said. “Hopefully what will happen is some young group will come along, like a Norah Jones, and bring the popularity of the name and the word jazz back again.”

Two to three times a year, KMHD will run fundraisers for the station. Early in 2004, the station had a party for their listeners at the Portland Art Museum.The event was free and featured live music. According to Sweet, the event was a success and thousands showed up.

Beginning Oct. 26 through Nov. 1, KMHD will have its next pledge drives, providing listeners the opportunity to become members and or renew their current membership.
The station also plans to be involved with the Portland Jazz Festival, in February 2006.
Friday nights, KMHD does a live broadcast from Holman’s Bar & Grill Restaurant (15 SE 28th Ave). The show features blues music from 6-9 p.m.

According to Sweet, like most public stations, KMHD goes on air and asks their listeners for funding. One interesting way they have thought to fund the station is a gift they offer online called “30 Minutes of Fame.”

For $250, the gift lets individuals be a DJ live on the air for one half hour. They can choose their own music and say what they want to say. Quite a few people have done it, according to Sweet, including several current employees.

Volume 41, Issue 4