By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Sharon Maeda retired and spent some of her time watching television news on her couch. After the November 2016 presidential election, she knew she had to get off the couch and do something — which led her back to radio.
“I felt like I needed to do something in the media again,” explained Maeda. “I just couldn’t sit there all day watching television news.” The election of President Donald Trump brought Maeda to the noncommercial, nonprofit KVRU 105.7 FM radio in the Rainier Valley. The station is a listener-sponsored public radio station, which will focus on public interest and cultural diversity with a specific interest to the Rainier Valley neighborhood.
Maeda was executive director of Pacifica Radio in the 1980s and station manager of the now-defunct KRAB-FM in Seattle. Her years as a community activist will help the startup radio station formulate its content in properly serving the surrounding community. “I wanted to be at a place to give other people a voice,” said Maeda of her wish to come out of retirement.
KVRU was the idea of Southeast Effective Development of Seattle. It ran a three-year capital campaign to fund the station.
Unlike other low-fi stations in the city, the space it currently resides was specifically built to be a radio station, which includes soundproof rooms for studios. It also has up-to-date technology to edit and produce shows. The station hopes to have local musicians come in for live shows.
Nestled right off of Rainier Avenue in the Genesee/Mt. Baker neighborhood sits the KVRU first floor office front, in a mixed-use building, which houses low-income families above. The station offices are still a work in progress, but it is up and running with the necessary capabilities of most radio stations. It has a functioning studio, with another larger studio intended for musical groups coming in the near future. There is also an editing room for producers to finalize their content.
KVRU is one of the many “low-powered” local radio stations that have sprouted up across the city of Seattle. This new way of communication was recently a subject of a New York Times article, with many of these stations learning on the fly as they seek different ways to fill their airwaves for content.
Maeda displayed the radio antenna, which sits on the roof of the building. Similar to other low-power stations, the area of reach varies, but the strongest signal occurs within a three-and-a-half-mile span of the station. From the rooftop, the high-rise buildings of downtown Seattle are in the distance. Maeda noted that the station’s signal can reach those in office buildings due to the unfettered space between the antenna and the buildings. She has driven around to test its reach. KVRU can be heard from as far north as Fremont, and east to almost Duvall along the I-90 corridor. Reception is spotty on Beacon Hill as hills are not good for stations.
Washington state has the second-highest concentration of low-powered radio stations among the nation’s 15 most populous states, per the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Maeda joined KVRU late last summer as the deadline approached for KVRU to hit the airwaves. When she first saw the studio, she knew that she could help out. “I knew I could do something with this.” The job is part-time, but her work with the station far exceeds 20 hours per week. It’s common for her to put in 60-hour work weeks doing a facet of things. “Starting from scratch involves a whole lot,” said Maeda. At the beginning, she had to secure licenses to ensure that they could play music. They purchased about 700 songs, mainly R&B and jazz. Maeda indicated that this helps create time for the station to develop its own programing. She also had to start marketing, fundraising, and other behind-the-scenes radio business, which many outsiders do not see. Maeda notes that there are a variety of legal issues that broadcasters must know to ensure that they are not in violation of FCC rules. The station will be holding workshops to train potential hosts to ensure they comply with FCC rules and the station’s own policies.
In addition to over the air management, Maeda applies for grants on behalf of the station. KVRU operates as a nonprofit and has a limited budget that is supplemented through grants. As a listener-sponsored station, there is a balancing act in ensuring that it invests its limited budget wisely, while asking the base to support its efforts.
The station has two employees thus far, with a rotation of about 30 volunteers helping out in a variety of ways. A radio leadership council will shape the programming to coincide with the mission in serving the community. Currently, the station produces extended public service announcements, which focus on pressing issues within the community.
Maeda intends to stay with the radio station until it is stable and in a position to hand it off to someone else. But in the meantime, she is continuing her work within the community. And finding a reason to stay off the couch.
For more information on the station, visit kvru.org.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.