The Oregon Country Fair is the proud new license holder of a low-power radio station. KOCF, Fern Ridge Radio, 92.5 FM, has been in the works for about two years. The community radio station celebrated a milestone July 3rd when it was finally time to install the antennae on the roof of the fire station in Veneta.
About a dozen people involved with KOCF radio gathered on a recent Friday morning to witness the antennae installation milestone. They congregated at the fire station in Veneta, which was the epicenter of activity. A volunteer takes heaps of equipment from his station wagon, tossing it on the ground next to the building. The mood is lighthearted and expectant.
"My name's Dean Middleton. I've been designated as the Station Manager for KOCF, LPFM."
LPFM, a low-power community radio station. The 100-watt signal will radiate out about 10 miles, reaching residents in the Fern Ridge area, including Veneta, Elmira and Noti.
Station manager Dean Middleton explains how this went from wishful thinking to actually starting a radio station.
Middleton: "About 2 years ago a group of Oregon Country Fair elders found out that the FCC was giving out their last low-power FM licenses. It was in 2013. And it's been talked about for years that the Oregon Country Fair would really like to have their own radio station."
Their application was approved, granting the radio license to the Oregon Country Fair Board. Middleton shares the day-to-day radio work with a steering committee. It includes a representative for programming, operations and development. To help purchase equipment, the station's online fund drive has raised more than half of its $20,000 goal.
Middleton: "About ¾ of that came from the Country Fair, from the elders that are supporting this project. And we're really grateful for the donations that they've stepped up and provided. And then we've gotten 20 or 30 donations of $10 and $30 and $50, and we're so grateful for the people that have donated."
Welcome to the world of public radio fundraising! Middleton says the development department is exploring revenue sources such as business underwriters, sponsorships, grants and listener contributions. KOCF's programming isn't set in stone, it's supple, giving the community a chance to get involved.
Middleton: "We're not trying to get into a fixed format. We want to have varied interests so that we attract a variety of different types of listeners to the station. And we're hoping to leave it open so that as we start broadcasting and ask for feedback from the community, we're leaving enough room in there so that if the community comes up with different programs, we can fill that gap."
Middleton says collaborative ideas are floating around, including the possibility of having a classroom to use at Elmira High School.
Middleton: "If that's the case then what we would like to do is create a club, a radio club, and teach high school kids how to produce radio, so that we can have high school radio. I think that's really exciting! We've talked about doing local sports, basketball and football games. We're interested in doing theatre. There's a theatre group here in the community that's already talked to us about doing live radio theatre."
But right now KOCF is lacking a key piece of radio equipment:
Middleton: "We don't have a studio."
That's right, they've got the license to operate, shows are being produced, but there's no studio. No central location for producing radio and creating community. Middleton hopes KOCF will be moving into a studio in six months, or sooner. In the meantime, his volunteers are pre-recording shows which are loaded onto the server for playback and broadcast. Middleton explains where these shows are being recorded:
Middleton: "Closets, bedrooms, kitchens, a variety of different places, wherever their computer is set up, laptops. I would imagine that our background, audio quality will be varied from program to program, but, hey it's small town community radio."
And Middleton says he's impressed with the handful of shows community members have come up with.
Middleton: "Wally's program, which is called, "What a Long, Strange Trip Its Been", its 60s and 70s music. Marshall is putting together a program called, "Jumpin In and Out of the Blues". Randy is doing a program that brings back old radio air checks from the 50s, 60s and 70s."
But in order to get the test broadcast on the air and move into regular programming, the antennae has to be connected to the tower atop the fire station.
"I'm Terry Ney. I'm the Fire Chief of Lane Fire Authority and we're partnering with the Oregon Country Fair to bring a local radio station to Veneta."
The chief says people involved with KOCF came to the Lane Fire Authority less than a year ago.
Ney: "Actually they just came to us looking for support for it and I was the one that came up with the idea, well why don't we look at placing the transmitter here in our facility because we've got the space to do it. And I feel very strongly this is something we should support, because I think a radio station is really a key component to a community's identity."
And Chief Ney understands the important public safety role that radio plays in the community.
Ney: "One of the interesting things about radio to me, being something of a safety-oriented person in my job as fire chief, is that radio is one form of media that we can still pay attention to and still do our job. We can still drive a car and listen to the radio. I can be sitting in my office and do my work and listen to the radio and have it kind of going in the background and then focus enough of my mind on it to listen to a news flash or something like that."
When you've got to haul equipment to the roof then climb the tower to install the antennae, Chief Ney says it's pretty convenient to pull out the fire truck and extend the ladder.
Ney: "We did this when we installed our antennae up there. It's just the most expeditious way to get people up and down off of the roof of a 2-½ story building. So we use the ladder truck just to bring people up to the roof level and then from there, they're going to have to climb the tower to get to the level where they're installing the antennae."
After the ladder truck is positioned, a volunteer clips into a safety harness. He and another volunteer start making the first of several trips hauling tools and equipment up the fire truck ladder to the roof. The antennae installation will take a few hours. Supporters watch from the ground, marking the occasion with lots of laughter, photographs and a deep feeling of accomplishment.