Forty years after its debut on Portland's airwaves, KBOO Community radio has announced it is requiring all its programmers to re-apply for their shows.
Further, station management and volunteer leadership say significant changes are in the wings for the funky nonprofit station's schedule.
While the station's most recent Membership Drive made its modest goal last spring, it fell about $30,000 short in the 2007 spring and fall drives – a major shift from past years.
"If you're curious about the budget hit, we made our goal for the recent Spring Membership Drive, but we had to set the goal $40,000 lower than three years ago," Station Manager Arthur Davis wrote in an April memo.
The station's membership has dipped sharply over the past few years, and its finances have tanked.
For nearly the past year, the station's small staff and its programming committee and Board of Directors have held public meetings and passed out listener surveys to gauge public opinion about what's going wrong.
"We're losing listeners, we're losing members, we're looking at our first deficit in a decade," Davis told the Skanner. "Its crucial that we reach more listeners, and meet our mission and our financial obligations."
Davis said a key consideration is "the question of which values we hold onto in a time of change."
"People re-apply for their shows," he said, "but it's in the context of all the greater program changes."
By charter, the station's mission statement prioritizes community access, progressive political views, leadership as an organization, and diversity.
First evening programming will be evaluated and readjusted, then in January, morning programming will go through the process.
"Change is hard in community radio because people are personally invested," Davis said. "But I think that it's up to us to find ways to place the listeners at the front of what we do."
Davis said the staff's first step is to re-evaluate its programming schedule.
"We have what's called a quilt-work format in the industry, meaning that a lot of styles and genres are next to each other, which makes it difficult to listen to," he said.
Research has shown that KBOO's most "sellable niche" in the Portland market would be a music mix focused solely on folk, bluegrass, blues, country, singer-songwriter and a little bit of Grateful Dead.
"We could do well financially in the Portland market, but that doesn't meet our mission or our values," Davis said.
The station's second consideration is about air quality. While some hosts have earned international recognition for their programming, others air programs that have remained unchanged for 15 or 20 years; other deejays don't cue up the music right.
Davis said one of KBOO's most frequent complaints is that there's too much dead air.
"We're not going to try to sound like NPR or commercial media," he said. "We need to offer something more homegrown and real, and yet listenable."
According to Davis, the way people listen to radio has changed; where 20 years ago people would tune in at a certain hour of the day or night to hear their favorite shows, now people just expect to tune in and listen and like it. "We don't have appointment and destination programs anymore," Davis said.
But the station is not ready to just flip its format or its way of doling out shows.
"On Saturday night we have Bangra followed by hip-hop, and that's where audiences will tune in across those shows," he said.
"I believe you can have formats by and for different communities," he said. "As an example I would say Jamilah Bourdon's show, Guess Who's Coming to Radio? And Yugen Rashad's show Jazz Rap II."
Jamilah Bourdon serves on the KBOO Board of Directors and the programming committee.
She said the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, based in Washington, D.C, sent an official to Portland to advise changes in KBOO's programming, with the goal of pulling the station out of its tailspin.
"So the board charged the programming staff to make changes, and the goal was to increase listeners and improve the financial situation," she said.
"I think the concern for a lot of people is that their communities are going to be neglected, that if the changes are made they'll lose their voice."
She noted that all of the governing committees, as well as the Board, as made up of volunteers.
"I hope that proactive things happen," Bourdon said. "I hope the programmers will see this as a goal for the station as a whole instead of taking these things personally."
"I see this as an opportunity to grow in positive ways, to take the power we have with all the people in this building and use it to reach more people without leaving behind our values," Davis said.
For more information, go to www.kboo.org.