The scope of the soundscape for local radio listeners is widening, with more Central Coast residents tuning in to "progressive" radio programming. That's the word from a panel of local radio experts, who explored the future of "programming for progressives" at a recent meeting of the San Luis Obispo Democratic Club.
- PHOTO BY KATHY JOHNSTON
- TALKING RADIO : Listenership for "progressive" content on local airwaves is increasing, according to a recent panel that included (left to right) John Soares of Cal Poly, Dick Mason of KYNS, Guy Rathbun of KCBX, KYNS advertiser Kathleen Wafer of Morin Bros. Automotive, and Nancy Leichter of KYNS.
# "Progressive radio means local content, with information you need to be civic-minded and participate in your community," explained John Soares, who teaches broadcast journalism at Cal Poly.
"We want to hear what kind of progressive radio you want, and make it happen with KCPR [Cal Poly radio 91.3 FM]," Soares added.
Discussion at the meeting also focused on national "progressive" talk radio that presents an alternative to conservatives like talk host Rush Limbaugh such as Air America, broadcast locally on KYNS 1340 AM. The station was one of the first in the United States to "bring a progressive voice" to radio listeners in May 2004, and has expanded its local listenership since then, according to its general manager, Nancy Leichter.
The Air America affiliate's broadcast signal from its transmitter on Buckley Road in SLO is just 1,000 watts, but can often be heard from Cambria to Santa Maria, she said. Plans for the future, possibly next year, include extending the station's signal and adding more local content such as more live local talkback and news, she said.
The Central Coast's public radio station, KCBX 90.1 FM, is also putting "more meat into our programming," according to Guy Rathbun, the station's programming director, who developed a show called "An Evening With ..." as a setting for informative discussions with various national experts with liberal or progressive viewpoints.
"Our audience for this information is absolutely on the increase," Rathbun said.
Amy Goodman's one-hour news show, "Democracy Now!" which is broadcast every weekday at noon on KCBX and at 9 a.m. on KCPR is now the most highly supported program in the public radio station's line-up, he said.
Listeners responded in droves to support "Democracy Now!" during the public station's recent pledge drive, after hearing that a major underwriter had withdrawn financial support, and another listener had offered $5,000 if the station would remove the program, Rathbun said.
He also called for a reinstatement of what he termed "the equal time and fairness doctrine" which governed U.S. broadcasting policy for decades until it was removed during the Reagan era.
Some audience members commented that the angry tone of both conservative and liberal talk radio is causing further division in the community and the country.
"Talk radio programming is putting people more on one side or the other, with the hosts parodying each other. The big thing lost is working together or we're beating our tom-toms in our tent in response to their tom-toms in their tent," said attendee Don Maruska.
Cal Poly's Soares explained that radio talkers such as Bill O'Reilly and Al Franken are "masters of narrowcasting."
Soares added, "It's that whole middle ground that advertisers and programmers stay away from. It's muddy. But that's where democracy lives, in the muddy middle. That's where the First Amendment lives."
Cal Poly is currently building a new radio station with the aim of providing more local news and current affairs, Soares said in a later interview. A revamped newsroom and a new Cuesta Ridge transmitter for the campus station will come into operation in February, he said.
"We'll be clear as a bell from Paso Robles to Santa Maria," he explained. "There will be more opportunities for student participation, with more locally originated programming. We're in a unique position to give back to the community.
"Radio is the last bastion of free speech and it's free," he emphasized.