KMRE: Over the airwaves and under the radar

KMRE: Over the airwaves and under the radar
Museum hosts locally focused radio station

Sara Geballe - Whatcom Independent

BELLINGHAM – A well-kept secret for the past two years – KMRE, or 102.3 FM on your radio dial – is the in-house radio station of the American Museum of Radio and Electricity. Although the station has been broadcasting 24 hours a day since March 1, 2005, it has mostly been humming along under the radar. But all that is comabout to change as KMRE gets ready for prime time.Two months ago, the Museum hired Alena Feeney Adam as KMRE’s general manager and the station’s first paid employee.

After five years experience at Seattle’s “The Mountain” radio station, and serving as music director for KUGS at Western Washington University, Adam declares, “I’m new with a new vision. My goal is to let people know we are here.”

Until now, programming at KMRE has been automated, meaning there is no live DJ in the studio. The station has been largely devoted to broadcasting
music and old programs from radio’s “Golden Age” from 1920 to 1950 – before television arrived on the scene. According to Adam, the museum has a vast media collection from that era, including at least 50,000 old 78-rpm records. Also in the collection are recordings of President Franklin Roosevelt’s famed “Fireside Chats,” and copies of classic radio shows like “Captain Midnight,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “Dragnet.” And recently, Adam said, WWU Archives turned over “boxes and boxes” of reel-to-reel tapes of the “International Good Music” program which was once produced in Whatcom County. A key mission for both KMRE and the museum, she explained, “is to educate and entertain by bringing this historical content back to light.”

Chuckanut Radio Hour

But Adam clearly sees a vital need for new, community-based programming as well. One exciting example is the new “Chuckanut Radio Hour” sponsored by Village Books. A hometown variety show modeled after “Prairie Home Companion,” “Chuckanut” showcases local writers, musicians, poets, and other homegrown talent. Taped each month before a live audience at the museum, Village Books owner Chuck Robinson co-hosts the show. Another example is the “Midnight Mystery Players” performing live radio dramas, the last one being “My Favorite Wife” for Valentine’s Day. Soon, Adam said, she hopes to see “Northwest Soundscapes” start up again. This program featured the works of local musicians from the Bellingham Independent Music Association (BIMA). Soon KMRE will have two up-and-running recording studios in the museum – one of which will be large enough to allow musicians to come in and perform live.

New programs wanted

With a 24/7 broadcast day to fill, there is plenty of opportunity to add new programming, if there are the people to create it. Recently, Adam said, an eight-person Programming Committee was established to review proposals for new shows. The main requirement is programs be in keeping with KMRE’s mission to provide radio broadcasts that are local, educational, historical, and cultural.

According to Adam, KMRE is also developing a training process so as new programs are approved, community volunteers can receive the technical training they need to allow their ideas to come to fruition. Providing a local voiceKMRE is a non-commercial, independent radio station under the aegis of the museum, a non-profit organization. It is licensed by the FCC as a “low power” station meaning its 100-watt signal transmits only about 3.5 miles in all directions from downtown Bellingham. “As more and more consolidation of radio stations at the corporate level is taking more and more frequencies off the air,” Adam sees an increased need for independent media like KMRE. With media giants like Clear Channel now owning more than 1500 U.S. radio stations, she said, there is “a homogenized sound everywhere.” By contrast, she sees KMRE as providing a community-
based alternative with a local voice.

Over time, Adam hopes to develop partnerships with area high schools and colleges, add children’s programming, and create an on-air community calendar. “For me, it is a sense of responsibility to connect with the community.” But with a paid staff of one half-time person – herself – it will take time and the commitment of volunteers, as well as financial support from local businesses and individuals. Adam is currently looking for programming ideas, community partners, volunteers,
and financial underwriters.

“The last two years was infrastructure – getting it up and running,” Adam summed up. Now it’s time to watch the station take off. If you are interested in volunteering at KMRE, or have an idea for a new program, contact
Adam at 738-3886 or


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