It was such a treat getting to visit so many new low power FM (LPFM) radio stations last fall, including KPSQ-LP in Fayetteville, Arkansas. After my evening tour of college radio station KXUA on October 6, I journeyed to Fayetteville’s historic downtown to see community radio station KPSQ (97.3 FM on the dial), aka “Public Square Community Radio.” It was around 9:30pm on a Thursday night and a team of volunteers and staff were gracious enough to hang out late to meet up with me.
They had just wrapped up with participation in festivities during First Thursday Fayetteville, a monthly art event in the city’s downtown square. Sadly, I arrived too late for the downtown party, as I’d heard talk that Fayetteville has a thriving art scene, with someone describing the town as the “Austin of Arkansas.” Still in early days, KPSQ is very much in start-up mode, furiously spreading the word about the station and fundraising. At First Thursday, station members passed out leaflets to both promote KPSQ and alert passersby to an upcoming launch party.
Licensed to the Omni Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology, KPSQ-LP has its studio and transmitter at the Chancellor Hotel. After arriving at the hotel, I made my way upstairs to the station headquarters, which was still a work in progress. Volunteers had completed the station’s production studio, which was serving as the initial on-air studio. Beautifully outfitted with custom wood shelving crafted by a volunteer, the studio is also equipped with everything one might need to do radio, including a sound board, microphone, CD players, cassette decks, and turntables.
Adjacent to the production studio is a small lobby, with a window to the future on-air studio. The old storage area/janitorial space (there’s still an industrial space in the unfinished room) for the hotel has already been transformed by the addition of a wall, window, and fresh carpeting. Over pizza, I chatted with station founders and volunteers in that room, as they shared KPSQ’s story with me. A few days later, I met more of the KPSQ crew at the Grassroots Radio Conference in Hot Springs, Arkansas (hear some of their stories in Radio Survivor Podcast #68 and in my GRC recap for Radio World).
Intrigued by its hotel home, which reminds me of the very early days of AM radio, when there were numerous stations atop hotels, I was interested to hear that the Chancellor is the tallest building in town. When KPSQ reached out to the hotel about a potential antenna site, the Chancellor not only agreed, but also offered up studio space. Today, the station is housed on the hotel’s third floor, which is dedicated to offices, and the antenna resides above the 16th floor. I learned about the hotel’s generosity, including helping out with construction materials, from doorknobs to carpeting; but, best of all, KPSQ’s studio and antenna rental requires no cash outlay and is provided in exchange for underwriting announcements.
Station Manager Joe Newman told me that although he had no radio experience, he’d always been a community activist. After hearing about the opportunity to apply for a new LPFM license, he worked with the Omni Center to develop plans for a new station in Fayetteville. He described the Omni Center as “kind of the center for progressive action in our area,” and it seems to fit well with KPSQ’s mission to “…to inform and empower listeners to play an active role in our radio station and in the community.” According to a statement on the KPSQ website, “Our programming promotes equality, peace, sustainability, democracy, and social and economic justice.”
The station members who I met came from a variety of backgrounds in both radio and non-profit work. Several shared with me details from their radio pasts, including KPSQ’s co-director of fundraising, Moshe Newmark. He told me that he got his start in radio in 1964 at a segregated station in Miami Beach, Florida: WMBM. He recalled being the only white DJ on a black radio station, saying that at the time, “There was black music and white music” with “rarely any crossover at the time,” but that “all the really great stuff” was on the black stations. He did radio off and on at a variety of stations over the years, including a stint at college radio station KXUA.
Retired professor Art Gust hosts a Saturday morning big band music show (“Jazz with Gusto”) on KPSQ and told me that he was happy to get back into radio again after doing a jazz show in the 80s and 90s at KOSE in Osceola, Arkansas. New to radio, DJ Dawn Newman, was just starting a music show (“Feed Your Head”) focused on material from the 1960s and 1970s. When I spoke with her in October, she was in the midst of pre-recording shows and said that she wanted to get a “few in the can” in order to help her become comfortable with doing a live show every week.
Fundraising Co-Director Hamsa Newmark has tons of professional, grassroots fundraising experience, but has generally remained off the radio airwaves, save for an appearance on her husband Moshe’s KPFK show back in the 1970s, when she educated listeners about the importance of healthy food.
Although the station built up a following within the community over the past four years during its planning stages, Joe Newman added that KPSQ had “really come to fruition” in the few months before my visit. KPSQ had its official on-air launch on May 11, 2016, but it was a fairly low-key introduction to the airwaves, with mostly pre-produced programming and automation at the time.
By October, there were around eight local programs on the KPSQ schedule, about six of which were presented live from the studio. Other parts of the day were filled with automated music programming and syndicated shows, some from the Pacifica Network, of which KPSQ is an affiliate. I was told that more than 120 show proposals had been submitted, with around 20 in the works back in October.
Today, the station has a packed schedule, including sixteen music and public affairs programs with local hosts. Locally-produced music shows focus on a variety of genres, including international dance music, reggae, jazz, 70s/80s rock/punk/new wave, Americana music from Arkansas, jam bands/southern rock, 60s/70s rock, country/bluegrass, hip hop/R&B and underground music. KPSQ-produced public affairs shows touch on cooking, local music, poetry, Ozark history, news and storytelling. The remainder of the schedule includes music from the KPSQ library (broken into genre-focused chunks) and syndicated news, public affairs and music shows, including Democracy Now, the Thom Hartmann Program and Undercurrents.
Thanks to everyone at KPSQ-LP for the warm, late-night welcome back in October! This is my 118th radio station field trip report, with more to come from my Arkansas and Pennsylvania travels. See my most recent field trips on Radio Survivor and peruse a full list of my station tour reports on Spinning Indie.
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