For Oregon’s KEPW, Community Radio is Service, Not Commerce

We don’t have a business model; we have a community model

KEPW-LP (97.3) went on air in 2017 determined to provide “a place for voices otherwise left unheard.”

But there was a problem with the Board.

“When I got involved,” Station Manager Jana Thrift recalls, “we had a Board that was strictly elderly white men. I know they all had very good intentions and really wanted to do the right thing and be inclusive.” But, she adds, there were “serious complaints about the issue of…KEPW’s mission to represent diverse demographics with a board that was not diverse.”

Today, three years on, KEPW’s Board consists of four women (including one indigenous woman), one transgender person, and seven men.

“Inclusivity isn’t just represented on the outside,” Thrift explains. “It comes from the inside out,…including our community not only as the voices on the air but [in] the decisions for how we offer those voices….It has definitely been a learning process for all of us to really walk that talk.”

Teamwork by Gerd Altman

The station, under Thrift, doesn’t operate on a business model but on a community model.

Under a business model, Thrift believes, an emphasis on profit and professionalism is “sometimes a real barrier” to diversity and inclusivity.  Stations, she says, look for “the tight-knit podcast…that creates financial resources and exclude the voice that is brand new, that hasn’t had the training,…that doesn’t come from experience in radio but instead comes from experience with life.”

Under a community model, however, Thrift has led KEPW, “to counter the norms of… embracing non-local programming and profits as a priority….Our funds follow our actions….Instead of saying ‘this is where you can hear things,’ people say, ‘this is where you can be heard.’”

Willamette River in Eugene, Oregon

And Thrift takes pride in what this value shift has allowed the young station to achieve.

“I don’t come from a non-profit background….I’m out of the box because I don’t come from a history that knew what the box was supposed to look like….When you see things that are problematic, you say it out loud and you tackle it head-on….All in all, I think our mutual goals have been realized, and we are now a vital resource for community radio in our area.”

Jana Thrift has been Station Manager at KEPW since 2017.

Her comments were made as a participant in the “Keynote Panel: Power to the People/The Impact of Diversity and Inclusion in Community Radio” presented at 2020’s Virtual Grassroots Radio Conference.