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Business hopes to create a buzz

A yet-to-be-named business is going into the former Rock City Grill at 505 W. Riverside, combining a coffeehouse with live radio broadcasts from FM stations KQQB 104.5 and KAZZ 107.1.

“We’re taking the station back to the streets, so to speak,” said Dave Donahue, a partner in Pro-Active Communications, the corporation opening the broadcast shop.

Disc jockeys will operate in full view of people passing by on Riverside Avenue and Stevens Street.

This version of “Radio Days” will play out through exterior windows and through interior walls of glass. Customers sipping lattes in the café in the center of the room will be able to see the action through the broadcast booth walls, which will be made of glass.

“We’re looking for an interactive showbiz type of atmosphere. When you hang out in the coffee shop you can be part of what’s going on all around you,” Donahue said.

Although Donahue and business partner Jerry Clifton don’t live in Spokane, they decided to open the business here after months of discussion and years of working together. They spent $3.5 million on the two local stations and are in the midst of purchasing a radio station in Fresno, Calif., Donahue said. The owners also signed a long-term lease.

Donahue, a Philadelphia resident, has 20 years experience managing radio stations on the East Coast. Clifton, owner of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based New World Communications, is a consultant who grew up in the Northwest and has created radio programming and owned stations throughout the country.

Both men had grown tired of what they view as a growing distance between the big corporate broadcast booth and the average listener. So they decided to open two listener-accessible stations under one roof in Spokane.

Donahue said the broadcast café will be a throwback to earlier days when stations were more attuned to their listeners and the community was welcome.

“It’s what radio used to be before radio corporations bought stacks and stacks of stations,” Donahue said.

They purchased KQQB-FM for $1.75 million last fall and formatted it for top 40 hits. They’ve hired some local radio professionals, including “Kiki Luv,” formerly with Wild 103.9 FM.

While the 5,000-square-foot suite in the Fernwell Building is being renovated, the crew is broadcasting from the building’s second floor.

Last week, Pro-Active Communications purchased KAZZ-FM, also for $1.75 million, Donahue said. The jazz station that currently broadcasts from Deer Park is being reformatted for retro top-40 music, including tunes by Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and others, he said. The company plans to move the new station into the temporary location on the second floor.

Bringing the show downtown and putting it in the public eye has a number of benefits, including all-day exposure and on-site promotion, he said.

While the staff of 20 waits for the café to open they’ve been kicking around ideas for everything from names — perhaps something along the line of “Brews and Tunes” — to how to best facilitate customer interaction.

“It’s a dream come true,” Donahue said. “We’re creating a kind of radio laboratory here.”


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