On the Spokane Indian Reservation, young people have to sit in their cars to hear the fading signal from a low-power community radio station 50 miles away.
They are listening to a show every Tuesday from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Thin Air Community Radio, KYRS-FM, 92.3 and 89.9. It is only an hourlong program, but it is 60 minutes of news, interviews and music that matter to Native Americans.
“It is filling a gap that hasn’t been filled before.” said Twa-le Abrahamson, a Spokane tribal member who produces the show, “InnerTribal Beat.”
Abrahamson said word is getting out about the program, but once people learn about it, they are “very excited to be included.”
The show relies on this excitement, because listeners who call in provide much of the content used on the show, including news about American Indians who live in Spokane as well as the area’s reservations.
This is important, Abrahamson said, because tribal newspapers, which are run by tribal governments, “are too political.” She envisions a day when reservation residents will be able to rely on expanded Native programming at KYRS as an independent news source.
It is a vision shared by KYRS program manager Lupito Flores, who has applied to the Federal Communications Commission for a full-power license. Because KYRS is a low-power station, its signal often cannot be heard in less powerful home radio sets on the reservations.
Once the nonprofit KYRS, which provides a variety of programming in the public interest, goes from 100 watts to 6,000 watts, the station will be heard on the Spokane and Colville reservations.
“Our mission is to provide programs to unserved and underserved populations,” Flores said, not duplicate things you can already hear on radio. “We are surrounded by tribes so it makes sense to produce a local Native American show.”
“InnerTribal Beat” is the second attempt by KYRS to provide Native programming, having broadcast a show two years ago with host Jim Boyd, a Colville tribal member and nationally known recording artist.
The new show has two hosts. Gabe Bylilly, an Eastern Washington University graduate student, provides the music and music commentary. Jeff Ferguson reads the news and public services announcements, including job listings. The two also were involved in founding a Native American music festival, called InnerTribal Vibes, which last May brought regional Native talent to Spokane Falls Community College.
Bylilly and Ferguson said the program fills a need among young people wanting to hear Native bands, particularly those specializing in hip-hop and rap that are rarely heard anywhere else. Local tribal casinos, they said, do not book Native artists.
Even with a more powerful broadcast, Flores said, KYRS is unlikely to reach very far into the Coeur d’Alene Reservation and therefore will not compete with the tribe’s plans to broadcast over the newly licensed KWIS-FM, which has yet to air.
No other regional tribe has a radio station. The only other Native programming available in the Spokane area is “Native America Calling,” a national program produced in Anchorage that airs on Spokane Public Radio, KSFC 91.9, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 11a.m.