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Ten years of radio done differently

In its decade of alternative broadcasting, nonprofit station KYRS has expanded reach

Hit the “seek” button on your car radio and you’re likely to come across the usual stuff – Top 40 hits, a selection of classic rock staples, perhaps some political or cultural discourse courtesy of NPR.

But if it stops on either 92.3 or 88.1 FM, the dual frequencies of Spokane’s Thin Air Community Radio (KYRS), you’re going to hear something different.

Since it first hit the airwaves in late October 2003, KYRS, a noncommercial and nonprofit radio station located at 35 W. Main Ave., has devoted itself to amplifying voices on the fringe. Its local programming includes music, news and editorial content that you aren’t going to hear anywhere else in the Inland Northwest.

“We want to focus on local talent, local music, local perspective,” said Lupito Flores, the station’s manager. “Our mission, really, is to provide programming to underserved populations, the voices that normally get left out of the nightly news.”

Flores, with the help of volunteers, started building Thin Air from the ground up in 2000, when he heard that the Federal Communications Commission was opening up FM radio to stations broadcasting at less than 100 watts.

“It was free to apply, and you didn’t have to have any experience,” Flores said. “You just needed to be a local nonprofit. I thought Spokane needed one, so I started organizing people.

“We built the station with about 100 volunteers, got local labor unions to help put up the tower, got donated equipment. We really did it on a shoestring.”

Flores said that KYRS started with about a dozen locally produced programs. A decade later, while still a small organization, they’ve more than tripled that count. And now they’re a full-power station, meaning their signal is more powerful, reaching as far as the Kettle Falls area.

Thin Air’s schedule serves as a stark alternative to commercial radio. You’ll hear Russian- and Spanish-language programming, shows spotlighting local events and businesses, and programs geared toward those of all ages.

Flores says that this mix is important to the station’s longevity – “It’s about letting diverse populations get behind the mic and tell their story, get their message out,” he said – and that it’s reflected in the volunteer support and positive listener response

“It’s really heartening to get the feedback from the community, and it’s because the programming is so unique, and there’s really nothing like it on the air in the area,” Flores said. “We get a lot of calls and emails and letters of support – people just can’t believe they turn on their radio and there are such diverse programs.

“And that’s the big payoff, having people tell us that they love the programming and recognizing the value.”

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