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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘We’re Spokane community radio,’ KYRS says from downtown

UPDATED: Thu., June 3, 2021

By Julien A. Luebbers For The Spokesman-Review

KYRS, or Thin Air Community Radio, began in a room the size of a walk-in closet in downtown Spokane’s Community Building. At the time of the first broadcast on Oct. 26, 2003, KYRS was confined to a low-power FM frequency, so it was only audible a few miles away.

Nearly 18 years later, the station has grown in size and range, occupying much of the Community Building’s third floor and a full-power frequency that stretches near to the Canadian border. Plus, it’s about to expand into downtown.

“Next year, we’re going to be moving to the downtown branch of the Spokane Public Library,” station manager Michael Moon Bear said. “The new space will be right in the public eye and offers audio production education to library users.

“It also means a few bigger, newer spaces for the station. There’s two big rooms that are going to be all kitted out and brand new. There’s going to be a whole production studio for live performance and music.”

The expansions will help Thin Air Radio better accomplish its goal of sharing information and music. “Radio is really democratizing,” Bear explained. “You don’t have to pay anything to listen it.

“And as far as the barrier to entry? You don’t have to buy something fancy to receive this or have a computer or anything. You can go out and buy a $5 transistor radio and listen to all the radio you want.”

But the democratization is two-fold: Not only can anyone listen to KYRS, but anyone can also host a show. For those not familiar with KYRS’ content, the station produces and broadcasts tens of shows every week, all of which are hosted by and for members of the Spokane community.

“We’re a community station,” Bear said. “And that means that everything we locally produce – in that studio down there, live on the air or in our production studio – they’re all produced by local volunteers.”

It’s worth noting the distinction between this model and commercial radio. KYRS is funded entirely by donations. “We’re not beholden to anybody else. We don’t have corporate sponsorship that’s telling us what you should play,” Bear said.

“We’re not a satellite station. We are very unique. Right here, we’re Spokane community radio.” One of the most important parts of being a community radio station is sourcing your content from passionate local individuals.

It’d be easy to pick from Spotify’s latest playlist, but wouldn’t it just be better to let someone with a vivid and lifelong passion be your musical tour guide? “Everybody who has a music show has a specific thing that they focus on,” Bear said. “They really put stuff together for you.”

“ ‘Welcome Home’ is an example; that’s all bluegrass, folk music. ‘Americana Avenue’ is Americana music. But really, you’re not listening to a playlist from a machine somewhere. It’s going through the filter of a person who’s passionate, and you can’t beat that.”

The energy of these creators comes across in their work, as does the expertise. “Every one of those programmers has sovereignty over their show. They decide what gets played on there.” But most of the hosts don’t join the station as radio experts.

That’s part of the mission of the station, to make the role of radio host accessible by letting anyone with a passion and an appealing program get on the air and share it with Spokane.

Of course, there’s an application process, but, after that, the station’s staff, including Bear himself, will coach the new recruit through the production process. Within a short period, they’re radio pros.

With a vast selection of musical and educational radio shows, KYRS offers Spokane the finest in radio entertainment. Be it jazz, bluegrass or hip hop, hear musicians local and from the whole world ’round every day on the radio and on kyrs.org.

Julien A. Luebbers can be reached at julien.luebbers@gmail.com.

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