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History: On Again, Off Again

Back to History of Spokane Public Radio

David Schoengold wanted KPBX to be more than just a small basement operation. He pulled together a new management group calling itself the Spokane Public Broadcasting Association, and the station made its first major move. It became part of the group of small retail shops known as Second City.

Today, an 18-story bank building stands on the south side of First Avenue between Wall and Howard streets. But in the 1970s, it was a two-story brick building formerly known as the Kroll Building that housed artists, craftspeople, and eclectic stores.

Schoengold remembered how difficult it was to keep the young KPBX station going at that location. "It was still broadcasting 24 hours and someone had to be physically there at the station to supervise. You couldn't go out without knowing that someone was going to be there. And the engineering was difficult--we sometimes held the tape recorders together with rubber bands," he said.

But Schoengold did have to be at other places. He was attending Gonzaga Law School and managing a record store at the same time. In order to make KPBX a thriving entity, he needed help. He found John Budrow in Portland, a guy who could write the grants and get the money needed to organize. The Junior League of Spokane agreed to get involved in funding a bigger and better station.  But it was going to come at a cost that seemed counter-productive: go off the air.

"Budrow suggested that it would be better for KPBX to physically be off the air so we could work on gaining the funding for what we had in mind," Schoengold said. "The station as it was looked funky. It's hard to sell a dream when you have an old beater, and you tell them, 'Don't worry, we'll have a Cadillac.'"

Many of the Spokane Public Broadcasting Association board members were from other cities which already had public radio. They spun tales of All Things Considered and classical programming, sparking interest in more and more people.

The SPBA struggled with the grants, technical details about equipment, smoothing out challenges. Major gifts were given by the Junior League, Comstock Foundation, the Greater Spokane Community Foundation, ONB Corporation, Seafirst National Bank, George Frederick Jewett Foundation, Pacific  Northwest Bell, Leuthold Foundation, KHQ AM-FM-TV and Georgia Roffler Lackman. Other funds came from government sources, and local supporters paid their part.

At times, the financial hurtle seemed overwhelming. By early 1978, some media and arts people doubted KPBX would return to the airwaves. A Spokane Magazine article quoted one observer, "It's not impossible. But that's an awful lot of money. A hell of a lot." The fundraising goal was more money than KSPS Public Television raised from listeners in a year.

Most amazingly, most of the KPBX board wanted to remain a community licensee, without the protection of a large public institution. A community service would ideally mean free reign in program content, since no one hand holds the purse strings.

"We wanted to maintain independence, keep it a true community station," Schoengold said. "Spokane was, and is, very white-bread. People still aren't exposed to other cultures very often. KPBX was to be a home for the people, not for the intelligence. We were trying to build a radio station that was a resource to the community."

The plans took solid form when the board hired Marvin Granger as the general manager and program director in early 1979. Granger in turn hired a starting staff, with nine full-time and four part-time staff members. A couple of volunteers were also utilized. "Our classical music staff is above average…the two full-time (music) staff members have degrees from conservatories," he told the Spokane Daily Chronicle.

Although the staff was ready to go, more red tape and installation delays kept the station off the air. FCC concerns pushed the start-up date was pushed back from early fall to December to January. "All [these problems] will be forgotten when we're on the air and two months down the line," Granger told Tom Sowa, reporter for the Spokesman-Review in December 1979. "All we have to try to do is show people there is one place on the dial where the content rules the medium, not vice versa."