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My Romp Through Public Radio

I came to Spokane in 1971 to play in the Spokane Symphony. Returned, actually, having played in it as a senior in high school. As sweet as the town (and my new job) was, there was a lot missing. Cuisine ranged from burgers to steak. Movies from the Fox to the drive-in. Nat Park had closed down and Silverwood was far in the future. And radio hadn’t gotten much farther than my childhood listening to KNEW.

It took a while, but finally, in January of 1980, an NPR station, KPBX burst on the scene. Or at least modestly slid into our consciousness. It had a lot of music, especially classical, folk and jazz. Also a few public affairs programs, and one evening news program, All Things Considered. Then strange things on the weekend, such as some guy doing commercials about cat boutiques and shops for fear-mongers.

But they seemed open to ideas, so I walked in with one. Something about scat-singing contemporary music to make it more palatable. They didn’t go for that idea, but they heard something in me, tried me out in a couple of pledge drives, and offered me a part time job playing classical music on the air. They even trained me with lessons which I remember to this day.

Around 1988, just as I was leaving the Spokane Symphony the radio station invited me in to a full-time job playing music on the air and working as the music librarian. I fell into this great world of warm, open and committed people making radio. Suddenly whole vistas opened up: interviews, live radio performances, concerts recorded and re-purposed for radio. A performance studio was built into that funky Hoban Building second floor space. Live, active music radio could happen in Spokane. A permanent piano was needed, a terrific one was found, and funded by an extraordinary one-day piano pledge drive.

From the beginning the station sought ways to go into the community. The ideas which came along were the result of the collective spirit in the air in that old building. (Even included collective soup-making.) As they extended out they included Kids' Concerts and public concerts at the newly re-furbished State Theatre which became the Met which became the Bing. They included wonderful community relationship events such as bike rides and beer festivals. At one point the station even had an ad hoc Blues Band.

The station grew. NPR grew. Because of a war, the station went to 24 hours. News and public affairs programs exploded. A new station focused on news and public affairs was added to accommodate that growth. We were growing up and having kids, so station growth had to find a way to buy shoes for those kids. “Best Practices” came along. Through all this KPBX found a way to stay true to its roots while accommodating change. One of those mainstays is the legacy of those great producers of our weekend shows—especially alternate musical genres.
Through my time here I was lucky to be in the middle of all this, to help and guide where I could as my role grew here. I was pleased to always try to represent the Public Radio Listener who was curious and imaginative, who valued the “Traditional” while eagerly looking down the road for the “Next Thing.” The strong and unique way this station has always sought to maintain contact with its listeners, its family, has been a stalwart guide. My own knowledge and appreciation has been fed by the wonderful breadth of public radio. I hope and trust yours has also.

Being at this station, KPBX morphing into Spokane Public Radio, has given me a job, a career, an education, and a cause. Most of all, it has given me a connection with so many of you which has enriched my life. For this I am so grateful. Thank you.

-Verne Windham, Music Director

Gifts to the station in Verne's honor can be made to the “Spokane Public Radio Fund for the Future” at the Innovia Foundation.