KSKQ, Ashland’s 13-year-old non-commercial educational FM radio station, is taking a big leap into mainstream respectability with an $80,000 crowd-funding drive to hire its first executive director. It’s been all-volunteer until now.

The feisty alternative, power-to-the-people broadcaster, is fundraising on youcaring.com (www.youcaring.com/kskq-1114622) and, as of March 3, is seeking to hire “an engineer to run the whole train,” preferably a local person with established knowledge and ties to the community, says station manager Jason Houk.

“It will be someone who will be able to reach out to the community, was well as the nation and the world, because of the growing audience streaming on the internet and Twitter,” says Verin Lewis, a professional crowdfunding operator, who has been hired to raise the money. 

It’s raised $410 from 10 people as of Friday  — and Lewis said he’s confident of reaching the goal. The site practices flexible funding, meaning you keep what you raise, even if you don’t reach the goal in the six-month campaign window.

“We need someone with a passion for radio and for our community, someone whose values mesh with KSKQ and the Multi-Cultural Association of Southern Oregon (which owns it),” says Lewis.

“Our volunteers are pulled from many aspects of life, but we need someone who can focus solely on the job and organize a diverse team of volunteers and use their diverse skills,” Lewis says, as well as oversee news, programming, legalities with the FCC, and electronics and technology,

Houk, who says he isn’t interested in the job, hopes to find someone in the diverse and talented population of Ashland. At this time in its evolution, the station needs to start getting grants — and to have the credibility to do it, they have to have an executive director, says Houk.

“That’s part of the job, to make us more sustainable and more grantable,” he adds.

The station’s reach on the internet and social media has been increasing steadily, with Twitter followers jumping from 500 to over 2,000 in recent months, says Lewis.

“A lot of people (in and outside the valley) know what KSKQ is about: power to the people. We give them a voice they don’t find in the corporate media,” says Lewis. “They are top down and we’re grass roots. We’re discovering a national audience for local radio. Every program has intrinsic value that isn’t just local.”

Seeking to convey that idea, the station’s tagline is “We’re the voice in your heart.”

Houk estimates the local audience at 4,000.

Unlike Jefferson Public Radio, a huge public radio network a few miles away, KSKQ is openly political and will use its voice on issues they see as benefiting the community, such as the successful campaign against GMO crops. With community issues that aren’t partisan, such as the Ashland Senior Center and recall election, they make sure, Houk notes, to present all sides in their news.

Houk sums it up: “We use it to empower local campaigns, with a strong commitment to social justice. We’re the voice of the marginalized community. We get their voice out. That voice is not on commercial radio.”

Lewis echoes the thought: “Independent media and free speech are key to a healthy democracy.”

The station is at FM 89.5 in Ashland, with a new translator in Medford, found at 94.1.

—John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.