- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) - Broadcast radio has long relied on weather as a source of content for local audiences.

KBLU also relies on the weather but in a different way. Without Mother Nature’s cooperation, the member-owned Pendleton radio station ceases to operate. The station’s radio tower, located south of Pilot Rock, is powered solely by solar and wind energy. Using solar panels and wind turbines, the radio tower usually gets enough juice to disseminate a 12-hour broadcast that covers Pendleton, Pilot Rock and some of the surrounding area.

Turning the dial to 90.5 FM will reveal an eclectic playlist that runs the gamut from classical to classic rock and world music.

While a pre-launch survey revealed many potential listeners wanted a station dedicated to country western or classic rock, management decided to aim for a different audience.

“Geezers tend to want genre music,” said Gary Betts, who co-founded KBLU with his wife, Virginia Blakelock. “Millennials and adults want the mix.”

Betts’ resume may be the only thing more varied than KBLU’s selection. His lifelong interest in electronics began as a boy assembling radios in his spare time in Zillah, Washington. Betts eventually moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington, where he initially decided to major in physics before switching to comparative literature.

After graduating with a master’s degree Betts moved to a cabin west of Wilsonville in 1969, a place he’d call home for the next 24 years.

During his time in the cabin, he worked stints as a Portland Community College professor, the owner of a concrete company and a software designer for IBM.

Betts married Blakelock, a renowned beadwork artist who’s had her work shown in the Smithsonian Institution, in 1980.

Betts and Blakelock moved to Eastern Oregon in 2005 after Betts inherited his grandfather’s Athena wheat farm.

Betts and Blakelock got together a group in 2007 and spent seven years raising the funds to buy a radio license and collect the equipment needed to start a community station.

KBLU started broadcasting in October, using a radio tower powered by solar panels to cut energy costs.

The early goings weren’t easy - high winds blew off KBLU’s solar panels within the first few weeks, cutting off its broadcast.

Replacements were sent free of charge and reinforced to keep them anchored. With the recent installation of a wind turbine to provide additional power to the tower, high winds are now an asset instead of a threat.

Betts said KBLU’s broadcast is now stable, although Pendleton’s uneven topography and preponderance of brick buildings means not every area of town receives the signal clearly.

KBLU broadcasts at 240 watts, which is more than twice as powerful as the signal emitted by KCUW, another community radio station in the area.

Owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and located at Mission, KCUW broadcasts at 100 watts, or about as much as a bright light bulb.

KCUW has gone through great lengths to expand their audience despite the low wattage.

In addition to moving its radio tower from Cayuse to the top of Wildhorse Casino and Resort, KCUW recently started streaming their broadcast online thanks to some underwriting from Cayuse Technologies.

KCUW operations manager Jiselle Halfmoon said the online broadcast gives the station a better idea of how many people are listening and what they’re listening to.

The KCUW listening audience numbers may have hit their peak during the recent season of Nixyaawii boys basketball games. This was the first year KCUW broadcast all of the team’s games, which coincided with the Golden Eagles’ run to the state title game appearance.

“Everybody was listening,” KCUW assistant Anson Crane said.

In addition to broadcasting basketball games, KCUW also plays a combination of prerecorded and live material hosted by a small but dedicated group of volunteer disc jockeys. Halfmoon plans to continue expanding their programs.

Halfmoon wants to recruit more volunteers with the message that the station is open to all programming, not just those focused on the tribal community.

She wants to use new volunteers to grow the station’s burgeoning local news coverage, which recently added a news segment that airs five days a week.

With a significant portion of KBLU’s budget coming from member donations, volunteer personnel is also one of nonprofit’s top priorities.

Currently, the station plays commercial-free music from premade playlists mostly curated by Blakelock.

In addition to prerecorded spots that share track information, Betts also wants a variety of prerecorded programming, including a bedtime story time for children, a call-in show for city council members and a farm show that would be a mix of country western music, wheat prices and updates from the Oregon State University Experiment Station.

Betts eventually wants to add live material to the mix, but is wary of profanity without having the equipment to edit it out.

KBLU can be heard on the radio at 90.5 while KCUW is on 104.3. Both are on the FM dial.

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Information from: East Oregonian, http://www.eastoregonian.info

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