I'm a big fan of KMRE 102.3 FM. I pull over on the side of the road to listen to the final act of the "Detective Drama" shows, and I bop along with Dave the K's "Rockin' Surfer" tunes.
I'm a bit dismayed, though, that I can't get reception at my South Hill home.
So when I received a press release that the station will host a "Bunny Hop" dance party benefit on Saturday, April 19, to aid in the goal of reaching $25,000 to replace the station's "ailing transmitter," I asked station manager Brent Davis to explain what's behind the event.
For those who don't know, the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention at 1312 Bay St. houses the station, and the station plays the museum's historical recordings archive as well as promotion for the museum in general. The station was started by museum co-founder Jonathan Winter as a gift to the community.
Here's what Brent said about the fundraiser.
First of all, he said, KMRE went on the air in 2004 with an old transmitter, and they've never replaced it. He said the unit failed multiple times last summer due to overheating.
"We have a very poor antenna and must run our transmitter at full power at all times to overcome the limitations of the antenna," he said. "The transmitter is so old that when we contacted the manufacturer to seek replacement parts, they were shocked to find that something so old was still in service in the field. We learned that there are no longer parts available and have improvised using similar components as best we could."
As for funding the station, Brent said he has been steering that at KMRE for nearly three years. Before that, he said, no one had ever sought donors or underwriters for the station.
"I did have an emergency 'keep KMRE on the air' drive a little over a year ago when I was informed by the museum administration that KMRE would no longer be supported by Spark and had to become self-sufficient," he said. "Since then I have gradually built a clientele of underwriters that almost covers our expenses. I plan to continue building relationships with other Bellingham businesses to maintain and grow the station. It is a slow process for someone in my position to grow a brand like KMRE into a community staple."
The station's main support comes from Rocket Donuts, which has a science-fiction hour on Friday nights (because Jim Swift, owner of Rocket Donuts, grew up with the TV show "Space Patrol"); and from Village Books, which, through the Chuckanut Radio Hour, broadcast on KMRE at 6 p.m. Saturdays and 9 p.m. Sundays, forwards some of their support to the station.
Other underwriters include the Community Food Co-op and long- standing underwriter Eartha Kitty, an antiques shop.
Volunteers produce the various programs you hear on KMRE. They have the dedicated enthusiasm to make sure Bellingham's culture finds a sounding board on the air each week, Brent said.
He runs the station, and what a job he has!
He said he's paid for 10 hours a week to organize the station lineup, wrangle DJs and their programming needs and technical issues, download and program syndicated shows, keep track of logging for legal purposes, maintain the recording and broadcast studios, produce content for upcoming events and museum promotion, transcribe recordings for museum members and paying visitors, maintain the museum's performance space sound system, maintain the museum's computer network, and keep a constant ear to the wheel in case the software goes awry or the transmitter decides to switch off.
One of my personal favorite hosts at KMRE is Shannon Laws, who hosts "The New Americana Hour" (her moniker is "Boosie Vox") with museum co-founder Jonathan Winter.
The program, in its second year, "celebrates the way music touches hearts and minds," Shannon said.
Local musicians, artists and music lovers go behind the mic to share the top five songs that have personally influenced their life. (If you want to be a guest on "The New Americana Hour," go to Facebook and search for KMRE New Americana.)
Another program Boosie hosts is "Bellingham's Fast Five," which sounds a little recognizable, for some reason.
Boosie and her pal (and mine), "honky-tonk woman" Bert Monroe, share news about local musicians who perform in town. The program plays at random times throughout the "Golden Age of Radio" music block, Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Hopefully, Brent said, with enough funding KMRE can be a return to what radio can be to the local culture and people of Bellingham.
What: Dance the Bunny Hop, to benefit KMRE 102.3 FM.
When: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 19
Where: Spark Museum of Electrical Invention, 1312 Bay St.
Details: Music is by the Swing Connection. Extras include a cake walk, pizza, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. All ages welcome.
Admission: $10 adults, free for kids 12 and younger.
Info: 360-738-3886, kmre.org