Behind the Scenes: “Change Sparks New Approach” at Bellingham radio station

John Jenkins, the president and CEO of Spark Museum of Electrical Invention at 1312 Bay St., let me know that big changes are in store for KMRE 102.3 FM, the radio station that has been broadcasting from Spark since 2005.

Spark Museum — which houses thousands of radios and other electrical broadcast equipment, as well as loads of other artifacts from the 17th century to the “Golden Age of Radio” of the 1920 to 1950s and beyond — has always operated under the motto “Where Discovery Sparks Imagination.”

And now, Jenkins says in a press release, “Don’t Touch That Dial: Change Sparks New Approach.” Bellingham’s only operational low-power community radio station has a new station manager and a new approach, he says.

KMRE has transported listeners back in time by playing an eclectic mix of music from the Golden Age of Radio as well as a limited amount of locally produced music and public affairs programming. That’s about to change.

“Our original focus was on recreating a station from the early days of radio, but with the recent changes at Spark Museum, it’s time to take a fresh approach with KMRE as well,” Jenkins said. “The ‘new’ KMRE aims to fill the classic role of community radio stations of the past, making the station an integral part of the Bellingham community. Its purpose will be to produce excellent programming that entertains, enriches, informs, inspires, educates and responds to community’s needs.”

The first step in the process has been the hiring of new station manager, Suzanne Blais. With 25 years of experience living and working in Bellingham — the last 21 as owner and executive producer at her production company, Black Dog Productions — Blais has a passion for bringing regional stories to life, Jenkins says.

“So much good work has been done already at KMRE by the staff and volunteers,” Blais said. “The Spark Museum is a treasure, and I’m pleased to be able to work with a team that is so committed to the local community as well as to quality broadcasting.”

“In the two years since broadening its focus in order to create a more fun, educational and exciting experience for all ages, the Spark Museum (formerly the American Museum of Radio and Electricity) has almost quadrupled its visitors,” she said.

“Becoming the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention was the right thing to do, it connected us in a deeper way with the community, and now we want to accomplish the same thing with KMRE,” Jenkins said.

This is just the beginning of changes for KMRE, Jenkins says. Bellingham and other Whatcom County residents can expect to see more coming as the station re-invents itself.

“We’ll produce more relevant shows while keeping the original flavor of the station, and give people a bit more context for the music they love,” Blais said.

Listeners are urged to tune in and give their input by completing the listener survey at KMRE.org.

And David Kessel, who broadcasts his “Dave the K’s Rockin’ Surfer Show” on Fridays and is a board member for Spark Museum’s radio team, says the station’s new slogan will be “Spark Radio, Sparking Your Ears with Music of The Years, Ringing the Bell in Bellingham.”

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com.