On your usual drive to work this summer, you may be sipping your iced coffee and flipping through the stations on your radio — perhaps on the hunt for the perfect commuting soundtrack, or seeking to catch up on today’s news. If you want the latter, and are looking for more than the brief updates that are usually on the radio, you are soon to be in luck.
Oregon’s NPR affiliate KLCC has a new public affairs program in the works, with the goal of locally focused reporting in a longer format than normal.
“We definitely want to bring more community voices on the air; have a stronger presence in the community,” says KLCC programing director Jason Brown, who is helping create the program. KLCC thinks that working toward developing a program dedicated to local public affairs and the arts and the community would do a lot of good toward that goal of increasing community voices and presence.
KLCC does have some news programs currently on the air, such as Think Out Loud and All Things Considered. While All Things Considered brings breaking news on a broader, national scale, Think Out Loud is focused on stories from across Oregon. The new, soon-to-be-named public affairs program would be even more locally focused on issues in the areas of KLCC’s reach, including Eugene, Springfield, Corvallis, Newport, Florence, Roseburg and Bend. The station has 88,000 listeners per week within a 100-mile radius of Eugene, according to its website.
KLCC has had local talk radio news programs in the past, from Sunday at Noon to Critical Mass, which was a listener call-in program hosted by Alan Siporin until 2003.
Brown says it’s too soon to tell if the new program will replace Think Out Loud, but he says it likely won’t at the start, particularly because the station appreciates having Think Out Loud on its airwaves for its coverage of important statewide news. Brown sees the new program as being a supplement to other local news, but also being a stand-alone program for community issues.
According to Brown, the station has received gratitude from the community for its broadcasting of local news and voices.
“I don’t want to speak ill of anyone in the media market,” Brown says. “But a lot of people, frankly, tell us that The Register-Guard used to be more involved in the community.”
He added that he thinks people are feeling the consequences of the RG’s not being locally owned anymore, even if there are a lot of “excellent local reporters” there. Brown says because of these comments from listeners, he sees an opportunity for content centered around the local community with programs like the one in the works.
“We’re doing a lot of work to get more local news and content on,” Brown says, “and this is absolutely part of it.” In the long term, Brown says the station hopes the KLCC news website will be a regular stop for the community.
Another key difference between the new public affairs program and KLCC’s other news programs is that it will allow time for long, in-depth discussions on local issues. Brown says Morning Edition allows for a two-and-a-half-minute long newscast with up to three stories in it, and All Things Considered will allow for up to a five-minute feature. But as of now there is no space for any long conversation on a topic — something the new public affairs program will change.
“Having something that’s more like a dedicated hour to local news would give us more time to have more in-depth conversations,” Brown says, adding that he would also want to bring in local performers, too.
As for potential topics the new program will cover, interim news director Brian Bull says it could be subjects such as the houselessness situation in Eugene, mental health and the riverfront developments, among others. Brown notes there will be more light-hearted content about local arts and culture as well. Both Bull and Brown see the program as an opportunity for a host/guest-style discussion, as well as a call-in program bringing in voices from the community.
Longtime KLCC reporter and news director Rachel McDonald has taken a communications position with Eugene Water and Electric Board. Bull and fellow KLCC reporter Chris Lehman are currently co-interim news directors.
“I think radio still has a significant role to serve in informing the community, but also connecting the community,” Bull says. “I think a public affairs program really opens itself up to that, because people like to share their opinions.”
Brown says that with both Oregon State and University of Oregon in the station’s listening range, along with Lane Community College, KLCC has a lot of access to experts in the area who can break down complex national topics for the local community. An example would be bringing in an economics expert to discuss local economic trends against national trends, Brown says. The station could also bring city officials on to the show, for any city in the station’s coverage area.
KLCC is the public station for those other areas in its reach, Brown says. He adds that the station is hoping the public affairs program “will add to our current news capacity to kind of stretch out more geographically and get community voices from those areas as well.”
Along with the goal of including community voices and relevance, Bull says he believes the program will be able to help bridge the divides in the community, from political to education to economics. Having a host and producer to screen calls helps include community voices in a way that is constructive to the issues at hand, rather than becoming a “big pile up of toxic attacks and insults.”
“I think we’re in a really good place to, hopefully, reverse a lot of the negativity and a lot of the misunderstanding that’s happening along divisions,” Bull says.
Currently, KLCC is in the hiring stage of the process, and Brown says he is unable to comment on the status of the search at this time. However, Brown says he hopes to get pilot programs out by the end of the summer or early fall, possibly coinciding with the start of the universities’ academic school year.