When Silence Is Not Golden:
The History of the Demise of Progressive Talk Radio in Seattle
January 2, 2013 was a dark day for progressive radio listeners throughout the Greater Puget Sound. Our beloved KPTK AM1090, the area's only progressive talk radio platform was gone overnight when CBS Radio, the station's owner, changed the format to the area's fourth or fifth or sixth all-sports station.
Thousands of enthusiastic listeners lost easy access to Thom Hartmann, Randi Rhodes, Stephanie Miller & Mooks, Mike Malloy, Norman Goldman, Ed Schultz, Ring of Fire and other national progressive programming. We lost radio programs that made us laugh, kept us informed and helped us cope with eight years of “W,” while providing much-needed alternatives to Rush, O’Reilly and Rove.
For Pacific Northwest progressives, the loss goes far beyond the silencing of any one political viewpoint. Progressive radio is a unique and valuable forum for discussions of social/economic justice, voting & labor rights, peace, the enviromnent and other vital issues that rarely get a hearing on corporate-owned media.
With your help, we believe we can bring progressive talk radio back to the greater Puget Sound ... big time! But first, let us tell you about how our mission began.
Two petitions and two people meet and make a difference - How Julia and Carolyn started it all:
On November 21, 2012, Julia Chase started a petition on Change.Org to "Save AM1090.” When she learned from an AM1090 “insider” that the ink was dry on CBS Radio’s deal and it had been in the works for months, she wrote to Mark Crispin Miller's national blog to report the demise of AM1090. He posted Julia's email, which included her email address. Phil Harrison saw this posting and wrote to Julia posing the question: “Not knowing much about the radio business, I was wondering what it would take to BUY a radio station. Would it be possible for the listeners to band together and raise enough money? With the new organizing tools provided by social media and crowd source funding, might it be possible to organize such an action?”
Meanwhile, Carolyn Tamler, a MoveOn Council Coordinator on Whidbey Island, had also started her own petition in November with the help of MoveOn.Org. They circulated it to Seattle area MoveOn members and got 5,000 signatures in the first week. She also contacted progressive radio talk show hosts. Norman Goldman wrote back 15 minutes after hearing from her saying how impressed he was with the passion expressed in petitioners’ comments. He invited her to come on his show, and after her interview the signature total reached 8,700. A MoveOn Whidbey Facebook page was created and more volunteers came forward.
In December, Skip Knox, a self-professed radio activist, got wind of the CBS AM1090 change and got an on-air interview on The Norman Goldman Show. Julia heard him, wrote down his phone number and later gave it to Phil. Skip was instrumental in getting Julia and Carolyn together to combine the Seattle and Whidbey Island volunteers into one united team. Julia, Phil and Skip met in-person.
After the AM1090 format changed on January 2, Carolyn, Skip Julia and Phil began meeting regularly to discuss and act on plans to research possible station formats, plan events to marshal the enthusiasm expressed by the petition signers and other progressives, and move forward in the effort to bring back progressive radio.
In January, Carolyn, Skip, Julia and Phil met with Seattle Councilperson Nick Licata, who had helpful insights and suggestions. He said:
“Have an idea that excites people.”
“We want a station that provides an independent voice.”
About that time, Skip decided his interests were taking him in other directions; he left the group, wishing us well. Rennie Sawade, experienced software engineer and web developer, joined the group and volunteered to design and build web site to rally support for progressive radio.
In February, Julia met briefly with Vice President Al Gore, who was visiting Seattle as part of a national book tour. She expressed our dismay at losing progressive talk radio in the Pacific Northwest and, while he was sympathetic, nothing specific came of this meeting. Later that month Larisa Wanserski, Matt Carson and RoseAnn Alspektor joined the group.
In July, we changed our name from Progressive Radio Seattle to Progressive Radio Northwest (PRNW) to reflect the scope and diversity of regional support for progressive radio. We also had the good fortune to meet graphic artist Patricia Bradbury, a former art director for New York Magazine and Newsweek, who volunteered to design our inaugural marketing handouts.
The PRNW team continues to meet twice a month. Earlier this spring we had two public gatherings to explore the possibility of throwing a major event later this year -- a Reunion for AM1090 listeners and a Rally for progressive radio. It was terrific to get together and schmooze with some of our petition signers from throughout the area. We decided to pick up planning in the fall for an event that could thank former AM1090 advertisers and serve as a launching forum for future efforts.
We're also exploring how we might move forward as an entity, as opposed to a group of enthusiastic volunteers. One possibility is to incorporate as benefit corporation or B corporation, a corporate form in the United States designed for for-profit entities that want to consider society and the environment in addition to profit in their decision making process. There are a number of benefits to taking this route. In the meantime, we are grateful that the Northwest Progressive Institute has agreed to act as our "custodian of funds" to process donations needed to offset basic startup costs.
We have lots of plans as we move into the fall and beyond. Stay tuned!