BEST RADIO STATION
Where would we have been without KPBX this year? National Public Radio's reporting on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was some of the most complete and in-depth coverage out there, and in many ways, NPR's lack of a visual medium helped give the events a human face. Over days and weeks, bystanders, loved ones and those who narrowly escaped told their stories, bringing home the immediacy of what happened in a way that the by-now-familiar images of smoking twin towers could not easily do. And when we gradually began to hear our NPR favorites — things like This American Life, Car Talk and Prairie Home Companion — return to the airwaves, for many of us, it was our first sense that life was finally returning to normal. Perhaps it is this ability to be unflinching, reassuring and, above all, ethical that makes us so happy to see KPBX win Best Radio Station for the first time in the history of The Inlander's Best of the Inland Northwest poll.
Dick Kunkel, KPBX's general manager, was gratified by the news but not necessarily surprised.
"During the fall, we've had an extraordinary quarter of news programming, starting with September 11th and continuing ever since then. Nobody in broadcast news does anything even comparable to what National Public Radio does," he says. "We scheduled much more news programming during that period, of course because that's what people wanted and needed. And because of that, a lot of people were reminded of how good a job NPR does with the news. They tuned in to it and became glued to it."
It certainly helps that KPBX is as committed to the community as NPR is to covering events of national significance. In addition to being the local spot on the dial for classical, jazz, folk, news and arts coverage, KPBX was a strong presence in the cultural scene as well, continuing its popular series of Kids' Concerts and bringing This American Life host Ira Glass to town. Familiar voices, belonging to Verne Windham, Doug Nadvornick and Sara Edlin-Marlowe to name a few, help tether listeners for the long haul, and Kunkel points out that KPBX is also distinguished in other ways.
"We're proud of the fact that of all the public radio stations, only a hundred or so are licensed to their communities, rather than a college or university. Of those public radio stations, we're the largest community-licensed public radio-only station in the entire Pacific Northwest."
Although it is certain that both local and national programming were in Inlander readers' minds when they voted for KPBX, I propose that there is still something else, which, for lack of a better term, I'll call a KPBX/Public Radio moment. Such moments are often surprising, challenging and thought-provoking, whether it was the gorgeous, elegiac classical music Verne Windham scheduled in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks or the near-legendary Fresh Air where Terry Gross and Gene Simmons squared off for one spectacular grudge match of an interview. Most importantly, KPBX and Public Radio provide a model and a forum for intelligent and engaging discourse.
"What we hear over and over again is that during a time of national crisis, things become very jingoistic. You have a lot of reporters jumping on the war bandwagon and you get a lot of that sort of patriotic 'We've all got to pull together' mindset that permeates the news," says Kunkel. "I think it's very important that we all pull together, but to me, that means intelligent people thinking about complex and difficult questions. To me, this is the greatest kind of patriotism, knowing what the questions are, asking the right questions and understanding the importance of the answers."
2nd: Rock 94.5; 3rd: 105.7 The Peak