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KENC, 100 Milliwatts Of Community Spirit

When it comes to audiences, most would say bigger is better.  Correspondent Chris Lehman brings us the story of one Oregon broadcaster who’s all about keeping it small.

Ken Cartwright:  “It is 6:52 in the morning, as we continue on with music.  Our featured artist this morning is Marty Stuart, on AM 1620, KENC.  Good morning.”

Less than a month ago, Ken Cartwright started a radio station in Stayton, Oregon.  It’s kind of like the one you’re listening to now.  It has news, weather, and the occasional traffic report.

Ken Cartwright:  “There may be some fog as you head up the canyon if you’re going towards Mehama or Lyons.  So be aware, turn your headlights on.  Watch out for the deer, they’re out there this morning.”

Cartwright’s project isn’t technically a radio station, at least not in the legal sense.  He’s taking advantage of an FCC rule that allows anyone to set up a very low power AM transmitter.

KENC broadcasts with a whopping 100 milliwatts of power.  That’s one-tenth of a watt.

In other words, the average trucker can reach more people with a CB radio.  But Cartwright knows a good chunk of Stayton’s 7300 people are listening.  They stop and tell him at the grocery store or the post office.

Cartwright says they aren’t being served by existing media.

Ken Cartwright:  “My desire is to make sure that all the citizens in this community are aware of public hearings coming up, community events, local news.”

Cartwright has local news for three hours each morning and invites local officials onto his show.  And listeners call in.

Ken Cartwright:  “It gives them the opportunity to get on the air and tell their story.  And everybody has a story.”

KENC is on the main street in downtown Stayton, and it has a large picture window that looks out onto the sidewalk.  As he broadcasts, Cartwright loves being able to watch the town come to life each morning, with the sun coming up over the Cascade Mountains.  Even if the view isn’t always stellar.

Ken Cartwright:  “You know I’ve had a drive-by mooning, already.”

So far, Cartwright has sunk about $12,000 of his own money into the station, mainly for equipment.  KENC might be tiny.  But it’s already sounding a lot like public radio everywhere.

Ken Cartwright:  “Part of the program this morning is made possible by you, our KENC listeners.  And a grant from Jensen Kreitzer. Jensen Kreitzer in downtown Stayton is your hometown store…."

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