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Thin Air Radio is one of the few low-power stations in the country

Since 2000, about 100 volunteers have helped Lupito Flores launch and operate Spokane’s low-power, 100-watt community radio station, Thin Air Radio on 92.3 and 89.9 FM.

Lupito Flores, KYRS

Lupito Flores

KYRS hosts, co-hosts, substitutes, music reviewers, event organizers, fund-drive participants and other helpers all are volunteers.

Its programs incorporate perspectives and discussions on peace, social, economic and environmental justice, human rights, democracy and multiculturalism.

 “We seek to give back a small slice of the air waves to the community, to voices not heard on commercial radio,” said Lupito.

He became aware of how mainstream media covered environmental and conservation groups as a volunteer while studying English literature and technical writing at Eastern Washington University.

“They were not covered or not covered fairly.  If there was coverage, it was 30 seconds focused on a protester, not on the speakers,” said Lupito, who is now station manager of Thin Air Radio.  “I saw media twisting and sensationalizing issues.”

During college and after earning his bachelor’s degree in 1991 and master’s degree in 1995, he worked with Save Our Wild Salmon, the Kettle Range Conservation Group, the Idaho Conservation League and Save the Hanford Reach Campaign of the Audubon Society.  He also volunteered with the Sierra Club and the Lands Council, helping with their newsletters.

“As media consolidate and fewer corporations own more media, community radio is more important than ever,” he said.  “The FCC is allowing the largest media corporations in the world to gobble up the last frequencies, stations and newspapers.

“A global network of major media is owned by seven corporations.  In 1998, media conglomerates reached 75 percent of the world.  Fox News and other media giants have a blatant bias and take political sides, vilifying and name calling,” he said.

Lupito Flores

Lupito in the studio

“Democratic government cannot operate without people having access to media,” Lupito said.  “We have ‘state-run media,’ owned by a corporate class that funds politicians and pay to put people in office so they make rules favorable to them.

“We need free media to be a watchdog for abuse of power.  Our media is in bed with power.  The government even hires journalists to develop news pieces to push a slant, idea or product through Video News Releases (VNRs), which are fake news—propaganda.  Nearly 25 federal organizations spend $250 million producing hundreds of VNRs as fake TV news segments.”

In 1999, while working with Kettle Range and Save the Reach, Lupito learned that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was offering a new FM service, low-power, 100-watt FM.

“With most mainstream media controlled by huge corporations, citizen radio was appealing.  Organizations and people working for peace, social justice and environmental sustainability never had a fair shake.  Learning the FCC was giving a sliver of air space, I knew I had to act,” he said.

There are many regulations.  A 100-watt channel needs to be locally owned by a nonprofit in existence for at least two years and be for noncommercial community radio.

When low-power FM was instituted in 2000, 3,000 applied—about 60 percent were churches. In Spokane, five people came to the first gathering of people interested in a low-power station.  They met at the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane. 

In 2000, the application process began.  Lupito and planners filled out pages of documents, hired a broadcast engineer and asked Citizens for Clean Air to serve as the nonprofit.  The Community Building, at 35 W. Main, offered space for the station. 

In 2001, a seven-day window opened in Washington, and Clean Air applied, but heard nothing until February 2003, when they received the permit.

Over the two years, they raised funds and kept up interest.  By the summer of 2003, they had 100 founding members, who each gave $100 or more. 

By October 2003, they bought equipment.  Lupito found parts of two towers and a local ironworkers union donated labor to make them into a 120-foot tower.

The Prometheus Radio Project, a low-power support group that does “station raisings,” in the tradition of barn raisings, drew about 100 volunteers from around the country—Hawaii to New York—to help raise the tower and build the station.  Lupito helped with a station raising in Louisiana. 

Prometheus also held workshops, training people to use the equipment and do interviews.

“It was an engineering feat,” said Lupito, describing working within the restriction requiring a low-power station to be three clicks away from any nearby station.  A Sandpoint station is at 95.3, so Thin Air had to locate its transmitter antenna 10 miles west of downtown on the West Plains to avoid conflicting with that station. 

On October 26, 2003, they flipped the switch and went on the air with 12 of the 64 program proposals submitted.

Because it was crackly downtown and could be picked up on the South Hill and North side, they needed a translator or repeater to rebroadcast the signal to a wider area on another frequency—92.3 FM—but the FCC would not allow Thin Air to own that frequency.

The Peace and Justice Action League applied and was given that 50-watt frequency.  Then Thin Air Radio could be heard downtown, throughout Spokane and as far as Coeur d’Alene, Spangle, Fish Trap and Deer Park.

“Most people listen to the station on the translator,” said Lupito.  “Some also listen to it online at

The week the translator went on in February 2005, they learned the Sandpoint station had a permit to move its station closer to Spokane, which would knock Thin Air off the air.

“We were discouraged,” Lupito said.  “We looked at several options. We wanted to play by the rules.”

So they held a conference call with their broadcast attorney, the Prometheus Radio Project and their engineer.  They talked with the staff of Senator Maria Cantwell, a champion of the low-power FM bill in 2004. 

The law says low-power FM cannot be three clicks away from an existing station, but does not say it can’t be two away, so they asked Senator Cantwell’s staff to check with the Congressional Research Service.  With the Senator’s advocacy, the FCC agreed they could relocate to another frequency, 89.9 FM.  The stations two channels away from that frequency granted waivers by August 2006.  The antenna was re-adjusted.

“The regulations show how the FCC and media corporations dominate what we see, hear and read,” Lupito said.  “The window to apply for low-power stations is closed, so there will be no more.  Spokane is one of three big cities in the country to have a station.  Most are in rural areas, but the cost of operations means many have stopped.

“Thin Air gives voice to the populations underserved and unserved by commercial or public radio,” he said.

The 60 programs—most of which are weekly—include two local teen programs, Raise Your Voice by high school students and Detention hosted by middle school students; a Spanish program and a Russian program; a locally produced environmental show, Earth Matters Now; Gospel Hour and Persian Hour.  Kim Thorburn has a program on public health issues.  Brad Read does interviews on global and local issues on Zombie Nation. There Goes the Neighborhood looks at city and county government.

Music filling times when there are no programs includes reggae, hip hop, punk rock, blues, jazz, country, inde rock, world music and native music.

Thin-Air is listener-supported radio, relying on listeners to be members at $25.  Locally owned small businesses can underwrite programs. 

The station has applied for its own nonprofit status as Thin Air Community Radio with a board of 14 directors to develop policies and build committees, so it is no longer a steering committee of Citizens for Clean Air.  

Lupito, as the only full-time staff, raises funds and manages day-to-day operations. He worked on it five years as a volunteer, then quarter time, then half time.  In February 2006, he came on full time with a half-time program coordinator and an underwriting coordinator working on commission. There’s a volunteer coordinator and coordinator for the on-air fund drives.  The office assistant is a part time volunteer.

For information, call 747-3012.

Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - © June 2007