As one radio station enters the picture here in Portland, another exits the scene.
After a decade of broadcasting both legally and illegally, the Portland Radio Authority (PRA) will go off the digital air at the end of this month, handing the keys to its SE Portland studio and all of its broadcasting equipment over to fledgling terrestrial station KXRY, or XRAY FM.
The move—and the farewell party at The Pine Korthaus this Saturday, starting at 4pm—brings to a close a 10 year story for PRA that involved threats from the FCC, garbage cans full of empty beer cans, and a slow decline that made it harder and harder for the Internet radio outlet to continue.
"Bittersweet is a good adjective for it," says Saffron Peters, one of PRA's outgoing managerial staff, of the station's end days. "A little more bitter than anything. It really hit me when we sent out an e-mail asking people to make their final membership payments. It's, like, 'This is it. These are the last payments. We're done after this.' It's gonna be hard."
It was those membership payments that were one of the key factors to PRA's demise. The station was struggling to find DJs to fill the empty slots on their schedule—which included monthly dues to help pay for server space and the rent on the ActivSpace storefront they use for a studio—and Peters and PRA Operations Manager Mike Jedlicka were having to pay more out of pocket to keep the lights on and the stream going.
As Jedlicka put it, "The recession hit radio hard."
If it were any other kind of issue besides money, there's a good chance PRA could have weathered it. This is, after all, a station that started out squatting on an FM frequency and, thanks to an untimely article from The Oregonian, was found out by the FCC and threatened with a $10,000 fine and jail time. The station quickly made the transition over to online-only, bringing their devoted audience with them.
According to former PRA manager Jeff Simmons—also one of the folks behind XRAY FM—the station was always on shaky ground, especially during its days when the studio was located above Kelly's Olympian.
"Basically everyone partied super hard up there," Simmons says. "There was a 30 gallon trash can that was filled with empty beer cans every week. But that was the cool thing about it. We should be having fun. You bought a six pack and you did your show."
That attitude was what made PRA so much fun to listen to. The transitions between songs may have been clumsy, and the DJ may have sounded wobblier and wobblier as their shift went on, but there was nothing else like it in Portland, either on the air or online. And the music played on the station was some of the most varied around.
"I would train every DJ," Jedlicka says, "and I would tell them, 'If you're going to be playing pop music, PRA is not for you.' I wanted them to nerd out on their little specific brand of music."
The hope is that XRAY will continue to foster that spirit when and if it finally takes to the airwaves as planned at the end of October. Before then, they will first take over the lease at PRA's space and hand over a check to pay for all their broadcast equipment. They also have to get a Kickstarter campaign done to help raise the rest of the money needed to get a bona fide terrestrial station up and running, according to assistant general manager Jim Sandberg.
"We're a bit ambitious about it," Sandberg says. "We're looking for somewhere between $50,000 and $70,000. It's a lot but I'm feeling very confident that we'll be able to hit any number that we set."
He'd better hope so—or else an even larger hole will open up in the fabric of Portland's radio community.