Portland Jazz Station KMHD Might Be Leaving Oregon Public Broadcasting

The Mount Hood Community College board, which owns the license for the radio station, voted not to renew its operation agreement with OPB.

KMHD Program Director Matt Fleeger in the KMHD Studios. IMAGE: Courtesy of Matt Fleeger.

KMHD, Portland's nationally renowned jazz radio station, may undergo some radical changes.

Last week, the Mount Hood Community College board voted not to renew the radio station's operation agreement with Oregon Public Broadcasting. MHCC owns the license for the radio station, but for the past 10 years, KMHD has broadcast from OPB's Southwest Portland studios. OPB also oversees KMHD's staffing, funding and day-to-day operations.

The college issued a statement last week saying that its board had voted not to continue with the current agreement, which would have automatically renewed for another five years in August. The statement announced the board will seek a two-year contract with OPB instead, and "continue to review interest in bringing KMHD back to the MHCC campus." It raises more questions than it provides answers:

KMHD is Portland's only jazz station. OPB began operating and providing the infrastructure for the station in 2009. Since then, the station has more than doubled its listeners, garnered national acclaim for its wide-ranging programing and knowledgeable DJs. In an era when most jazz stations struggle to stay afloat, KHMD has cultivated a following of both jazz purists and younger audiences.

It's unclear what KHMD would look like with less influence from OPB. Asked for comment, the college directed WW to the board's initial statement and did not provide further details.

OPB CEO Steve Bass says OPB and the jazz station are in the dark beyond what's in the public statement.

"All of that is very murky to me," he says. "I have no idea what their plans are."

Bass says that OPB has yet to receive anything in writing from the college about their plans, and that no negotiations have begun. It's uncertain what exactly MHCC's plans for KMHD entail, and Bass says he was surprised by the board's decision.

"I think the station has succeeded very well," he says. "I think it would probably be a better, audience-focused service if we continue the relationship as we have."

Related: As Jazz Changes, Portland's Only Jazz Radio Station Evolves Along with It

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.