by Antonio Foster
The lengthy wait for South Seattle-centric radio coursing through local airwaves is almost over as today Rainier Valley Radio (signal KVRU 105.7fm) announced Sharon Maeda as their new station manager, and an official launch date of October 5.
Maeda, a long time International District and South End community advocate, brings over 40 years of experience working in media, most notably as the Executive Director of public radio network Pacifica Radio in the early 80s.
“Sharon combines years of experience in community radio with years of experience in SE Seattle, working closely with its multiplicity of ethnic and immigrant communities. Our aim is to build a radio venue for these diverse local voices – which now more than ever need to be heard,” says Lance Matteson of SEED, who was on KVRU’s hiring committee, in a glowing statement on Maeda’s qualifications.
The media veteran began her career at the now defunct KRAB.FM (then 107.7) in her hometown of Seattle before moving on to Pacifica during the dawn of the Reagan Administration.
Taking over the radio collaborative of 5 independently operated stations, which served 180 affiliates across the country, was no cake walk given Pacifica’s organizational problems and its progressive leanings in an adversarial political climate.
“I came in during quite a lot of upheaval and chaos but people really needed alternative news and Pacifica was one of the only options. There was only NBC, CBS, and ABC in those days,” says Maeda.
Already battling headwinds, Maeda also had to deal with debt in excess of one million dollars Pacifica had accrued during what was then 30 years of operations.
Though admitting finance is not her strongest suit, the Seattle native was forced to get creative in returning her organization to the black.
“I would go to all these liberal fundraising dinners and ask for loans from folks like Ed Asner, almost borrowing from Peter to pay Paul,” she says.
Her efforts eventually succeeded, with Pacifica cutting its debt obligations in half by Maeda’s second year.
Best known for its flagship show Democracy Now with host Amy Goodman, Pacifica programming is currently broadcast on more than 700 radio and TV stations across the United States, growth Maeda helped oversee during her tenure.
Looking for new challenges, Maeda then moved to New York City to work in the United Methodist Church’s Mission board, allocating money to worthy causes across the globe.
It was there she fused a still-burning passion for radio with charitable giving.
Recalling the 2000 floods that devastated Mozambique Maeda orchestrated UMC’s purchase and distribution of thousands of solar radios to Mozambiquens who had seen homes destroyed, and family separated from each other.
“We had them trucked as far as they could go, and then had them canoed to remote villages, so people could be given survival information on where to get food and clean water.”
Maeda, who also spearheaded a UMC program that offered suitcase radio stations powered on vegetable oil in countries lacking press freedom, gradually grew exhausted by the frenzy of New York City life and returned home to Seattle.
Taking a job with labor union UFCW 21 as their Special Projects coordinator, she worked directly crafting messages and strategies for progressive political candidates, including a little known Mike McGinn during his first Seattle mayoral bid.
After retiring in the spring of 2015, Maeda was content to enjoy some well-deserved leisure time but credits Donald Trump’s presidential ascension for returning her to the workforce.
“I knew I had to do something after the election, but if I took another position it needed to be something I was familiar with. It never occurred to me that this job would be open,” Madea says, referencing Rainier Valley Radio’s station manager position.
With less than two months to be on the air per Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules, Maeda has hurriedly been soliciting community feedback for programming and support.
Rainier Valley Radio, though fiscally sponsored by South Seattle-based economic development organization SEED, is set up to function as a fully listener-supported station, and plans to gradually break off into its own local non-profit with a board of directors drawn from community members.
As a low power FM station, its broadcast radius will be roughly 3.5 miles hitting the majority of the Rainier Valley, and potentially Skyway.
Community organizers began foundational planning for the station in 2012, however the FCC did not approve its LPFM license, along with 6 other Seattle-based groups, until 2015.
Though a long time coming, Maeda says she expects residents to feel the October 5 launch will have been worth exercising their patience.
“We really have the opportunity to think outside of the box with our station. We don’t have to follow the model of anyone else. We’ll be unique as our area is,” she says, stressing that the on-air programming will be representative of the multitude of languages and ethnicities found in Seattle’s most diverse area.
Maeda is currently soliciting additional broadcast ideas from community members, along with volunteers, and interviewers.
She sees early broadcast as a compilation of music, news, event coverage, community dialogues, and call-in segments. For example, “We would’ve broken in whatever we were doing so the community could’ve called in about Charlottesville,” she explains.
However, her main desire is to have the community feel ownership of the station. Harkening back to her early days in public radio she says, “There’s not one hour of radio that is anyone’s personal property. The airwaves belong to the people.”
Community members interested in contacting Rainier Valley Radio can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Featured image courtesy of KVRU