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Student in broadcast booth of SOU radio station KSOR

Still nifty, JPR is fifty: SOU’s public radio station celebrates landmark

Oregon’s newspaper headlines on May 21, 1969, included “Apollo Set for Moon Orbit This Afternoon” and news that the Oregon Senate had rejected a measure to lower the voting age to 19.

In Ashland, Jerry Allen – the future “Voice of the Oregon Ducks” – signed on for the inaugural broadcast of a new radio station on the campus of what was then Southern Oregon College.

“What you’re about to hear is something new under the sun … and we don’t intend to ever let it get old,” said Allen, whose radio name at the time was Jerry Smith. “We like to think that its freshness reflects the voice, life and souls of the SOC student body.”

The station, KSOR, is celebrating its 50th birthday today at Southern Oregon University. What started as a tiny station whose signal was the strength of a refrigerator bulb – 10 watts – is now the flagship of Jefferson Public Radio, one of the country’s largest regional public radio networks.

JPR Executive Director Paul Westhelle and News Director Liam Moriarty marked the occasion with a five-minute segment of reflections and archival audio from KSOR’s first day on the air.

The station was launched by Dave Allen, a professor of communication at SOC, and broadcast from noon to 9 p.m. on weekdays. The station featured a mix of programming in its early years that included broadcasts from Jacksonville’s Peter Britt Music Festival and the Ashland City Band’s concerts in Lithia Park.

“KSOR took a big step in 1979, when it was granted membership in National Public Radio and also qualified that same year for funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,” Westhelle said on the birthday broadcast.

“Over the years, people from neighboring communities began hearing KSOR’s programming and wanted to bring it to their town,” he said. “They held all sorts of grassroots fundraising efforts to make that happen.”

The radio station built satellite radio stations in surrounding areas during the early 1980s to protect itself from competition on FM radio, and that allows current-day JPR to broadcast three distinct program streams: classics and news, rhythm and news, and news and information.

The station used translators – small relay transmitters – to broadcast its signal throughout southern Oregon and northern California. It adopted the name Jefferson Public Radio in 1989, borrowing from the mythical “State of Jefferson” in which its broadcasts could be heard.

JPR is owned and operated by SOU and is supported by the fundraising efforts of the JPR Foundation.

“Fifty years after our first broadcast, JPR has become a vital, civic, educational and cultural resource for our region,” Westhelle said. “We’re heard by over 90,000 listeners every week. We have one of the largest networks of translators and stations in the country. We’ve become an innovator and leader among NPR stations nationwide, we operate an award-winning newsroom and we reach a potential audience of over a million people across 60,000 square miles of rugged terrain in two states.

“Our success comes from the commitment of so many: volunteers, staff members, students, underwriters, our Southern Oregon University community and of course all you listeners who give so generously to support our work, year after year.”