It’s time for all hands on deck to save one of the Cedar Valley’s most valued institutions — radio station KBBG, 88.1 FM.
Founded in the late 1970s by the late civil rights leader and community activist Jimmie Porter, the station filled a void in the community by providing a voice and an identity for a substantial portion of the community that has been bypassed, overlooked and isolated.
It was a nonprofit media outlet operated by and for African Americans, and in a larger sense anyone who felt marginalized in the city of Waterloo and vicinity.
“We’ve expanded to the total community,” current station president Deborah Berry said. “It’s not just a black radio station. It’s a community station. There’s more different programming than ever before.”
The station also reaches out to the Bosnian and Latino communities, for example.
Over its four-decade history the station has done many things. It has encouraged kids to read by providing the sound of someone their age reading with them. It encouraged young families and married couples by featuring young married couples who could relate to their experiences. It educated people on how to manage their personal finances. Local elected officials such as the police chief have been regular guests who address concerns from the public in a timely manner. And the station has given voice to community issues from the perspective of people who had, quite frankly, gotten the short end of the stick in this town for far too long.
In our view, KBBG as a media organization is a vital, necessary resource for people in Waterloo, complementary to other media outlets. It is as valuable as a community newspaper. It provides community information, entertainment and education — by people who live here for people who live here.
“We do more than play music,” Berry said. “We’re a community organization, providing a service to the community.”
Many longtime community leaders saw it that way, too. They helped Porter and his colleagues get the station started and later move out of its original location in a home on Cottage Street to a visible and attractive site at Mobile and Newell streets on the city’s east side.
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Sadly, those leaders — Harry Slife, Ross Christensen, W. Louis Beecher and even Jimmie Porter himself, are all gone. So is Porter’s wife, Lou, who put all her life’s energies into keeping the station on the air as well as caring for her ailing husband in his declining years.
Keeping any media outlet running is a challenge. We know that all too well as a newspaper. But it has been especially been true for KBBG throughout its existence. As a nonprofit, it has relied on donations to keep afloat. Now with many of his major past benefactors having passed on and substantial cuts from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, it has reached a crisis.
That crisis came to a head recently when much of the staff — including station general manager Berry — were laid off. The station is still on the air as the result of volunteer efforts.
It was hit with a double whammy. In addition to substantial cuts in funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the station faces capital needs to replace outdated production equipment to provide the same sound quality for its programming over the Internet, via live streaming and other methods, as well as on the air.
The station is seeking assistance from foundations and other sources of support. However, a mass number of individual contributions from average citizens would be a resounding demonstration of public support that could leverage gifts from larger benevolent organizations.
We encourage all to give as they are able so KBBG’s voice does not go silent in our community.
Donations may be made online at the station website, kbbgfm.com; on the station’s Facebook page, KBBG-FM 88.1 via PayPal; and checks may be mailed to the station, KBBG-FM, 918 Newell St., Waterloo, IA 50703.
The station has been known in the past by its marketing handle, “Magic 88.” Let’s keep the magic going. Not just for the station. Not just for the legacy of Jimmie Porter and his cadre of supporters. But for ourselves and future generations.