ASHLAND, Ore. — Most of America's public radio stations, snug in their roles as the radio dial's tweedy, learned professors, stick close to a familiar format, bookended by popular programs such as "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered."
But from the basement of a nondescript building on the campus of Southern Oregon University, an unusual National Public Radio affiliate is pushing itself into the business sector, far beyond the traditional boundaries.
From its beginnings as a 10-watt station run by students, Ashland-based Jefferson Public Radio has built itself up over three decades to become one of the nation's largest regional public radio broadcasters, and emerged in the last five years as a key entrepreneurial player in its region.
One of the country's largest networks of relay stations beams the station's signal as far south as Mendocino, Calif., and as far north as Salem, plus east into the sparsely populated interior of California and Oregon. The station runs an Internet service provider called JeffNet, whose profits go back into radio programming and operations. And in 1999, the station purchased a historic Art Deco theater that anchors a main thoroughfare in downtown Redding, Calif.
Now, station employees are planning for their largest entrepreneurial venture yet: a $10-million, 50,000-square-foot Western States Museum of Broadcasting, to honor the roots of radio and television stations west of the Rockies, which would include new studio space for the station.
So far, the new museum has a building site that it is leasing from Southern Oregon University for $1 a year. An economic feasibility study is underway; architectural plans and a national fundraising campaign would follow.
Station staff members are soliciting donations of old equipment, newsreels and other artifacts from broadcasters across the West. Chevron Texaco has donated its entire archive of memorabilia associated with the international broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera.
Some here doubt that Ashland, already home to the popular Oregon Shakespeare Festival, has the tourist base to support such a venture, while others say the station will never be able to raise enough money to pay for the museum in a sluggish regional economy.