The Jefferson Public Radio studios operate out of the basement floor of Central Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell

Signal of Change

In 1969, a student-run, 10-watt radio station piped a little music into the airwaves at Southern Oregon University.

Fast forward 42 years, and that tiny station that has become the far-flung Jefferson Public Radio is sending out a new signal.

JPR is ready to graduate from its original cramped basement offices as part of ambitious plans to expand its operations into downtown Medford.

Ashland residents, who have fostered a close relationship with JPR over those years, are running hot or cold or somewhere in between over the news of their favorite radio station's departure in the next few years. Some think the change is a major shift for the Rogue Valley and JPR, and could help bridge an Ashland/Medford divide. Others are worried JPR could lose its identity.

"It's horrible," said Jeff Weissler. "It seems silly to take something like that out of here."

The 53-year-old is worried that JPR itself will become altered because it won't have the culture and spirit of Ashland supporting it.

Bruce Larson, owner of Larson's Home Furnishings, gave the Medford Grocery Warehouse at 40 10th St. to JPR on Feb. 3. JPR anticipates spending about $3.5 million to remodel the 1910 building. In addition to JPR's offices, the building would have an auditorium and cafe. The historic building, which could have as much as 40,000 square feet of space, would also house the Western States Museum of Broadcasting that was originally planned for the SOU campus.

JPR also wants to buy the Holly Theatre in downtown Medford, hoping to convert it into a performing arts center. JPR undertook a similar project in downtown Redding, Calif., for the Cascade Theatre.

The projects could cost $7 million, which would be raised through grants, donations and potentially from the Medford Urban Renewal Agency. The JPR Foundation will undertake the fundraising over the next five years.

John Brenes, owner of Ashland Music Coop and a volunteer with JPR, takes a very different view than Weissler about the change.

"JPR is bigger than Ashland," he said. "I don't feel bad about the move. It's the airwaves that I care about. I don't see how this will affect listeners."

Brenes said Ashland volunteers will still go to Medford during fund drives, and he believes JPR will still get lots of support from Ashland. He thinks the move might improve JPR's base of supporters.

"Hopefully, Medford will take more to JPR," he said.

In fact, many Ashland residents thought a little of their culture could be exported to Medford, maybe even livening up the downtown area.

David MacKenzie said it could help change Medford's image as "Dreadford."

"It could bring some cultural relevance to Medford," said the 62-year-old.

He said he didn't have enough information yet, but said he wanted to know more about JPR's finances and its ability to sustain so many projects.

Jeff Golden, an Ashland resident who had a talk-radio show for 10 years on JPR, said it's time for a change.

"All in all, if they move to Medford, it would be a good step forward," he said.

The idea that there is some sort of divide between Ashland and Medford should be put to rest, he said.

"Anything that starts to wear down those barriers and bring the valley together is a good thing," Golden said.

Ashland Mayor John Stromberg said JPR's move signals a different direction for the valley.

"It's a perfect example of mixing one thing from Medford with another thing from Ashland," he said. "It's an exciting and promising stepping stone."

Stromberg said JPR helped reinvigorate downtown Redding by restoring the Cascade Theatre six years ago. He said JPR's vision will help Medford's efforts to renew its downtown area.

He said he doesn't have any misgivings about JPR's moving its offices out of Ashland because it will still receive the same broadcast signals.

"I don't feel like they're leaving Ashland," he said.

Many people didn't realize JPR's offices were in a basement at SOU, or even in Ashland, for that matter.

"I assumed they were here," Cara DeJong said.

The 34-year-old Ashland mother said the move to Medford doesn't bother her as long as the programming and broadcasting format dedicated to public service remains the same.

"I think it's great if somebody donated a building," she said.

Rebecca Gabriel, manager of Bloomsbury Books, said she's worried that JPR's identity would be changed if it doesn't have the arts community that is cultivated in Ashland.

"The reaction is: Don't go," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail

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