Micro-casting Radio: SPACE101 for the Community


I had just retired after serving three terms on the Seattle City Council when Sue Donaldson, a former councilmember and law professor, came up with an idea. She said, “Let’s do an interview show on radio.”  She figured we’d talk to interesting guests: authors, educators, journalists, social workers and politicians, just for starters.

It was a seductive idea and I let her lead me astray. Sue, who once had a kids’ show back East, knew her way around a radio studio. It was only a short time later that we committed to broadcasting an interview program from 3-4 p.m. each Thursday from KMGP studios at Magnuson Park.

We named our show “The Bridge” because Seattle is a City of Bridges – there are 130 of them in this water-encircled city. The Bridge reaches listeners in Northeast Seattle, via Community Radio, a “third model” of radio broadcasting that’s distinct from commercial radio and public broadcasting. Community radio has only been a thing for the last few dozen years.

Community radio was initiated by three lawmakers: our own Sen. Maria Cantwell, along with Senators Patrick Leahy and the late John McCain. In 2000 they introduced the Community Radio Act, foreseeing a way for diverse voices to be heard over the nation’s airwaves. It would consist of low-power (100 watt or less) stations operated and owned by the communities they serve: schools, churches, local groups and other nonprofits serving areas within an approximate 3.5 mile range.

However, the big commercial stations weren’t buying it. They fought the act, claiming low power stations would get in the way: interfere with their broadcasts. They successfully lobbied Congress to insert a rider in a spending bill to roll back approval of Community Radio.

However, when the FCC investigated interference claims, the commercial broadcasters’ claims were found to be exaggerated. Sen. Cantwell and her co-sponsors battled back and succeeded in obtaining unanimous approval for Community Radio three years later. After the bill was signed into law by President Obama, the FCC responded with an invitation to community groups to apply for low watt (LPFM) licenses. Some 800 franchises were initially granted across the country. Seattle, it was estimated, could likely support up to eight stations.

When the FCC opened a new application window in 2013, Pete Tridish of Prometheus Radio, who had lobbied the federal government to expand opportunities, became a source for community-minded applicants. Tridish came to Seattle and helped advise applicants, among them Julianna Ross, then chair of the Magnuson Park Advisory Committee. Ross had recognized the possibility of such a station. She figured a station would be ideal for Sand Point Arts and Culture Exchange (SPACE) a group she’d been working with, overseeing artist studios and an art gallery located in Magnuson Building 30.

“Lots of groups were interested in obtaining a radio franchise,” Ross remembers. She was introduced to Brown Paper Tickets’ Sabrina Roach who was among the first to learn about the new application window. Roach had explored whether funding might be available to start a station and urged Ross to apply. Armed with knowledge about possible funding sources (among them 4Culture and the Seattle IT department), Ross managed to get the SPACE application completed and submitted in time.

Ross recalls the lengthy saga: “We (the applicants) were all together in the same room and it was awkward – it was like playing three-dimensional chess. Finally, there were only five finalists competing for the 101.1 FM frequency and SPACE was among them. Then — at long last — we came out ahead and were granted the franchise.”

The FCC approved great call letters: KMGP for Magnuson Park, but it would take almost four years for SPACE 101.1, working from scratch, to start broadcasting.  The station enlisted lots of helpers. Among those who contributed besides Sabrina Roach and Pete Tridish, were volunteers like Marty Hadfield, Tom Killorin, Christopher Shanin and Bryan Lowe. The station’s hastily assembled board scrounged and scrapped the barrel for necessary equipment.

Ross explains, “We talked to the University of Washington and managed to get the SPACE 101 antenna and transmitter located atop five-story McMahon Hall which gives us an expanded listening area: from Kirkland to the I-90 Bridge, Bellevue to Phinney Ridge and sometimes even as far south as Sea-Tac.”

In addition to SPACE 101, Seattle has five other low power stations: KHUH, 104.9 FM in the Central District; KBFG, 107.3 in Ballard and Fremont; KODX, 96.9 in the University District; KVRU, 105.7 in Rainier Valley, and KXSU, 102.1 at Seattle University. Each community station has its own unique identity and programming.

SPACE’s first broadcast was Oct. 6, 2017, beamed from rental space in the North Gatehouse at Magnuson Park. The rental had presented yet another obstacle: SPACE first needed to get approval from the National Park Service to broadcast from a national park. The Service first said “no.” It took help from Kevin Bergsrud of Seattle Parks and Recreation to move the service to “yes.”

Meanwhile, there was the task of getting the gatehouse digs into shape. The gatehouse had been built in 1938 to house the sergeant of arms quarters at the main entrance to Sand Point Naval Air Station. Volunteers cleared out an old shower room to house equipment, as well as outfitting a former latrine as a make-do restroom. The station’s studio area has room for a functioning control board and three microphones. Louvers on the windows screen out part of the western glare but don’t help with the cold in winter or sweaty conditions in summer. It’s not palatial but for those who love radio, it’s still a grand feeling being able to connect with others in the community.

Today’s SPACE 101’s board, headed by president Gabrielle Gerhard and Vice President Eric Zappa, oversees the station’s 24/7 operations. Zappa doubles as program director, backed by coordinator Mitch Etter. The station recently added updated streaming capabilities. The program schedule highlights a “Space Mix,” a blend of the best new music, vintage alternative rock, classic R&B, plus healthy amounts of local music. From time to time, live musical performances also are featured on air.

The remainder of the week’s schedule is filled with programs ranging from “My Northwest Orbit,” interviews with up and coming Seattle musicians, to “Broken Alaska,” an unscripted radio drama about an imaginary village in Alaska.

There’s also “The Bridge” – the public affairs show that brings me to KMGP each Thursday.  I happily co-hosted with Donaldson at the control board for more than two years.  We did some memorable shows; we interviewed nationally acclaimed artist Barbara Earl Thomas, we spent time with Paul Dorpat, celebrating publication of “Seattle Now and Then,” and talked to the volunteers who have been painstakingly digitalizing Chinese Expulsion records at the National Archives.

Then along came 2020 and COVID. After a severe bout with the nasty virus, Donaldson felt she needed to retire and take emeritus status. When it was finally safe to return to the small control room, I was able to team up with station founder Julianna Ross and continue co-hosting The Bridge.

It’s a joy to work Ross making it possible for listeners to hear from our amazing local artists, activists and politicians. Community radio has become a wonderful resource, a way of communicating that we’re most fortunate to have.

Jean Godden
Jean Godden
Jean Godden wrote columns first for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and late for the Seattle Times. In 2002, she quit to run for City Council where she served for 12 years. Since then she published a book of city stories titled “Citizen Jean.” She is now co-host of The Bridge aired on community station KMGP at 101.1 FM. You can email tips and comments to Jean at jgodden@blarg.net.


  1. Thank you so much for this piece! I had been slowly falling in love with SPACE programming and wanted to know more about its origins. The older I get the more I appreciate place-based community and the hyper local gems you find. ( I know this station also streams, but it is firmly grounded in Seattle!!)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.