PCUN tests low-power, multilingual radio station set for Woodburn

by THELMA GUERRERO, Salem Statesman-Journal

It might not have the strongest signal on the FM dial.

But Woodburn's KPCN-LP, a new low-power radio station, carried a powerful voice during its first on-air broadcasting test Sunday evening.

The event brought together about 300 supporters and volunteers from across the nation.

"The purpose of this station is not to bring about notoriety, but to bring about unity within the community," Sheryl Dash, the Salem-Keizer NAACP president, told attendees.

The 100-watt station, on frequency 96.3 FM, is owned and operated by PCUN, a Spanish acronym for Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United.

With the flick of a switch about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, the multilingual station went on the air for two hours, carrying a half-hour of speeches and messages, then filling the airwaves with music including cumbia, pachata, norteño and reggaeton.

It wasn't the first time the 5,000-member farmworker organization has taken to the air.

"We had a radio program in the early 1990s, but we were taken off the air," PCUN President Ramon Ramirez said.

The station's owner took the show off the schedule amid allegations that PCUN was organizing farmworkers on the air, Ramirez said.

The farmworker union, the largest in the state, filed a lawsuit alleging contract violations and won an injunction to air its final two programs.

More than 10 years later, the group received federal approval to build and operate a low-power radio station.

Woodburn Mayor Kathy Figley was among the attendees Sunday.

The city partnered with the radio station by giving PCUN reduced rent for placing its transmission antenna on the city's water tower.

"In return, they're giving us some blocks of time where we can present public-interest programs, in addition to being able to communicate with the public in indigenous languages," Figley said.

In addition to talk-radio topics such as economics, labor, education and immigration, the radio station will offer programs in the indigenous Mexican languages of Triqui, Purépecha and Mixteco.

To help launch its radio station, PCUN joined forces with the Prometheus Radio Project, a national group that supports and builds low-power stations worldwide.

It's the second multilingual project for Philadelphia-based Prometheus.

"As this community grows, as Woodburn grows and as the struggles of PCUN become successes, we look forward to the station's programming to reflect those changes and to reflect those successes as well," said Hannah Sassaman, a campaign organizer with Prometheus.

Once permanently on the air in November, KPCN-LP will have two full-time employees and a host of volunteers from the area.

Adrian Valladares, KPCN-LP's start-up coordinator, is one of those volunteers.

For Valladares, it's not about how strong the station's signal is or that it only will reach a 5- to 7-mile radius; it's about how inclusive it will be.

"Because the program will serve farmworkers and Latinos in the community," Valladares said, "workers will again be able to voice their opinions and concerns on the air in Woodburn."

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