The founders of the Camas-based Outlaw Country Radio have been searching for a couple years to find a way to help the nonprofit, low-power frequency modulation station solidify its presence in East Clark County.
“We wanted to support the local community more,” said Leonard Myers, the station’s program director. “We’re a Camas station, but we want to include Washougal (and establish) more of a local presence, which we feel is important. We’ve grown a lot, and our listener support has been great, but we wanted to branch out more into the local area. A community radio station should be all about its community.”
Myers, a regular patron of the Washougal Times restaurant, began talking to the eatery’s community minded owner, Ben Jackson, in late 2019 about a potential arrangement between their respective businesses. They were forced to suspend their conversations for several months due to the outbreak of COVID-19, but didn’t totally abandon the idea, motivated by the prospect of a true community partnership.
As a result, Washougal Times is finally the new part-time home of Outlaw Country Radio. Myers is broadcasting live at 102.7 FM from a newly-constructed studio on the upper level of the Washougal Times from 4 to 7 p.m on Thursdays.
“I never thought that we would be partnering with a classic country music station, but the fact is we are, and I feel fortunate and lucky to be doing it,” Jackson said. “I’m excited about it. There’s lots of great synergies between the two businesses.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced Washougal Times to close its in-person dining in the spring of 2020, Jackson renovated a second-floor space not being used by the restaurant. Now, Outlaw Country Radio will set up shop in that space on Thursdays.
“(The partnership is) a huge milestone,”Jackson said. “This has been almost a year in the making. After all of the chatting and planning, we had a ton of momentum, and then COVID-19 came in and took it away. To come back eight months later and have it come to fruition feels pretty special.”
Outlaw Country Radio, KIEV-LP, features music from a wide variety of country music stars, including Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Reba McEntire, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.
Station owner David Stepanyuk told the Post-Record in 2018 that “outlaw country” is its own distinct type of music, focusing on artists who shunned traditional studio-made songs and instead struck out on their own to make their own albums with their own unique sounds.
“We specialize in classic country, not the newer stuff,” Myers said. “We keep ‘classic country’ alive. You don’t hear this kind of music anymore. It’s been lost. Country music songs always tell a story that most people can relate to. We like to keep that music going because it’s harder to find quality music on the radio. We’re proud of the music we play and work hard to be an enjoyable station for the community.”
During his Thursday evening shows, Myers engages listeners with trivia questions that reward correct responders with prizes, including Washougal Times food. In turn, Jackson is encouraging his regular patrons to tune in to Outlaw Country Radio as often as they can.
The scenario is “a win-win for everybody,” Jackson said.
“Outlaw Country Radio is very generous with us. They play three of our advertisements,” he said. “The more people that we can drive to listen to Outlaw, the more people will listen to our ads. We can help them get more listenership, which is what they want, and they drive listeners to our ads, which is what we want.”
“It’s almost like we’ve been doing business (together) for years. We’re good buddies. Both of us talk about each other’s business with admiration. All we want to do is help each other be stronger, and do more fun things for the community and each other’s businesses.”
Myers expressed similar feelings about Jackson.
“Ben has been great, and I’ve enjoyed working with him,” Myers said. “We want to do anything to support Ben and his restaurant because he’s been very generous to us. It’s been a great partnership, which I hope to build on as time goes on.”
They’ve already discussed their “dream” scenario, which involves a country music star, in the area for a concert, conducting an interview with Myers, then heading downstairs to play some tunes in front of an enthusiastic dinner crowd.
“From our standpoint, we look forward to all of the cool things that they want to do, and we think the space upstairs provides them the platform to do those things,” Jackson said. “Down the road, Outlaw wants to do even more with that time slot and generate more community interaction. They have plans to do much more than what they’re doing, and it will be fun to see what they choose to do. The sky’s the limit.”