105.5 FM: Portland's Russian pop music radio station: 'I love this too much'
Hit the "scan" button on your FM radio, and you'll find a world's worth of variety at your fingertips: classic rock, top-40, country, old-school hip hop, oldies, 80's, opera and gospel.
But if you're in Portland, and you start scanning toward the high end of the dial, there's something else you might hear, something that you wouldn't hear in almost any other city in America.
It's Russian Pop.
"I would say we have about 500 songs in rotation," says Russian Radio program director Eduard Rusu.
The station, 105.5FM-KXRU, is a nonprofit. What little money it gets from sponsorships goes to pay for equipment, bills and a few employees who make a wage. So for Rusu, his music director, and many of the station's DJs, this is a passion project.
"Most of us are volunteers," says Rusu. "That's the thing with nonprofit radio. We have to go to work, we have jobs!"
Rusu works in construction. He recently quit his previous job to start his own construction management company.
"So I work about 12 hours a day, then when I get home, or during the day, I do this," he says.
"This is my fuel. This is my gas," smiles Rusu. "I love this too much."
Rusu loves music, loves radio, and loves the important role his station plays in the lives of Russian immigrants and their families in the Portland area. But he says his station isn't necessarily one that first-generation immigrants listen to.
"The first generation, they don't really like this music, because the music is too modern for them," he says. "Most of the immigrants here, they are Christians, and they were taught not to listen to this kind of music."
So Rusu and his team carefully pore over every song they receive from the several Russian music services the station subscribes to. Rusu listens first. If he likes it, the station's music director will give it a listen. If they agree, it goes on the air.
If they disagree, a third person will listen and give their opinion. They try to add about 10 new songs a week.
"We have to be very careful what we play," says Rusu. "If there's a song that, let's say, glorifies drinking or partying, we probably wouldn't put it on the air, because it would hurt the ears of many people and probably next time they would think twice about tuning in to our station."
Rusu says the same kind of care goes into the top-of-the-hour news updates Russian Radio airs every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The news person, one of the few paid positions at the radio station, works to ensure headlines are reported right down the middle, especially with international news like the Crimea conflict, which pits Russians against Ukrainians. People from those two countries are the station's biggest groups of listeners.
"We can't give time to Russia more than Ukraine more than Trump," says Rusu, who also says the news updates try to avoid sad news, too. "We try not to air stories when people get killed. That kinda sometimes can ruin your day, your mood and stuff, you know?"
Rusu's path to America started in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova, where he grew up speaking four languages.
"My mom is Ukrainian. My dad is Moldovan. School was in Romanian. But Russian was the second language because of the Soviet Union," he says.
Rusu tries to only hire on-air personalities who speak perfect Russian. He wants to preserve the nuances of the language.
"Once you come to the U.S., two years later, you have a lot of slang. A lot of slang. I hate slang," he says.
Rusu now speaks English well, and a bit of Spanish by necessity, due to his line of work. But of them all, one rises above.
"So far, Russian is my favorite, because it's so complex," says Rusu. "You can express yourself in ways you cannot express in other languages."
And he says the language can help you pinpoint where the speaker is from, despite Russia's huge area.
Rusu took radio classes in college after his family came to Portland. One of his professors was longtime Portland radio personality Steve Pringle, who's now broadcasting on KGON. Rusu says Pringle told him something once that stuck in his heart, and it's something he lives by now.
"'Never ever underestimate the power of a microphone.'"