By Joseph Robertia
The sharp crackle of static, that’s what now replaces the music and various educational and entertainment programs that used to resonate from the speakers when a radio in the central and southern Kenai Peninsula was dialed to 91.5 FM.
“We went off the air at 7:10 p.m. on Aug. 12,” said Bill Glynn, president of Kasilof Public Broadcasting and general manager of KWJG in Kasilof, and sister station KMJG, in Homer. “And no one knows how long it will last.”
Started as a dream to provide the Kenai Peninsula with a commercial-free radio alternative, KWJG signed onto the air in September 1998, pumping a puny 45 watts of power. But it was enough power to be heard and people started listening. Within a year, the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., authorized a power increase to 1,000 watts, where it remained until the station’s final day roughly a week ago.
Wanting to not only be commercial free, but free of government influence, as well, KWJG has never accepted funding from any governmental entity. Instead, the station was supported entirely by listeners’ donations and underwriters. According to Glynn, that is where the problems arose that led to the station going off the air.
“It’s my belief that state-funded public radio doesn’t want us calling ourselves public radio, or competing with them for listeners, so pressure is being applied to squeeze us off the dial,” he said.
This “pressure,” as Glynn puts it, came in the way of numerous and thorough inspections by the FCC. He said that while no technical or operational issues were noted by the inspectors, KWJG was cited for numerous administrative infractions, many of which come with citations and fines.
“I believe they’re trying to fine us out of existence,” he said. “Generally speaking I stay on top of the paperwork, but they dug deep to find stuff. Some of the things were having the 2003 version of ‘Broadcasting in the Public,’ instead of the 2008 version. All my licenses were in order and posted, but we’re supposed to have Xeroxed copies of all of them and I had missed one.
“We also didn’t have enough specificity to adjustments in our transmitting logs, which means if we made tuning adjustments we were supposed to record them, but we don’t do them. It’s always the same number. It was lots of things like this,” Glynn said.
Glynn doesn’t yet know the price tag for those infractions.
“We’re waiting for the monetary forfeiture determination to come out of D.C. The fines could be $100,000 plus another $25,000 per citation. Since funds will have to be put toward paying these fines, which means funds won’t be available for other things, like paying the electricity bills at the station, our board made the decision to take us off the air,” he said,
A representative of the FCC field office in Anchorage, from which the inspectors hailed, said the office could not comment on an ongoing matter, and the Washington office could only confirm that a “Notification of suspension of operations” of KWJG was filed Aug 3.
In the interim, many of the disc jockeys are dismayed at being off the air. The volunteers produced, at times, as much as 40 hours a week of local programs, ranging from the peninsula’s only live radio cooking show to the “E-Zone” devoted specifically to women in music.
Faith Hays, who hosted the Friday afternoon “Just Dogs” show, which offered education about responsible pet ownership, said she is sad to no longer have the venue.
“I think the biggest thing that will suffer will be the dogs at the shelters because every week I’d call all the shelters and put all the available dogs on the air,” she said.
Hays said that she also will miss educating the general public about dog-related issues.
“It was going so well. We discussed how to pick the right dog for you, and how to get them to come when called, all kinds of educational things. I remember having a guy from Homer call in when we were discussing puppy mills. He had never heard of them before that show and had no idea how widespread they were. He learned about that issue from listening to the show. That’s when I knew we were really teaching people,” she said.
While Hays’ program was a teaching tool, Doug Johnson’s Sunday afternoon shows were simply to “remember the way things used to was.” He played polka music, classic country and even bits from the folksy “Amos and Andy” show as part of the “Parade of Old-Time Bands.”
“I think it’s really too bad. I’ve never seen the FCC crack down like this,” Johnson said.
Having worked as a DJ since 1972, and at large commercial stations down to tiny, 50-kilowatt farm stations, he said he’s experienced issues like this before. It’s more than just the station employees or, in this case, volunteers, who feel the pain, he said.
“The listening audience are the ones who really suffer,” he said.
Johnson started with KWJG not long after the station went on the air and has developed a following in that time, not just for his music, but also for his reporting on community happenings. When events such as the Tustumena 200 were going on, he often was the first to report the standings, and when sourdoughs like Herman Hermansen, of Kasilof, died, Johnson reported on them, sobbing through a cracking, teary voice. This will all be absent from the airwaves now, he said.
“There’s just not a lot like that out there on other stations, and, sure, Pickle Hill (KDLL in Kenai) and KBBI (in Homer) would probably let me do my shows, but that would be kind of like going to bed with the enemy after all this,” he said.
KWJG’s listening audience shared Johnson’s pain on the last day of his radio show. After he announced the station was going off the air, numerous people called in, expressing a range of emotion from anger to grief.
“We moved here from Seward in 2005 and I’ve been listening to him and them since then,” said Coleen Sykora, who liked to tune the radio the KWJG while working in her AK Second Hand store across from TJ Seggy’s on the Sterling Highway.
“I’m sad to see it go. It was a good way to keep up with what was going on in the community,” she said. “They had such a different kind of programming. It’s not the stuff you usually find, so I hope they get back on the air soon, in some form or another.”
Supporters of KWJG will hold a “Fill the case” fund drive from 7 to 10 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Alaska Roadhouse (formerly the J-Bar-B) on the Sterling Highway, with food by The Galley Wench and live music by Robert Pepper, Bryan Larger and Holly Wiley, Nick “The Dream” Weaver and Killer Wild Jungle Gerbil Jam. Cash donations, and donations of items and services for a silent auction, are requested. Contact Holly Wiley at 741-0009 or Glynn at 260-7702.
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