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Island in line for low-power radio station

But BIB, Bremerton church can’t agree to share the frequency.

Bainbridge Island Broadcasting and Bremerton’s Calvary Chapel are “MXed.”

The term, meaning “mutually exclusive,” describes the dilemma of two organizations improbably linked by the Federal Communications Commission.

At issue: an FCC decision that would have the Bremerton-based evangelical Christian church and BIB, the island’s community access television station, sharing the same low-frequency FM airwaves in a new radio venture.

The pairing occurred when both organizations applied for the frequency, the only one available in the central Puget Sound area.

If the organizations can’t agree by March 16 to share the frequency, each in turn may be granted four years of use, at the end of which both would lose it for good – an arrangement commonly referred to as “double suicide.”

“That would provide an incentive to work it out,” BIB board member Bob Haslanger said. “Radio frequencies are very difficult to get. For some of us it’s been 19 years (of effort), and we were close to having something.”

Acquiring the radio station would bring BIB full circle, to the group’s original 1984 mission to establish a local access FM station for Bainbridge.

But the prospects for success may be unlikely, with the deadline less than a week away. BIB board member Wini Jones says her group’s most pressing concern is potential confusion for the Bainbridge audience, if BIB content were spliced with the evangelical Christian group’s message.

Another issue is the potential conflict with BIB’s mission to offer equal access to all island community groups, since Calvary Chapel is requesting fully 50 percent of broadcast time.

“There’s no judgment on their programming,” Jones said, “but we offer open access to all community groups, and Bainbridge would hear 50 percent of one point of view, with all of the other points of view fitted into the other 50 percent of broadcast time. It’s a matter of balance.”

Jones said the church also wanted to broadcast during commuter hours, peak audience times.

BIB and church officials met Feb. 20 to discuss solutions; a Feb. 27 letter outlining BIB’s concerns brought no response from the church, Jones said.

This week, Pastor Rick Beaudry said that Calvary Chapel feels stymied by the Bainbridge group.

“We were willing to be very flexible,” Beaudry said. “BIB rejected our offer of 50 percent (of programming). So at this point, the ball is really in their court.

“Think about suicide for a minute,” he went on. “Committing suicide is, you’ve given up hope. I think they need to have just a little bit of faith. That’s the biggest thing I came up against – people limiting God through unbelief.”

For BIB, the dilemma is another roadblock in a 20-year effort. In 1989 and 1990, when Haslangar was president of the BIB board, the group tried to secure for the island a full-power FM radio station of 1,000-50,000 or more.

“When we couldn’t get it because of the frequency squeeze, that’s when we decided to become BIB,” Haslanger said.

When the group learned that there were no frequencies available, BIB turned to television; the group also waited for the sale of a radio station, but the overcrowded Puget Sound airwaves remained inaccessible.

Then in 2001, Congress passed the Low Power FM Act to give preferential treatment to community-based organizations creating 100-watt stations that could reach a radius of six miles.

But, Haslanger said, the only place in Central Sound where a transmitter could be placed without conflicting with other broadcasting is a donut-shaped area approximately 600-yards wide, located near the American Legion Hall on Bucklin Hill Road.

Calvary Chapel qualifies for the same location because they fall within the FCC’s stipulation that the transmitter be no more than 10 miles away from the broadcasting group – as the crow flies.

Jones said BIB, which applied for the frequency in June 2001, was surprised to learn that they had been coupled with the church.

The Calvary application was denied by the FCC, then later reinstated with a March 16 deadline for the groups to work out an agreement among themselves.

Jones said BIB “has not filed motions or petitions with the FCC against anyone and wishes to proceed with FCC rulings and see what happens.”

For Haslanger and other BIB long-time members, the prospect of the station remains tantalizing.

“I want this so badly,” Jones said. “There’s so many wonderful things we could do.”

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