Local radio plans go off the air

Call it the community radio two-step. It’s a dance routine Bainbridge Island Broadcasting knows all too well.

“We’ve been taking one step forward, one step backward since 1984,” said BIB board member Bob Haslanger.

BIB members thought they were through being radio wallflowers when Calvary Chapel, a Bremerton-based evangelical church, lost its bid in late March to broadcast on an FM frequency BIB also sought. But as the Bainbridge organization prepared to make its move onto the airwaves, a bigger competitor has forced the station to take a large step back.

The Federal Communications Commission recently granted permission to Mid-Columbia Broadcasting Inc. to relocate KMCQ-FM from The Dalles, Ore. to South King County and broadcast on the same frequency.

Any hope BIB could share 104.5 FM, the last available frequency in the central Puget Sound area, was lost when members learned KMCQ, which broadcasts adult easy listening music, would operate on 100,000 watts. This would give KMCQ a vast reach, enveloping Bainbridge Island and overlapping BIB’s proposed station.

The commercial station’s move came as a surprise to Haslanger, who has worked to bring community radio to the island for about 17 years.

“We thought we were good to go,” he said. “When Calvary got dumped, we felt we had a good chance.”

KMCQ’s move to Washington will also drown out an existing station, Mercer Island High School’s station KMIH, which has broadcast on 104.5 FM for 11 years.

The 30-watt station was given only partial airwave rights by the FCC because it has a low-power signal. The Oregon station’s higher FCC classification gives it the right to take over the smaller station’s signal.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell introduced legislation in late June to protect small educational radio stations from being forced to shut down by larger broadcasters after touring the student-run station.

But Cantwell’s bill likely wouldn’t help BIB because the station’s efforts are not under a school’s direction. Despite set-backs and false starts, BIB radio advocates vow to push on.

“We haven’t been told our application was denied, but it’s expected,” said board member Wini Jones. “(A radio station) is a dream at this point. We’re hopeful and we’re going to keep trying.”

BIB’s original 1984 mission focused on establishing a local radio station, but early frustrations redirected its efforts toward public access television.

While BIB members are proud of their achievements with cable TV, Jones said establishing a community radio station would greatly benefit the island.

“Radios are ubiquitous,” she said. “Not every home on the island has Comcast cable, but most have a radio.”

Jones said a radio station could broaden BIB’s reach, sending locally focused content to more residents. It could also help disseminate information during emergencies and power-outages, she added.

But with recent hopes of acquiring a broadcast license quickly fading, BIB radio advocates say they’ll close ranks around TV-focused efforts. The station expects to double its TV programming from last year and form closer partnerships with island institutions, including the school district.

“In six months we’ll revisit other options,” Haslanger said.

BIB executive director Scott Schmidt plans to upgrade the station’s website to make streaming video of local productions available. He said such technology could make an Internet-based radio a possibility. Vashon Island radio advocates took a similar route after unsuccessful efforts to establish a broadcast radio station.

“If we get the TV part out on the Web, radio will be even easier,” Schmidt said. “It’s an avenue we’ll definitely pursue.”

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