In 2003, the FCC advertised the availability of a low-power radio station for the Pacific Northwest, operating at 102.9 FM. Lopez Island had no radio station at the time, so Carol Steckler, Iris Graville and Paul Lewis – along with a few others – began the long and tedious process of applying for the right to broadcast on Lopez. Their first step was to create a non-profit organization. Once that was done, they completed the lengthy application and sent it off to the FCC.
Two years passed. Carol had forgotten all about the application – assuming that, after not hearing back, the FCC had passed on their proposal. Then, one day in 2005, she got a letter in the mail. It was from the FCC. The message was short and sweet: Lopez Island had 18 months to get a voice on the air. And so began nearly two years of fundraising and a crash course on how to start a radio station.
This week I sat down with KLOI board members, Carol Steckler and Kathy Booth, to hear stories about how KLOI got – and stays – on the air. In 2005, neither Carol, Iris, Paul nor anybody else involved had radio experience. As I’ve learned on Lopez, lack of experience can actually be beneficial to a cause. Sometimes with experience come assumed limits to what might be possible. It was the anything-is-possible signature Lopezian approach that eventually got KLOI on the air.
To raise money to launch the station, Carol and team put on several “live broadcast” performances around the island – something Carol knows a thing or two about, given her other role of organizing community theater for Lopez. This type of fundraising is still the primary way that the all-volunteer station is funded (KLOI doesn’t do on-air pledge drives). The group raised about $50,000, some of which was used to bring in some technical expertise to figure out what it means to broadcast at 18 watts. Among other things needed was a tall pole, atop which would sit the KLOI antenna. Carol and team recruited local tree climber, Zach Blomberg, to shimmy up and attach the antenna. Soon after that, on April 13, 2008, five years after the idea was sparked by the FCC, KLOI had a voice on the air.
The station now has many powerful voices. A board of directors, led by Carol, keeps the station running and constantly evolving. Board member Chris Arnold lets KLOI use the front 45 feet of his family’s property for the antenna and studio, allowing Chris to be an onsite technician when he’s not working at his day job. Ken and Kathy Booth are also major contributors to overall station operation. An electrical engineer, Ken makes sure the station stays on the air and has recently helped put in place a back-up system for the station in the event of power failure. Kathy, who also teaches at Lopez Island School, brings technical expertise and pulls together a very diverse programming schedule for the station.
This week Kathy gave me a tour of KLOI, which sits in a bright red, single-wide trailer along Center Road. Inside is all the equipment you might imagine in a radio broadcast booth – a mixing board with rows of illuminated buttons, computer monitors showing what’s playing, CD players, and an old turn-table for playing the vintage LPs that some of the DJs bring in. Taped all over the equipment and walls are reminders of how to operate and what to do in case something goes wrong. Of course, something always goes wrong. Carol and Kathy told me about the time that one of the DJs, just a few minutes before his live show, accidentally locked himself out of the trailer. Luckily one of the windows was unlocked, and he crawled back in just seconds before going on the air.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what is on the air. KLOI has an eclectic mix of programming – some syndicated shows (my favorite is “The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn”), and about 30 percent local shows. Programming includes music – from classical to the Grateful Dead, and talk – from Lou Pray’s “News and Reviews” to Carol Steckler’s “Kitchen Table Politics.” The station is always looking for new programming proposals. Carol says that KLOI has not even begun to reach its potential, and she hopes that more Lopezians will come forward with ideas. For instance, she’d love to see the station add live sports broadcasts, and she thinks there are opportunities for Lopez high school students who want to get involved. Overall, Carol would like to see more personal Lopezian stories on the air. So, whether or not you have radio experience, you should contact KLOI with ideas.
My other happy discovery has been that you don’t have to be within range of KLOI’s antenna to listen. The station streams all of its programming, including archives, from its website, www.kloi.org. But, if you want to listen old-school, tune your radio to 102.9 FM as you’re driving south on Ferry Road. The sandwich board on the side of the road will remind you. And, if you’re really committed to listening over the air, KLOI provides instructions for making your own antenna.
KLOI and the stories behind it are yet more examples of what makes Lopez Island a unique community. We have no radio experience but need a radio station? No problem, we’ll build one. Land prices are up 190 percent in one year but people need affordable housing? No problem, we’ll start a community land trust. We live on a fragile island that makes garbage disposal incredibly difficult and expensive? No problem, we’ll take over our dump and make it a zero-waste facility. Around every corner are stories like these. I’ll keep reporting them for Project 468, and KLOI will keep telling them at 102.9 FM.