KWJG radio silenced — General manager blames FCC fines for going off air

By Joseph Robertia

Photos courtesy of Doug Johnson. Bill Glynn, general manager of KWJG, mans the board at the station in Kasilof, now off the air pending payment of fines from the Federal Communications Commission.

Redoubt Reporter

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 on the central and southern Kenai Peninsula was dialed to 91.5 FM.

“We went off the air at 7:10 p.m. on August 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 starting listening. Within a year, the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., authorized a power increase to 1,000 watts, where it remained at until the stations’ 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.

Doug Johnson used to DJ a Sunday show with old-time music.

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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5 Comments

Filed under Kasilof, radio

5 responses to “KWJG radio silenced — General manager blames FCC fines for going off air

  1. Bill Croghan

    Sadly lacking in the whole truth, nothing but the truth. The FCC has not even assessed the fines as yet, AC power was being cut off etc. DO your research!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. G.R. Lesley

    1) The FCC hasn’t even assessed the fines, yet the station is claiming it doesn’t have enough money to continue to be the public service it claims is its primary goal. 2) The station, if it wishes, need only reply to the FCC’s assessments with financial information in order to have the fines reduced to a number which is manageable in relation to the station owner’s annual income/assets/budget.

    For this reason, I can see how, in the future, the fines will be a hardship much like an unexpected decrease in income or an unplanned expense, but nothing that can’t be fundraised and appealed to contributors for.

    This is why I think the reaction of the person representing the station here is a bit brash and a bit more political than it needs to be to express the true public interest. Keep broadcasting– you still have the money. You probably won’t get the whole fine (unless, of course, you want to be fined the entire assessment and don’t care to file the appropriate paperwork to make that a reality). You could have used this media coverage to express you are coming upon a hardship and to appeal to the community for an extra boost in contributions. Instead, it seems the article was used as a podium to say the station is giving up before it even put up a fight and that the community is going to suffer as a result.

  3. Pingback: KWJG-FM off air; GM blames Public Radio | radio Horn

  4. More Jack-Booted Government Thug destruction of private business. We built it and the government takes it away. Just another symptom of the USA going in the absolute wrong direction. It’s way past time for the people to reimpose regulation on the government’s power to destroy.
    We can only hope that there is a human involved somewhere in the FCC process and they suspend these ludacris fines or issue a warning instead. Looking forward to a follow up report when the numbers come out.

  5. Kevin Hoskins

    Bill,it’s a shame that the FCC is Harrasing you and your station! You need to report it to your Congressman!

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