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Two Commercial Radio Stations Join Unalaska's Airwaves

KUCB Staff

Commercial radio has come to Unalaska.

The Arizona-based Turquoise Broadcasting Company set up a transmitter in the Valley last week, launching two stations with programming from the Kenai Peninsula.

While Unalaska Community Broadcasting fought the arrival of for-profit radio, a number of island residents are excited about the new additions to local airwaves.

This story was produced by KUCB's newsroom, which is independent from Unalaska Community Broadcasting's management and board of directors.


KPEN MUSIC [TIM MCGRAW]: "I'm sitting here with my kids and my wife, and everything that I hold dear in my life …"

LAURA KRAEGEL, REPORTER: That's some afternoon music from KPEN, the first new station to join Unalaska's radio landscape in more than a decade. It broadcasts from Soldotna at 102.1 FM.

KPEN [ID]: "Country hits the whole family can enjoy! It's true country. FM 102. KPEN!"

KRAEGEL: In addition to country music, the station airs the national morning talk show by conservative host Rush Limbaugh.

KPEN [LIMBAUGH BROADCAST]: "Now, make no mistake about this, folks. The biggest loser of the week in Florida politics was the Democrat Party ..."

KRAEGEL: Further up the dial, Unalaskans will find the second new station.

KBAY MUSIC [STEELY DAN]: "In the morning, you go gunning for the man who stole your water …"

KRAEGEL: That's KBAY, airing "classic hits" out of Nikiski.

KBAY [ID]: "Playing all your favorites!" "Actually, they're my favorites too!" "The best oldies. KBAY. 93.3."

KRAEGEL: In Unalaska, KBAY actually plays on 104.9 FM — not 93.3. Why the difference? These new stations are translators, meaning they don't create their own programming to air on their own unique frequencies. Instead, they rebroadcast the feeds of other primary stations.

KBAY [ID]: "Thanks so much for listening to KBAY! KXBA FM is also heard in Homer on translator K233CV at 94.5 FM, in Anchor Point/Seldovia on K229BQ at 93.7 FM, in Kachemak City on …"

KRAEGEL: That suite of Alaska translators is operated by Turquoise Broadcasting, a private business headquartered in Tumacacori, Arizona.

[It its advertising packet, Turquoise calls itself a "secondary broadcasting company" that "could be considered a carrier" for Homer-based Peninsula Communications, another business that controls the format of the stations themselves.]

KRAEGEL: Manager Gary Rose did not respond to requests for an interview about the company or its expansion to the island. But in his applications to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Rose said "Unalaska is the 12th largest incorporated city in the state of Alaska and by all measures a very remote area of Alaska without commercial radio service."

LAUREN ADAMS: "Our reaction was to tell the FCC: Unalaska is not an unserved part of the state."

KRAEGEL: That's Lauren Adams, the general manager of Unalaska Community Broadcasting. Since 2008, she says the nonprofit has operated KUCB — a full-service public radio station with local news, music, and announcements, along with programming from Alaska Public Media and National Public Radio.

ADAMS: "Now in addition to that, Unalaska also has KSKA — a repeater of KSKA from Anchorage —and then a religious broadcaster. So we actually have three radio stations here already."

KRAEGEL: That repeater of KSKA public radio is also operated by Unalaska Community Broadcasting, while Aleutian Christian Radio is run by Unalaska resident Coe Whittern as a repeater of the Moody Bible Institute's national broadcast program. Because of those existing services, Unalaska Community Broadcasting's board of directors filed an objection to Turquoise's applications, which were submitted last year.

ADAMS: "Unalaska is a town of 4,000 people. It's not a booming metropolis. I mean, there's certainly a lot of industry here, but we'll now be a community with five radio stations — a community of 4,000 people with five radio stations. So yeah, I was surprised by that."

KRAEGEL: Surprised, Adams says, by the FCC's decision to approve Turquoise's requests. In its ruling, the agency said that commercial stations provide "fundamentally different broadcast services," including advertising. Take this ad, airing on KPEN.

KPEN [AD]: "Homer's by far the number-one Alaskan port for all your needs! Homer offers a protected harbor …"

KRAEGEL: Translator stations are allowed to play one advertisement each hour as a way to pay for their operations. Turquoise's ads cost between $1.80 and $7.20 each, depending on when and where they air. The company is marketing that advertising as a new option for Unalaska's business community, but it has Lauren Adams worried about KUCB.

ADAMS: "I guess my fear is that we'll lose contributions. We are heavily dependent on local support. I was looking at our budget, and we get more than $140,000 from local sources."

KRAEGEL: She says that money makes up more than a quarter of the station's annual budget.

ADAMS: "If we lose those contributions, we could have to cut back our own services, and I just would hate to see that happen. I would hate to see the arrival of more music stations — commercial music stations, for-profit radio stations — taking apart a local nonprofit with a long history in the community."

KRAEGEL: Still, a number of Unalaskans are excited about the new stations. A Facebook post announcing Turquoise's translators received about 30 likes, along with a handful of positive comments. One user said: "Nice to see new things in Dutch." Another: "Love the country [music]." Even with that enthusiasm, Adams says KUCB should be able to compete as the island's sole station with original local content and a local staff.   

ADAMS: "We will still be the only local radio station. The only local organization providing daily news. The only organization that's getting information on community events. We are so much more than just a music station. I really want to see that continue to thrive. Also our website, There's a lot to support here in Unalaska."

KRAEGEL: Meanwhile, Turquoise has plans to bring a third commercial radio station to the island. In an interview with the Dutch Harbor Fisherman, Manager Gary Rose said he eventually hopes to repeat K-WAVE. That's a rock-and-roll station based in Homer. Reporting in Unalaska, I'm Laura Kraegel.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019.
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