October 21, 2018 at 5:00 am | By DAVE GUNTER Feature correspondent | Bonner County Daily Bee
SANDPOINT — Local community radio station KRFY-FM got its construction permit in mid-2009 and was on the air by January of 2011. But the conversations that led to the volunteer-run, community funded concept started in 2006, when broadcast visionary Scott Daily began shopping the idea around town and caught the imagination of early allies such as Jeff Poole and Charlie Parrish.
Poole helped steer the station along its first stages of growth, later handing the wheel to current station manager Suzy Prez. Daily, who passed away as his dream was being realized, pulled downtown real estate official-broker Parrish into the fold, impressing upon him the importance of creating a local voice for news, music and information.
“I think we needed a voice of reason in this town — a group of people who appreciate science and truth,” Parrish said. “One of the initial things that grabbed my attention was the Al Jazeera connection. We ran Al Jazeera for about a year before they went off the air.”
Even as the station was exploring what is sometimes described as “alternative” news from syndicated sources, a growing band of volunteers began to craft music programming to help fill the 24/7 broadcast schedule.
“It has changed a lot — from being almost fully syndicated to content that originates here,” said station manager Suzy Prez, who estimated that about 75 percent of broadcast material now hails from the control room through either live shows or pre-recorded “automated” programs put together and DJ’d by KRFY volunteers.
And while it came a few years into the station’s growth story, another one of Daily’s original concepts was to create a broad demographic mix.
“A big part of Scott’s vision was to get young people involved,” Parrish said.
Over the past couple of years, high school-age announcers have been stepping into the control room to create their own shows. The most recent example is Ryan Baumgartner, a senior at Sandpoint High School and host of the “3 O’Clock Rush” that airs Thursday afternoons at that time.
The first half of the hour-long program consists of music pulled from the host’s own library — a mélange of new pop, alternative music and throwback hits. In the second segment, he does live interviews that cover topics from high school clubs and cool classes to sports teams and other activities at SHS. The show, Prez said, has added excitement to the atmosphere around the station, since it draws a steady stream of teens to the upstairs studio for interviews each week.
Ryan got his first taste of being behind the broadcast microphone when he performed at the station with his vocal quartet from school. Afterwards, the foursome decided that they could probably come up with a program of their own. Schedules and homework and life in general interceded — at least for three of the four students — but Baumgartner went straight into the planning mode with a new direction in mind.
“We’re trying to encourage students to be more involved,” the radio host said. “What I wanted, really, was to talk about things I didn’t know about, to meet new people and to get to know about all the different programs available at school. This was a way to share that for me.”
Baumgartner did his homework before pitching his show idea to the station in late summer 2017. By the time school started in September, he had worked out the kinks and was on the air. He aimed the hour of music and talk at a specific audience — high schoolers leaving the SHS parking lot with the radio on. Using the terms “radio” and “high schoolers” in the same sentence seems quaint in a smart phone-driven age, but the young broadcaster had that worked out in advance, too.
“I wanted to make sure it was useful to my audience — high schoolers who mostly drive late-‘90s and early 2000s cars that only have radios and CD players in the,” he explained.
Along with widening its demographic reach, KRFY has been increasing its broadcast area to the point where the original tag line of “Sandpoint Community Radio” needed to be revised to “Panhandle Community Radio.”
“Because we really broadcast to listeners in North Idaho,” said Prez.
With the help of its web page, the station has an even bigger reach, using the live streaming function to pull in listeners from other states and, at times, different countries. The ability to monitor how many people are streaming content prompted an upgrade when the data pipeline was no longer sufficient to meet listener demand.
“We had a capacity for 10 people to be accessing the station at one time,” Baumgartner said. “Now we can have 300.”
KRFY’s annual operating budget of $70,000, which mostly goes to cover licensing fees, membership in the National Association of Community Broadcasters and syndication costs to providers such as Pacifica Radio, hasn’t changed dramatically since the time the station started up, according to Prez. What has changed is how the money gets raised.
Approximately 35 program underwriters do much of the heavy lifting, augmented by listener-member donations and fundraisers. Volunteer broadcasters, meanwhile, help keep overhead to a minimum.
“You always hope for some kind of beautiful windfall, but there’s no guarantee,” the station manager said. “We’re always trying to increase underwriting, fundraising and listener support.”
In the just-finished annual auction fundraiser, the webpage once again showed its worth, as listeners from around the country used live streaming to both catch favorite shows and time their final bids on items that ranged from gift certificates to deluxe vacation stays.
If there is a signature program among the eclectic mix that makes up the broadcast day, it would have to be the “Morning Show” that airs Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays just after 8 a.m. Promoted by Prez as “news and information that can inform and inspire,” the show highlights the good works of local organizations, giving them a regular outlet to reach the community at large. During elections, the slot is used for candidate interviews in local races. It also has the distinction of being KRFY’s most-listened-to program offering.
“What’s special about the ‘Morning Show’ is that it has been so consistent with accurate information,” Baumgartner said.
“And in this day and age,” Prez added, “a community content outlet is a valuable and worthwhile thing.”
KRFY broadcasts at 88.5 on the FM dial. The station’s next event will be the annual public meeting, set for Nov. 28, from 5-7 p.m., at the Idaho Pour Authority.
For more information and to live-stream the station, visit: www.krfy.org (scroll to the bottom of the home page to find the live streaming button).
Those interested in volunteering — including receiving training on how to operate equipment in the control room and host a show of their own — can call 208-265-2992 or email: email@example.com