News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

KYAC getting stronger signal

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

By Stephen Floyd

When KYAC radio first went on air in 2014, its mission was to inform and entertain underserved communities in the Santiam Canyon.

While this goal has been met in meaningful ways – especially during a devastating wildfire in 2020 – the canyon remains rocky and remote, and listeners in Detroit, Idanha and elsewhere struggle to receive a signal.

But a new class of license granted last month by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will allow KYAC to solve this problem through a stronger signal and upgrades to the studio in Mill City. Program Director Ken Cartwright called this a “game changer” for the station and its listeners.

“If you’ve ever driven [Highway 22] or listened to a radio – or even tried to stream – it’s almost impossible to get anything once you get up to the dams,” he said.

KYAC, broadcasting on 94.9 FM, was initially licensed by the FCC for a low-power signal of no more than 100 watts. This is common for small communities such as those within Santiam Canyon, but the topography of the canyon and remoteness of its towns proved more than the signal could handle.

The new license, granted Dec. 20, 2021, allows for a full-power signal of 500 watts and a taller antenna. The license also changed the frequency to 90.1 FM, which will take effect once the new antenna is installed, though the station expects to retain the KYAC call sign.

The new license itself proved a difficult challenge. Because the station is owned by non-profit Santiam Hearts to Arts, they had to apply for a Noncommercial Educational Content license, which carries rigorous standards for programming, funding and ownership. 

Though KYAC already met multiple standards through its community-centered programming, Cartwright said it was still “rare as hen’s teeth” for the FCC to grant such a license. To bolster their chances, the station hired a consultant to help them prepare the application and ensure they qualified for each standard.

PLAYING A PIVOTAL ROLE

One unique example of the type of community programming the FCC was looking for was KYAC’s response to the Canyon Fire in 2020, which burned 400,000 acres, 1,500 homes and displaced thousands of Santiam residents. 

After fleeing his home during evacuations Sept. 7, 2020, Cartwright arrived at the station and broadcast emergency information until 2 a.m. when the fire was too close for anyone to remain. 

“That was a pivotal moment for KYAC,” he said.

Since then, the station has broadcast federal and state relief information for those still in need, and interviewed victims of the fire and heroes who helped with response and recovery. Cartwright said the disaster has demonstrated the value of a robust community radio station in the area.

“We’ve been a very important part of the communication and networking here in the canyon,” he said.

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

With the new license in hand, the first step is installation of a 500-watt antenna, which Cartwright said could be in place as soon as March. The antenna and related upgrades are estimated to cost around $17,000, and the station has already received donations of around $8,800. He said the remainder will be sought through private donations and grants from state and federal agencies.

Later upgrades include a large auto-start electric generator, a directional antenna to strengthen the east-west signal, and a signal repeater in Detroit, which are estimated to see completion by mid-2023. 

These additional upgrades would cost between $41,000 and $45,000 and should leave KYAC without the need for major improvements for several years. 

Cartwright acknowledged these costs exceed revenue generated through normal pledge drives, but he said the station has a community and underwriters who have always shown support, even during lean times.

KEEPING LISTENERS INVOLVED

Aside from transitioning under the new FCC license, Cartwright said KYAC plans to implement a student broadcasting program in partnership with Santiam Junior/Senior High School.

He said the classes will teach young people the art and techniques behind radio programming and podcasting, as well as how to plan for and market their content. He said the goal is not just to teach the “how” behind a radio show, but help students understand why they want to be content creators.

“What’s the endgame? What do you want to do with it?” he said.

Cartwright added, even with all these developments on the horizon, KYAC’s goal to be a radio station for and by the community remains unchanged.

“We are performing the missions that we started out with, and the ability to have this new license class puts us in a position now to be able to completely fulfill that mission,” he said.

Information regarding KYAC programming, including how to volunteer as a DJ or engineer, or to donate, are available at kyacfm.org.

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