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New Radio Stations Reaching Out to Natives, 'Under-Represented' Audiences

Tim Ellis/KUAC

A new Fairbanks radio station is broadcasting programs aimed at the Native community in the Interior. Another group hopes to launch its station early next year to provide radio programming for other groups that they say are not being served. The ventures are part of a nationwide trend of community-based radio.

KRFF reminds its listeners at the top of every hour that Native people in the Interior have a new voice. The station ID includes an Athabascan greeting: “Do’int’a! You’re listening to 89.1 KRFF Fairbanks.”

The station was launched last November by the Athabascan Fiddlers Association. Ann Fears is the association’s general manager. And she’s the driving force behind KRFF. Fears says the station provides information and entertainment about native people. But she says KRFF hopes to offer something of interest to everyone.

“It’s a culturally focused radio station, but it should be for the purpose of serving the whole Interior – all the people, all the listeners,” Fears said.

KRFF’s signal reaches as far as Nenana, to the west, and Delta Junction, to the east. It’ll go worldwide when the station sets up web streaming, which Fears says should happen soon.

KRFF mostly airs Native Voice 1 programming from Anchorage-based Koahnic Broadcast Corporation. And Fears says KRFF is developing more local programming like the morning show that debuted in February. Including, they hope, a regular call-in feature with news and information about rural Alaskans.

“They have a lot of stories to tell,” she said. “They would be telling their story, and we would all be learning from the Alaska Native people, and people of the Interior.”

Fears says KRFF also hopes to expand its entertainment offerings, like its live-music broadcasts by local performers – including, of course, Athabascan Fiddlers.

The Fiddlers Association supports KRFF largely through gaming revenues. The station got its Federal Communications Commission license from another local group that wasn’t able to secure a source of funding – Fairbanks Open Radio.

Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
KWRK volunteer Birch Pavelsky in the Fairbanks Open Radio office. Members of the organization are acquiring equipment and doing production work in the office on College Road near University Avenue.

Flyn Ludigton is a member of the group. She says Fairbanks Open Radio members were disappointed that their initial venture fell short. But she says the outcome benefited the group’s mission of expanding local radio programming. And she says her organization and the Fiddlers Association share many of the same goals.

“Our missions definitely overlapped,” Ludington said. “Our ideas for programming overlapped.”

Fairbanks Open Radio has now regrouped, and in January it secured a new FCC license to operate a low power FM station, KWRK. The station’s signal will reach a 4-mile radius that’ll cover most of Fairbanks – and beyond, when its signal goes online.

Ludington says KWRK’s model is based on a growing national movement that’s arisen in recent years in response to the trend of multimedia corporations buying up radio stations and using mostly syndicated programming, which is cheaper than local programming.

“We’ll be able to produce some experimental, very locally based, locally produced programming,” she said. “Including the under-represented population, the people who may not be able to participate in radio.”

Ludington says that includes military and family members, youths, gays, and prison inmates and ex-cons.  She anticipates KWRK going on air early next year.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.