Tiffs with DJ's, search for funds define radio station

Posted: Sunday, October 31, 2004

People occasionally tell Collette Costa that Juneau radio isn't as much fun without her, she said while preparing to open a restaurant downtown and insisting her days behind a microphone are over.

"Stay tuned," said Giovanni Davis, another voice heard until recently on KBJZ. While working a night shift at the Baranof Hotel, the announcer who calls himself "The Genius" said some bold innovations are coming.

"I'm looking forward to continuing and building 94.1 to be the No. 1 station in Juneau," Davis said.

For now, though, the noncommercial low-power FM station broadcasts without local announcers.

Low-power FM stations can power their signals only up to 100 watts. They differ from private and public radio outlets because they don't run commercials in the traditional sense and don't receive government funding.

Costa said she offended people with the independent opinions expressed on her "Morning Madame" show, a punchy and irreverent mix of music and commentary. She said that made it special. It isn't why she is no longer on the air, she added.

Tom Willis, KBJZ's president and chief operating officer, said the board of directors terminated its production agreements with Costa and Davis during a meeting in July.

Willis and board member Greg Morgan said their understanding is that Costa chose to leave. Costa said she felt she was forced to leave even though she was doing most of the work to make the station what it was.

Davis and Marlon Lumba, who hosted a rap program as a volunteer, said they are waiting for equipment repairs before they return to the air.

Willis said a problem with the telephone line damaged the console that announcers had been using to record programming for later broadcast or to go live on the air.

Listeners should hear changes in about three weeks, Willis said. He plans to put fresh announcers on the air soon and is hoping to move the transmitter to address "dead spots" in the Mendenhall Valley where the station won't come in.

"All of it is geared to money and resources to make it happen," Willis said.

A fund-raiser Friday night will go a long way in determining the station's future, Willis said.

The 21-and-older event will begin at 9 p.m. at the Elks Lodge, at 420 Franklin St. It's scheduled to run until 3 a.m. A $20 donation is requested. Willis said Davis and Lumba will be there, as will a hip-hop artist from Sitka.

Willis said he may hold fund-raisers more frequently than once a year but is determined not to hold on-air pledge drives.

"I call them beg-a-thons," he said.

The board of directors is seeking a grant to hire someone to find funding sources, and it is looking to reduce costs by giving up some of its office space at Sixth and Gold streets, Willis said.

KBJZ-LPFM became part of the Juneau radio scene on Oct. 4, 2002. It operated with one of 255 low-power FM licenses issued nationwide in December 2000 by the Federal Communications Commission.

"The format varies," Willis said. "Basically it's jazz and blues. Hip-hop is part of jazz."

Willis said that aside from the two announcers who had production agreements, the station used volunteers. The agreements paid Costa and Davis a percentage of the financial underwriting the station brought in from local businesses to pay for their shows, he said.

The directors decided instead to move toward employing a staff, which it hasn't done yet.

Programs that Costa put together aired from 6 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday. Costa said she has heard them on the radio since her last day with the station in July, but her voice was removed.

"I kept trying to motivate Tom to improve the station," Costa said. "He was difficult to talk to. I wanted to have a big fund-raiser."

Costa said that while she was talking about having a big party to support the station, he was talking about downsizing.

Willis said volunteers have left, but it often is difficult to keep volunteers through the summer.

Bud Curtis said he volunteered at the station for awhile, working behind the scenes, but he lost interest after Costa left.

"I liked Collette's show," he said.

When she left, it took the energy out of the station, he added. He saw some potential for a low-power FM station to do high-powered things as the voice of the community - "located right in the middle of the capital of the state," he said.

He wanted the station available on the Internet.

Willis said streaming the station onto the Internet would interest the directors, but would have a cost.

"Streaming costs money," he said. "Bandwidth costs money."

Costa said that despite her differences with Willis, he never expressed any problem with the way she did her show.

"To his credit, he did allow me that," she said.

Costa said she would like nothing more than to see the station become what it can be, an independent voice, which isn't often heard in a country dominated by corporate-owned radio.

"I don't want to see the low-power license go away," she said.

Remnants of the Clinton administration, low-power FM licenses may not come around again.

She said people want to shut the station down - "the FCC, the religious right, the conservatives, the other stations." The people at the station shouldn't help them out, she said.

Willis agreed that he wouldn't expect another opportunity for Juneau to get such a license.

Colin Osterhout, who volunteered to work on the air for about five months, said he ran out of time to do a good show and lost interest.

But he said it's important to have a local station "free of outside influence so we're not forced to listen to the same crap."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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