Dramatic changes are coming to the Juneau radio scene: good ones, for fans of public radio station KTOO-FM.
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Station manager Bill Legere announced Thursday that the Federal Communications Commission this week approved KTOO's acquisition of licenses from two commercial Juneau stations.
On Jan. 12, KTOO will debut its new stations, including KTOO News on its current frequencies, Rain Country Radio on 102.7 and Excellent Radio on 100.7.
Going away will be two commercial stations, Star 102.7 and Magic 100.7, both featuring adult contemporary music.
Star and Magic are owned by White Oak Broadcasting, based in Santa Rosa, Calif. Station manager Cassy Blackwell referred questions to General Manager Neil Rones, who did not return phone calls.
Thursday, Legere began notifying KTOO members of the long-awaited change and released a programming schedule for the new stations. There will be more air time for local programmers, he said, as well as new top national programs that KTOO had not been able to fit onto its schedule.
Local additions will include shows such as TVC Help Desk, a computer and comedy show developed since KTOO found out about the possible additions.
National additions to the schedule will include Fresh Air, a daily interview program hosted by Terry Gross, and Talk of the Nation, a daily talk and call-in program.
Fresh Air is already known in Juneau because its weekly version is heard on KTOO weekends; Legere said Juneau residents have been badgering the station for other favorite programs they've heard elsewhere.
The station will now be able to accommodate many of those requests, picking up programming such as Marketplace, a business news program, and Democracy Now, a left-of-center news program.
The station actually solicited the badgering, Legere said. They've been running an online survey on programming. The station also conducted community focus groups to find out what Juneau wanted from the expanded station.
KTOO had to decide whether it wanted to simply expand upon what it had or add new programming, he said.
"Do we super-serve the listeners we have now, or do we serve other people?" said Andy Kline, program director.
They decided to add broad new programming options, he said.
The new stations will be:
KTOO News - On the same frequency, KTOO News will include the current news programming, with many additions. Local KTOO news staff stories will appear on this station, along with BBC and favorites such as Prairie Home Companion and Car Talk.
Rain Country Radio - The name pays homage to the local weather, and will have a local feel, said Levitt. "It's about place. It's about where we live," she said. Its music programming will range from folk to jazz to classical to world music, and most will be locally hosted.
Excellent Radio - Music and more music. Alternative, classic rock, hip-hop. The station has purchased a digital collection of 5,000 songs and is copying its music library onto a hard drive as well. It will also be regularly updated with new music. "If you think you've heard public radio, think again," the station said.
While the cost of new equipment was substantial, the new stations will be run out of the existing building and the programming costs were low, said Levitt.
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KTOO already pays a flat fee to National Public Radio for programs such as Morning Edition and All Things Considered, its flagship news programming. NPR also provides numerous other programs for the same price, but KTOO hasn't had the hours in the day to run them.
Levitt has also developed a relationship with Los Angeles' highly regarded KCRW public radio station. That station is beginning to syndicate its programming nationally and has offered it to Juneau for free. Other national programming has also become available for little or no cost, she said.
Listenership of the expanded stations should be strong, Legere said. The transmitters KTOO are buying are more powerful than the ones KTOO now uses, and the antenna location on Douglas Island's Blueberry Hill offers better coverage that KTOO's downtown location, he said.
KTOO currently broadcasts at 1,400 watts, while the two new transmitters are each 6,000 watts, he said.
Listeners who get KTOO on their GCI cable will get only KTOO News, he said. Cable space is becoming increasingly valuable, and Legere called it "a real favor" for the cable company to carry KTOO for listeners who live in locations where mountains make broadcast reception problematic.
It is still to be determined what listeners in Hoonah, Gustavus and Excursion Inlet will be able to receive on the KTOO translators that serve those communities.
They won't get the two frequencies KTOO is acquiring, and Legere said he's trying to find a way to get FCC permission for them to get a mix of the three new stations that is similar to the KTOO they now receive.
More details about new programming are available at www.ktoo.org.