Radio station coming to Valley

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Sometime in the next year or so, Snoqualmie Valley residents should be able to tune in a community radio station at 104.5 FM.

The station's programming is not known yet because two community groups are competing for a license from the Federal Communications Commission.

One of the groups plans a variety of offerings in a format based on commercial radio, while the other plans religious broadcasts.

In either case, the station won't be a powerhouse - the output will be limited to 100 watts - but it will be part of a new wave of low-power community "microradio" stations that soon will hit the airwaves nationwide.

Such stations were authorized by Congress last year. Their purpose is to give community associations, non-profits, churches or any other qualifying groups the opportunity to create and broadcast their own programs.

One of the applicants for the new station is Sam-Sno Educational Media, for whom Sandra Woodruff is working as a consultant.

Woodruff is a veteran radio-station engineer who envisions a broadcast mixture of entertainment, education, community events and other homegrown programs. She has joined forces with Tom Harman, a Sammamish resident who produces Sammamish Community Television, and who also is a commissioner of the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District.

Harman sees the station as a community asset, one that provides information not available from Seattle radio stations. In particular, he would like to team up with Eastside Fire and Rescue to provide emergency information.

Other ideas include broadcasts in different languages, or linking with student radio stations.

The other applicant is Calvary Chapel North Bend. Pastor Walt Cesmat said he hopes to present Bible studies in a format similar to the one broadcast by Calvary Chapel Eastside at 91.9 FM. That station is part of a nationwide satellite network of some 400 stations, and it broadcasts some network programming.

Woodruff said that a get-acquainted meeting held recently, which she organized, was attended by seven people. Among them were Sammamish City Councilman Don Gerend, Harman and Jennifer Reitz, president of Sam-Sno Educational Media.

Calvary Chapel did not participate in the meeting, but faith groups have been some of the most active participants in the effort to get low-power FM stations on the air.

Many of them participate in the Microradio Implementation Project, a nationwide initiative to assist groups who want to establish stations. Based in Portland, Ore., it operates under the auspices of the United Church of Christ, with support from the Ford Foundation. Legal help is provided by the Media Access Project in Washington, D.C.

Any new station will have to meet programming requirements set by the FCC. One is that each broadcast day must include eight hours of original local programming; another is that the station must be on the air at least 12 hours a day.

The FCC assigns station licenses based on a points system. Points are awarded for such things as community presence and educational work. Orion Gray, an associate with the Microradio Implementation Project in Portland, said disparate groups often join forces to boost their point scores and thereby boost their chances of getting the station.

"If you are in a mutually exclusive situation where you have the same points as a competitor, you have 30 days to work out an agreement to cooperate to use that frequency," Gray said. "But there have been no test cases yet."

Cesmat said he hadn't really thought about sharing the station with other groups, but he didn't rule it out. And Harman believes there will be plenty of room for Calvary if he and Woodruff get the license.

As for the location of the transmitter, Harman thinks the Eastside Fire and Rescue office in Carnation is the best place. It has to be somewhere in that part of the Valley, he said, so it won't interfere with a Mercer Island station on the same frequency.

From that location, the station could be heard on the Sammamish Plateau, in Issaquah and in the Upper Snoqualmie Valley.

But that day is still a ways off. Woodruff said the FCC has a backlog of applications to process and may not make a decision on this one for 6 to 18 months

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