The KGHP studio on the campus of Peninsula High School is mostly dark these days.
The station’s “On the Air” light brightens up the lonely hallways a few times a week for a couple of hours a night when longtime on-air personalities like Denny Dale and Betty Devereux do their live shows. Otherwise, automated software programmed months ahead of time is playing the music listeners can still enjoy across the Key Peninsula (89.9 FM), Gig Harbor (105.7 FM) and Fox Island (89.3 FM).
KGHP has been around since 1988 helping students learn the ins and outs of the radio business, but after years of waning interest, PHS stopped offering radio broadcasting courses in 2021. Spencer Abersold, the station’s former manager whose on-air moniker was “The Walrus,” was one of 15 district employees laid off over the summer as part of PSD’s attempt to cut $12 million from this school year’s budget. His salary made up a large chunk of the station’s annual budget.
But even with Abersold’s salary off the books, Kris Hagel, PSD’s executive director of digital learning, said the district still pays $25,000 a year to operate KGHP. About half of that goes to engineering expenses and the other half toward maintaining their Federal Communications Commission license. The not-for-profit station plays no commercials and brings in no revenue for the school district. And as technology evolves and the station’s equipment becomes outdated, Hagel said the district has no plans to invest in new gear.
So, with a rarely used studio, equipment collecting dust and a computer acting as a deejay, the question is: Should the school district continue funding a radio station that has little educational benefits to students?
Hagel and Superintendent Krestin Bahr don’t think so. But the two also don’t want to let the license lapse, which would leave locals without a key communication resource.
To help ponder that question, the district hosted more than 25 residents, business representatives, and current and former KGHP on-air talent and their supporters at the school district headquarters Nov. 7.
Hagel, Bahr, PSD School Board President Natalie Wimberley, and Executive Director of Student Services John Yellowlees were on hand to facilitate the conversation.
The potential solution from those in attendance was to either partner with a nonprofit organization or form a new nonprofit that would take on the KGHP license, equipment and operational expense — at a low cost.
“We’d be very interested in having that conversation,” Bahr said. Hagel agreed. “We’re not here to make money. We want to find a home for KGHP and figure out how we’ll move forward.”
A nonprofit organization can explore grant opportunities and business partnerships, and get creative with fundraising strategies to help overcome the lack of commercial revenue.
One core element that the community hopes remains is the use of KGHP as a form of emergency preparedness during storms, earthquakes and natural disasters. Leland Smith, who taught radio broadcasting classes at PHS before retiring in 2021, said KGHP was one of the few stations broadcasting during severe ice storms in 1996 and 2006.
But for the station to be effective, it needs power. Currently, there is no backup generator for KGHP at PHS so if the power goes out, the station is useless in emergencies.
Wherever KGHP finds a home, the new owners will need to spend about $10,000 to move it from the high school, according to Hagel.
That cost did not deter those in attendance at the Nov. 7 meeting, with one person saying the community easily has 25 people willing to donate $1,000 per year to keep the station going.
The new owners would have to maintain an education component to the station to maintain the noncommercial, educational license. The station, even in its new incarnation, could still offer hands-on experience for teens considering a career in broadcasting.
“If a nonprofit acquired it, nothing says that a (student) couldn’t go through a work-based learning program, put in the time, learn how to do it, and get course credit,” Smith said. “That would be a win-win.”
John Campbell, who hosts a funk show on KGHP, mentioned how this also can be an opportunity for people of all ages to learn these skills, not just high school students.
There were those in attendance who looked at the station as more than an educational tool but as a hub to connect listeners to their local community.
Gig Harbor resident Victor Rhett, who recently retired as a finance director for a nonprofit in Tacoma, said that’s the model the new owners should follow. He is one of at least 10 people who signed on for further discussions with the district about forming a nonprofit organization to take ownership. Rhett also has an interest in doing on-air work, admitting he likes to “spin a few tunes and talk local politics.”
Broadcasting local events, especially PHS and Gig Harbor High School sports was another topic of conversation. After missing most of the football season, the volunteer crew of sports broadcasters assembled for the Gig Harbor Tides playoff game in October and plan to cover as many home basketball games for the PHS Seahawks and Tides as they can this season. Ohad Lowy, who has been helping with broadcasts since 2008, will join the likes of Timothy Merk and Melinda Curry in calling the games.
Bahr said the workgroup will reconvene to continue talks about KGHP’s future and anyone who wants to participate in these conversations can email Hagel at HagelK@psd401.net.
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