KGHP-FM station manager Spencer Abersold saw the proverbial writing on the wall that his job was nearing an end.
He had been hearing rumblings that the 35-year-old Peninsula School District owned-and-operated radio station was on the chopping block. The demise of the local public radio stations started in 2020 when the district stopped offering a broadcasting class at PHS after longtime instructor Leland Smith retired.
But it was seeing the literal writing in newspapers the past two years about what the district was going to do with the radio station that really irked Abersold. There were discussions about how much the district could get for selling the station, and then there were questions about whether students were really interested in careers in media and broadcasting.
“But those discussions took place in another building and didn’t include me,” Abersold said. “We were on a path to make this station profitable, but consistent news coverage that the school district doesn’t know what to do with the station didn’t help me.”
Abersold was one of 15 district employees, all non-teaching positions, who were laid off as part of PSD’s attempt to cut $12 million from next school year’s budget. He’ll remain on staff through the end of the current school year.
“I actually handed in my keys expecting I was done (the day he was told by PSD Human Resources),” he said. “I walked in the studio an hour before that meeting and did what I thought was my last opportunity to play music.”
Another 25 full-time equivalent classified and non-represented district and building staff are also affected in various ways. More details were to be provided at the PSD board of directors business meeting on April 27, after press time.
Other school districts in Western Washington are in a similar boat. Vashon Island (-$1 million), South Kitsap (-$9.5 million), Shoreline (-$14 million), Olympia (-$17 million) and Everett (-$28 million) school districts are all facing budget shortfalls. Seattle Public Schools is looking at a nearly $130 million setback. All citing declining enrollment as one of the main reasons, if not the main one.
Of the 15 laid-off employees, Abersold said his position was unique because he could help offset the costs with running a station through support by commercial sales and community sponsors. The last few years the station has generated between $35,000 and $40,000, he said. His modest salary is the biggest expense for the station. Otherwise, it’s run by student and adult volunteer DJs.
“I appreciate everyone who has offered support,” said Abersold. “I’ve been fighting the fight as long as I can and don’t know what more I could’ve done to change opinions.”
Abersold wears two hats for KGHP. The bill-paying, schedule-making station manager and his on-air persona known as “The Walrus” — a nickname he picked up from college friends in the mid-1990s.
“The Walrus is an entity, a vehicle for entertainment,” he said of himself. “But any of these students can be their version of The Walrus; it’s an outlet for creativity.”
But not a lot of people can be Spencer Abersold, a person who spent 21 years as head of the station, another four years as a volunteer, and who served as member of the Gig Harbor City Council from 2018-2022. Including his high school days — he’s a 1992 graduate of the school — Abersold has spent nearly 29 years of his life in the PHS hallways.
What’s next for KGHP is up in the air. From what he’s been told, the station will go on without him. “Legally they couldn’t just shut it down. We have to broadcast because of our (Federal Communications Commission) license.” The district, in theory, could sell their non-commercial, educational license, but it would be difficult, according to Abersold, to find a suitor in the nonprofit or an organization in the educational world willing to fork over what the license would cost.
What’s next for The Walrus is a little more black-and-white. He’s done with radio. “I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame and I’m looking at going in a different direction.” Early next year he’ll publish his novel, “Curse of the Werewolf.” Abersold has worked on it since the early days of the pandemic and already has ideas for a second and third book in a series. He also wants to parlay his love of traveling into a possible career as a truck driver.
“I’m going to miss serving the community,” the life-long Gig Harbor resident said. “I feel at a loss for the people who aren’t going to get the benefit of the service we provided.”
KGHP-FM broadcasts at 89.3, 89.9 and 105.7 with online streaming available on kghp.org.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS