Rise and fall of a community radio station
Act One – The Beginning
If you are unaware of Coos Community Radio which operates at 98.1 FM, you aren’t alone. Sadly, with the exception of Democracy Now and Economic Update, (both programs I brought to the station), and thanks to its current management Travis Hayer and Darlene Elliott, you also aren’t missing anything.
In 2013 the FCC opened a window for the single largest expansion
of community radio stations in the history of the agency. Non-profit or publicly owned organizations were
invited to apply without fee for a low-power FM (LPFM) radio license. After
some encouragement from a fellow activist operating a full power station in
Florence, I applied for three licenses in Coos County. Happily, all three
applications were approved and received what is called a “construction permit”.
Each had a maximum of three years to build and begin operating a station. Winter
Lakes High School in Coquille, Bandon Community Radio and Coos Community Radio in
Coos Bay/North Bend all went live and received their full-fledged broadcast
Now a little LPFM station may not seem like a big deal but keep in mind that KBOO which now has multiple translators operating at a combined 28000W covering the entire northern half of Oregon offering diverse national and local programming beyond began life as a 30W LPFM. KJAJ, on the other hand is still looping 24 hours of programming first aired three years ago via Windows Media Player seven days a week, let its domain expire on June 3, 2019, is apparently delinquent filing required state and federal reports and is refusing to repay me more than $4K forcing me sue the station which will likely force it into bankruptcy.
KJAJ began broadcasting in February 2017, mere days before the
construction permit was set to expire. The path to licensing was a circuitous one
and like all new organizations not without hiccups but could not have been
accomplished without the help of my fellow founder Patricia Gouveia. The start
of the construction period coincided with another project Pattie and are were
involved in, the effort to establish a right to a sustainable energy future ordinance
in Coos County. Pattie, in fact, did all the heavy lifting in the beginning for
KJAJ while I focused on the campaign. She
setup the bylaws, code of ethics, conflict of interest policy and paid the
bills and much more. She also wrote and obtained two grants totaling $11,700 to
fund capital equipment purchases. Without Pattie, KJAJ would not exist.
Using her contacts from the time she worked at ORCCA, Pattie
further secured a location for a station. Alternative Youth Activities, Inc offered an
unused house on their property. This would facilitate one of our goals to work
with youth which was a feature of one of the grants we submitted. Our only
requirement was to cover the monthly electrical and water and allow AYA to use
one room in the building. We were excited because this would allow us physical
space to grow as the station became more involved with the community. We paid
the utilities for about 20 months before we actually began broadcasting. In
addition to the grants, Pattie and I also provided in excess of $4K to cover
operational expenses to keep the station afloat until it was generating
Initially we planned to use a remote tower location but as
time was running short and suitable towers were few and far between AYA’s new executive
director, Scott Cooper, agreed to allow us to erect a 36’ tower on site. We
considered this a temporary solution until a better tower location providing us
with better coverage was found but happily KJAJ was borne and Coos Community
Radio received its full-fledged broadcasting license.
As with many small organizations we struggled
organizationally and please note that when I use the term “we” I mean the KJAJ board.
Board members and volunteers who have
been there almost from the beginning include Knute Nemeth and Geno Landrum,
(there were others in the early days who had to drop out for various personal
reasons or because they moved, time constraints, etc).. Small start-up
organizations require a working board meaning people willing to do the hard
work of raising funds, filing state and federal documents and doing the day-to-day
upkeep and maintenance, public outreach, etc…
At one point I invited Travis Hayer to be on the board
because he had actual experience operating a station having worked for
Bi-Coastal Media and we eventually invited Scott Cooper to the board as I
thought it would be reasonable to have a representative of our landlord and
largest in-kind contributor, AYA. Scott Cooper also indicated he would help with
grant writing taking some of the burden off of Pattie. These two choices would
ultimately prove fatal to the organization.
In addition to the time constraints set by the FCC we were
also under other time pressures. Our foundation grant of $9,000 was meant to be
spent within one year and to be used for capital expenditures, not for operating
costs. Because we had so much difficulty
solving the tower problem it took us nearly two years to spend it. We had
planned to reapply for more funds but until we spent the first grant this would
not have been appropriate and so we opted to make some purchases that we hoped
would be useful to the station in an effort to meet the original deadline or risk
having to return the money. This was freely discussed at a board meeting
unfortunately, the only people who showed up were Pattie and me and Geno
Landrum who at the time was a volunteer and not yet on the board. We bought
some Barix boxes, a small FM transmitter, a microphone and some odds and ends
knowing we could always sell these assets if necessary. Even then we still hadn’t
spent enough money to justify reapplying and we were even more concerned
because of the lack of input from the rest of the board. After Pattie and I
held a yard sale, (mostly organized by Pattie), with no help from the rest of
the board, Pattie decided she was done and understandably decided to resign.
This was a critical time for KJAJ because it still did not
have its broadcast license and time was running out. At my request Pattie
stayed on as the “paper” president temporarily while I took over the chores of president
and treasurer and was added as a signor on the account. Included in the
treasurer duties was tracing back over the previous three years to determine
how the money was spent. The board was provided with the breakdown below. In
summary, we raised $11,700 in grant funds and by the time we went on the air
had spent in excess of $15,500 in verified capital purchases and operating
expenses. As mentioned previously, the difference between what we received in
grants and what the station spent, almost $5,000 by the time I too gave up on
KJAJ, came from Pattie and me.
|Dept of Justice||320|
Shortfall = $3,821
Since I did not have a debit card for our bank, I used my
own bank and credit cards to make the purchases or pay the utilities, etc. This
was made clear up front to the attending board and I further made it clear that
I would reimburse myself for these purchases and expenses.
In addition to paying the bills and making the equipment
purchases I prepared and filed the required state and federal reports and
hosted the station website, KJAJ.org on my own server. All of this was because
I firmly believed the station could be a valuable community asset to help
counter the conservative commercial radio that permeates the area.
Pattie and I are deeply disappointed after all our hard work to see the state of the station now. What a waste of our time and effort. Stay tuned for Act Two to learn how Scott Cooper took power from the station without asking, (I was paying for it), how he decided to change the lease terms we had previously agreed upon and helped stack the board with AYA sycophants including Darlene Elliott and Octavia Shafer. Learn how he tried to publicly shame me in front of his friends and girlfriend for having had the audacity to privately disagree with him via email. Then read how KJAJ is trying to steal my money.