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Sunday, October 17, 2021

FCC and KDRT reach compromise

After facing possible termination, what began as a serious challenge to the survival of Davis-based community radio station KDRT finally reached a compromise in August.

The issue began when KMJE, a station owned by Results Radio based in Gridley, Calif., filed an application to move to Woodland. The station also operates at 101.5 FM and has a much larger range than KDRT, and the move would thus replace KDRT’s signal in Davis.

After a year-and-a-half long effort fought by KDRT supporters, the FCC altered its frequency rules and opened the previously-unavailable 95.7 frequency for KDRT. This opening will allow KMJE to operate in Woodland at 101.5 FM without removing KDRT from the air.

KDRT’s community orientation created a pivotal support base throughout its entanglement with KMJE and Results Radio. Several members of KDRT led an informational campaign to preserve the station, starting the SAVE KDRT initiative and tabling throughout various community events such as the Davis Farmers Market and Picnic Day.

“I think [the FCC was] compelled by our effectiveness and our community support,” said Autumn Labbé-Renault, a long-time staff member of KDRT and executive director of Davis Media Access. “They didn’t change all their rules, but they tweaked it enough to help us find a way to survive. I think it was an educational experience for them as well.”

Strong support came from the Davis Food Co-op, and letters of support were sent to the Davis City Council, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and California First District Representative Mike Thompson.

“Once it all came out, [KMJE] realized that they would have to work with us, and they wanted a solution too,” said KDRT station director Jeff Shaw. “There’s plenty of space on the FM dial. In the end it’s a mostly satisfactory conclusion.”

“It’s important to have a community radio station,” said Jesse Drew, a longtime member of KDRT and director of technocultural studies at UC Davis. “It’s harder and harder for the community to keep in touch, especially in terms of emergencies. Local stations play a valuable role.”

KDRT launched as a low-power FM station in 2004 as a part of Davis Media Access, which also runs Davis Community Television.

Low power FM stations, or LPFMs, were officially created by the FCC in 2000, after the emergence of underground low-wattage stations throughout the late 20th century. They are permitted to operate at 100 watts or less, which is enough for a signal range of approximately 5.6 kilometers, according to the fcc.gov website.

Moreover, LPFMs are not protected from commercial radio interference, which gives priority to larger full-power stations such as KMJE in cases of frequency overlap.

The switch to 95.7 FM will bring significant changes, according to Labbé-Renault. Planned changes include the purchase of a new antenna, which will strengthen the signal in parts of the town that originally received a weak signal from the station. Broadcasts will also begin streaming at kdrt.org, a new feature for the station.

Even so, Drew doesn’t see the compromise as a complete victory.

“For the last four years, we’ve been drilling into the people that we are 101.5,” Drew said. “Your bandwidth becomes your identity.”

But nonetheless, both Labbé-Renault and Drew view the compromise as representative of a much larger movement in low-power radio. The shift in the FCC’s rules regarding the distances between frequencies, which allowed for the opening of the 95.7 frequency, is viewed as a response to similar situations of full-power rivalry all over the country.

“[This] has been … part of something that’s been ongoing for a long time,” Drew said. “It’s part of a movement to democratize communications. It’s important for that reason.”

KDRT will begin broadcasting on 95.7 FM on Sept. 23.

 

JUSTIN T. HO can be reached at arts@californiaaggie.com.

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