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KBBI: Homer's oldest radio station

Posted: July 9, 2014 - 1:14pm  |  Updated: July 25, 2014 - 9:37am
Homer News file photo
In June 1988, KBBI programming director Susan Kernes, left, holds the shovel while development director Cathy Thomas, right, shows Sen. Paul Fischer, R-Soldotna, center left, and Rep. Mike Navarre, D-Kenai, center right, where to break ground for KBBI’s new Kachemak Way studio.

Forty-five years ago humans first walked on the moon. By 1979, it’s hard to believe that with advances in science and technology, including satellite broadcasts, Homer didn’t have a radio station. A live broadcast on Aug. 4, 1979, changed all that when Beverly Munro, one of the founding members of Kachemak Bay Broadcasting Inc., walked up to a microphone in the old Homer High School gym, and said, “This is KBBI, Homer, Alaska, signing on the air.”

That was one small step for a woman and one giant leap for a community. Homer was on the air. KBBI broadcast its first show in a big party at what’s now Homer Middle School. Skybird, a local band, played the KBBI theme song, with music following by Hobo Jim, Atz and Nedra Kilcher, and others. Fellow founding member Kevin Hogan, a fisherman, spun the first record, “Seems Like a Long Time,” by Brewer and Shipley. Not quite sure if the radio broadcast worked, some in the audience went out and tuned in on their car radios to be sure.

The KBBI studio was across Lake Street from Spenard Builders Supply. Its antenna was out on the Homer Spit.

“The antenna was basically a wire strung between two poles,” Hogan said.

Hogan got the idea to start a radio station after he moved up to Homer in 1974. He had been a reporter and journalism major in college at Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash., and did a story on its radio station, KAOS. Driving up the Alaska Highway, he’d been impressed by the Canadian radio stations.

“The need to be able to get marine weather reports — that was a big deal at the time,” Hogan said. “It was not easy to get it.”

In 1975, he and Munro started working on getting a station. Kachemak Bay Broadcasting Inc. got its incorporation papers in late 1976. Seed money came from the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission. Not everyone in Homer wanted a radio station, particularly one with a local news program. Hogan said some Homer City Council members and city officials were against KBBI.

“There was a fair amount of skepticism and opposition,” he said.

Officially, KBBI wasn’t Homer’s first radio station. That honor went to Jack Mills,  who had a low-power station back in the early 1950s. KBBI also was in a race with KGTL, the commercial radio station still owned by Dave and Eileen Becker, to broadcast first in Homer, Thomas said. KGTL got its license first, but went on the air in September 1979. KBBI also had another first in 1979: on Aug. 13 it broadcast live its first Homer City Council meeting.

Fairly quickly KBBI moved into a studio on Federal Aviation Administration land in what’s now the Town Center property owned by Cook Inlet Region Inc. It moved its antenna there, too. In late 1979, carpenter Larry Smith organized a volunteer crew to add on a building to a shed at the site.

That volunteer spirit has been the heart of KBBI, said former general manager Gary Thomas.

“KBBI was born out of community interest and community support,” Thomas said. 

The Town Center studio was KBBI’s home until 1991. Dave Anderson, now KBBI’s general manager since 2004, started at KBBI as volunteer disc jockey in 1981 and later worked as the weekend operations guy. The old studio didn’t have indoor plumbing, and for a while had an outdoor privy.

“I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who stepped outside to use the toilet and then realized, ‘Damn it. I locked myself out of the building,’” Anderson said.

The building on Kachemak Way was dedicated in March 1991, and to commemorate indoor plumbing, Gov. Steve Cowper signed the studio’s old toilet seat. Other changes included a permanent tower site off East End Road, moving the station’s broadcast frequency to 890 AM and doubling the power from 5,000 watts to 10,000 watts. All of that made KBBI’s signal clearer and able to reach farther, about a 50-mile radius. 

In 2003, KBBI formed a partnership with KDLL Public Radio in Kenai. KDLL gets satellite broadcasts from KBBI, and the stations also share a news department. 

KBBI had briefly explored getting an FM stereo signal, but dropped the idea when the board decided that money could be spent on other projects like equipment upgrades and boosting its social media presence.

In its 35 years, KBBI has overcome that historic skepticism.

“I think it served the community well,” Hogan said, “I think it’s been a positive addition.”

Looking ahead, Anderson said it’s hard to predict the changing media landscape.

“We’re here for the long haul,” he said. “We just want to be able to provide the news, entertainment and emergency response the  community has come to depend on us for.”

 

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

 

KBBI 890 AM Public Radio

First broadcast live from the Homer High School Gym:
6 p.m., Aug. 4, 1979, then broadcast on 1250 AM

First words, by founding member Beverly Munro:
“This is KBBI, Homer, Alaska, signing on the air.”

First general manager:
Pete Carran

First music:
The KBBI theme song, written and performed by Homer band Skybird, followed by music from Hobo Jim, The Fiddleheads, Atz and Nedra Kilcher, and Kristin Kaufman and Jim Reinhart.

First recording played:
“Seems Like a Long Time” by Brewer and Shipley

First news director:
Randi Somers

First Homer City Council live broadcast:
Aug. 13, 1979

First studio:
Lake Street, across from Spenard Builders Supply

Second studio:
Federal Aviation Administration shed addition, now the Cook Inlet Region Inc. property in the Town Center.

Third studio dedicated:
March 30, 1991, on Kachemak Way

Most recent antenna built:
1987 on East End Road, became 890 AM.

Volunteers trained since 1979:
About 700

First 24-hour programming:
Spring 1998

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