KRCB public radio, 91.1 FM, will finally get a stronger signal
By Rollie Atkinson, Sonoma West Staff, Sonoma West Times & News, February 4, 2021
Sonoma County’s and the North Bay’s public radio voice is about to get stronger when Northern California Public Media’s (NorCal) deal to acquire the FM radio frequency 104.9 for its KRCB-FM signal gains a final and expected approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC.)
The regional National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate recently announced a $1.5 million purchase agreement with Amaturo Sonoma Media Group to take over the 104.9 spot on the FM dial, currently used by Amaturo’s K-HITS classic rock music station. Final FCC approval must await a time period set aside for any public comments.
Since going on the air in 1993 at 91.1 FM, KRCB has been hampered by a limited and unreliable signal strength that did not cover all parts of Sonoma County. Northern California Public Media president and CEO Darren LaShelle said the new frequency will expand the KRCB voice to all parts of Sonoma County, while extending east to parts of Napa County and as far south as Novato, “Now when we report on events at Bodega Bay or northern Sonoma County those folks will actually hear us.”
“When NorCal Public Media reached out to us with this proposal it was the furthest thing from consideration. But as we got to know Darren, Chris and the team at KRCB and learned of their tragic loss in the Kincade Fire, we looked at their offer more seriously,” said Michael O’Shea, president at the Amaturo group. “With revenue losses in the era of COVID, we felt this would be a way of assuring our employees’ job security and an operational safety-valve for the unknown months ahead. It was really a win-win opportunity.”
With the stronger FM signal, LaShelle also announced the expansion of NorCal’s news team, to be led by broadcast veteran Chris Lee, who had been serving as a consultant at the public media company. Joining Lee will be Greta Mart, who will serve as news director who most recently served the same role at NPR member station KCBX in San Luis Obispo. Also added to the staff is Tessa Paoli, a news reporter who recently worked at Capital Public Radio in Sacramento and Marc Albert, a UC Santa Cruz graduate who had been working at North State Public Radio in Chico, Butte County.
“We’ll be devoting ourselves more to Sonoma County,” said Lee. “More local news, more local DJs and more information about our local communities.”
Northern California Public Media’s station and offices are located in Rohnert Park where it also broadcasts KRCB channel 22 television and is a Public Broadcast Service (PBS) affiliate. In 2017, NorCal purchased the San Mateo-based PBS Channel 60 and re-christened it KPJK, using the initials of John Kramer, a co-founder of KRCB in 1981. The stations and organization employ 47 employees and operate with an annual budget of $5 million. They are led by a community-based board of directors and a NPR-mandated citizen’s advisory board.
“NorCal’s vision for radio has long been to serve all of Sonoma County with local news and great music,” said KRCB founder and emeritus CEO Nancy Dobbs. “The crowded radio spectrum has prevented that expansion until now. Darren and his team saw an opportunity and moved on it. I am delighted with this new service for our community.”
The acquisition of 104.9 to boost the North Bay’s FM signal is part of a master plan for improving public media service and programming which is being funded from a one-time $72 million sale of its broadcast spectrum during an FCC airwaves auction in 2017. ($50 million of those funds have been invested into an endowment fund.)
“Our master plan started with our acquisition of the San Mateo station,” said LaShelle, who replaced KRCB co-founder Dobbs upon her retirement in 2019. “After a one-year study we made an offer to the Amaturo group for their 104.9 frequency which they graciously accepted.”
Other parts of the master plan include upgrading all radio and TV station technology, adding to the news staff and preparing to expand more programming on internet-based streaming channels, LaShelle also said.
“At this point a lot of what we are doing is following our public and audience, rather than leading. We are currently conducting an online survey at our website (NorCalPublicMedia.org.),” he said.
When the signal is switched to the new 104.9 frequency, owners Northern California Public Media will retain the same KRCB call letters, following an upcoming public promotion campaign to announce the change and reach out to new listeners across its new larger radio territory.
The media landscape for both public and commercial radio and TV is fast evolving along with revolutionary changes to newspapers and all media outlets.
“PBS/NPR are definitely evolving and we are working with our national partners to bring a more local-national mix of programming as we all move toward a future of more streaming, if not exclusively,” said LaShelle, mentioning that more and more television viewers are “cutting their cords” to their cable and satellite services as new streaming services such as Roku, Hulu and many others are emerging across the internet.
This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com