The Sonoma County coast is known to be a bit of a vortex for everything that travels over the airwaves: radio signals, cell service, and in some places, reliable internet.
Some of that may change soon thanks to a new FM radio station with the call letters KAPO.
The new outfit, which obtained a license from the Federal Communications Commission earlier this spring, will not be a community radio station but rather a station for the community – an effort that aims to broadcast locally generated content and other programming. , 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
While few locals even heard of the future channel, one man celebrates it as another accomplishment in his inexorable march towards building a great empire of small radio stations. The man, Jeff Cotton, is a director of the parent company Open Sky Radio Corp.., a company that has launched eight different radio and television stations since 2008, and has funded, built and donated three other radio stations to community nonprofits.
Cotton, 68, doesn’t live anywhere near Sonoma County — he lives in the northeast corner of the state, in Modoc County — but said he expects KAPO to provide programming original to the entire Bodega region.
“This station, like all of our stations, will become the voice of the local people,” he said.
Following the Marshall model
As Cotton mentioned, KAPO is not his first rodeo. It’s not even his first station on the northern California coast. In 2020 Cotton launched KDAN, a small station for the community of Marshall, a small town just south of the county line in North Marin.
At 91.5 on the dial, the station had been inactive for several years and was at risk of having its FCC license expire. That’s when Cotton stepped in and bought it for $5,000.
Today, the station has a loyal following. Every week it offers around 20 hours of fresh programming that combines all kinds of different music. In any given segment, one of the station’s DJs may play rock, rockabilly, folk, and roots. DJs are located in Truckee, Nevada, Oregon and Idaho. Cotton described the resort’s vibe as “schizoeclectic”, or borderless.
“We don’t do blues or bluegrass or Celtic hour shows,” he said. “Our programs have the element of surprise. They are for music lovers with a high degree of tolerance who like to explore.
Marshall’s call letters are a nod to Marin’s late singer-songwriter Dan Hicks.
The station could have been called KBAR – a shout out to Marcia Barinaga of Barinaga Ranch.
Barinaga is a patron of a particular kind. Back when Cotton was starting KDAN, Barinaga allowed him to store repeaters and other broadcast gear in a pumphouse at the back of his 800-acre property, creating the opportunity to “build” a broadcast tower. She agreed to do it for free.
Today, a tour of the dilapidated shed reveals high-tech equipment powered by a solar panel outside. The equipment is suitable to broadcast a signal of around 10 watts, which is strong enough to broadcast across Tomales Bay to Inverness. For perspective, public radio’s KQED-FM has 10 times the watts and reaches just about every city in the Bay Area.
Next to the repeater box is a framed photograph of Guglielmo Marconi, the engineer who is widely credited with inventing the radio. The ranch is adjacent to the grounds of the Marconi Conference Center, which was originally built to receive wireless telegraph signals from across the Atlantic Ocean.
“I’m a fan of radio,” Barinaga said. “I’m a busy person and it’s a great companion when I’m on the go. It’s also very funny to me that the station basically broadcasts from our pumphouse.
Another bonus: KDAN is part of the Emergency Broadcast System, so the station helps keep residents safe.
From a technical standpoint, KDAN would not be able to broadcast without the Barinaga Ranch pump station equipment. Cotton is furiously trying to find a similar broadcast situation here in Sonoma County, looking to build a station for the community around the community itself.
Until that happened, one of the biggest challenges has been name recognition. Because KAPO is not yet broadcasting, because the Bodega Bay community is tiny, many locals have not heard of the new radio station and therefore have nothing to say about it.
Cotton, on the other hand, never passes up an opportunity to trumpet about his new venture.
“It’s poetic in a way — we’re building ourselves up as a great community resource and now we’re looking to the community to make it happen,” said Cotton, who worked for decades as a music promoter in Reno (between other cities). “We need people to step in and house our equipment in their version of a pumphouse. In other words, we need people’s help.
One of the station’s early advocates: Bill Bowker, a popular and longtime DJ from “The Krush,” KRSH on 95.9, in Santa Rosa.
For Bowker, who is technically retired, Cotton’s small-town radio stations illustrate a larger trend.
“Radio is making a comeback, and it’s nice to see it take hold here in Sonoma County,” Bowker said. “I think with the COVID situation and people being more at home, it’s like they’ve rediscovered radio or they’re looking to radio to give them something that all these other media can’t. not.”
With formal FCC approval and a programming model in place, KAPO is well on its way to going live. Now Cotton just needs the resources to get it out there.
He said he was looking for “a new Marcia Barinaga”, or someone who would allow Cotton and Open Sky Radio Corp. to install equipment in a pumphouse (or an equivalent pumphouse). Once this mission-critical equipment is in place, once it’s online and functioning properly, KAPO can begin immediately, providing the Bodega community with another opportunity to come together and connect.
Of course, according to Cotton, finding a cadre of donors would also be key. He said KDAN has 10 to 15 people who regularly donate money to keep the station and trains operational. KAPO would need a similar support base. Another standout item on Cotton’s to-do list: a tagline.
KDAN’s motto is classic: “Broadcast to more bivalves and sheep than people.” KAPO will need something this smart to galvanize local support.
“People want radio to succeed,” Cotton said. “We’re just trying to do our part to make it happen.”
When KAPO goes live, listeners will be able to tune in on the FM dial and also stream online at jiveradio.org.