“I absolutely plan on sticking with this and getting involved with the local radio station wherever I go to college or start my career,” said 14-year-old Chase Reilley, sitting back from the microphone during a set-break of his “An Alternative Universe” music show broadcast on KFUG Community Radio in Crescent City.
Taylor “T-Smash” Patch, 14, goes by the DJ name T-Smash while hosting “An Alternative Universe” on Tuesdays at 3 p.m. on KFUG, which just received a license to broadcast at 101.1 FM. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
Going by the DJ name Rockin’ Reilley, he and his friend Taylor “T-Smash” Patch, also 14, have been co-hosting the 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday show since June, and the radio duo, who both get school credit for producing the show, couldn’t be more excited about KFUG’s upgrade last weekend to a 100-watt FM receiver. Leaving their AM signal in the dust, KFUG is now broadcast at 101.1 FM throughout Del Norte County from Klamath to Smith River.
“This is really amazing,” Patch said, from KFUG’s storefront-window studio. “It’s like a step up from a stone wheel to a car… maybe not the same leap — but it feels the same.”
To celebrate the new FM frontier, KFUG is hosting a “Get to know KFUG” broadcast from noon to 6 pm Saturday at the station’s studios, 270 I St., featuring live music from Zack Freiwald at 2 p.m., meet-and-greets with station DJs and an invitation for new ideas and more local content.
“I want to reflect as much of the community as possible — that’s the whole reason behind it,” said the station’s program director, Paul Critz, who bought the web-only station in 2011 and turned it into a broadcast station with a brick-and-mortar presence in 2012.
As a teenager, Critz walked into an AM radio station in Tulare, Calif., hoping just to “get a job sweeping up,” he said, but when the on-air DJ asked if he was there for the announcer’s job, Critz improvised: “Uh, yeah, sure. What do I have to do?”
At the DJ’s request he recorded himself reading some newspaper articles, brought in the tape, and within a week he was a host for a big band format radio show.
Now Critz is the one granting time slots to wide-eyed teenagers, retirees and everyone in between, eager to get on the radio, like T-Smash and Rockin’ Reilley, who he describes as “natural” and “confident” on-air.
“The difference here is that they can walk in and play what they want to play,” Critz said.
“We try to play only alternative music, but there will be times when I’m just in the mood for Johnny Cash,” Patch said.
Listeners might be in the mood for some of the other offerings: Pink Floyd hour, “Techno Tuesday,” “Time Warp” (which usually starts in the 1920s and builds up to modern times), contemporary music and middle school happenings through the eyes of Critz’s 13-year-old daughter, Zoe, or maybe even a classic radio show with features like a radio adaptation of “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “War of the Worlds.
For Halloween, KFUG volunteers rewrote “War of the Worlds” with a Crescent City setting and recorded a broadcast with the custom script.
“Paul has given us the opportunity to do things like this,” said Don Jones, who hosts Old Time Radio Theater on Sundays at 5 p.m. “It’s a community project and we do share it as a community.”
Siblings Jacob and Rachel Patterson have recently transitioned an existing weekly youth discussion about gender roles in society to a radio show called “Gender Talk,” Thursdays at 5 p.m. “They played music, talked about the objectification of women and played everything from Katy Perry to Bessie Smith,” Critz said.
Some DJ’s like John Crate, who hosts the JJ Kale show, have gone through a period of growth. Crate started out a bit nervous, and “now he’s got this whole persona. He comes in, the voice changes, the sunglasses go on, and he’s defining that space,” Critz said.
Even with 30 volunteers, the station is always open to new shows and content, with Critz hoping for a punk show, more hip-hop, a local politics show and maybe even a jazz show.
From photos to ‘Fug
Before running KFUG became a full-time pursuit, Critz was operating Photique, a local photography business started by his father, out of the same building on I street.
But he didn’t have the passion for it.
“Ultimately it was his life,” Critz said of why he got out of photography. “I wanted to do what he did, I guess, which was stand up, make a business and do something that you love and care about, something that you’re excited about doing every day.”
Critz’ interest in radio was rekindled in 2010 when Jim Wayman asked if he was interested in doing a Friday night radio show for an online radio station Wayman had just started called KFUG.
At the same time, Critz had just started to work with the local school district taking student and class photos, which required two months of 16-hour work days, Critz said.
“The way I got through that was sitting and fantasizing about running a radio station,” Critz said. “It became my coping mechanism for the incredible amount of work that school pictures was.”
When tough times for Wayman brought KFUG’s future into question, Critz made a play.
“In 2011, I purchased it from him just because it was going to die unless something happened, and I had already made up my mind that this is what I wanted to do,” Critz said.
Paul’s father, Jerry Critz, who himself did radio for the Armed Forces network and played records locally for KPOD with Bill Stamps, was supportive of his son’s decision to dismantle Photique and he still helps out around the station.
Online radio a hard sell
With a goal to have the station start broadcasting by his birthday, Critz was digging a trench for copper wiring under storm clouds in the pounding rain on AprII 9, 2012.
KFUG’s engineer Jeff “Shortie” Stouffer, a retired radio and television engineer, donated and built most of the equipment for the AM transmitters.
But even with coverage in the greater Crescent City area, it soon became apparent that AM wouldn’t cut it.
“The AM signal was never satisfactory and it’s difficult driving people, even in this day and age, to online radio, and that was becoming untenable,” Critz said.
In October 2012, Critz heard that thanks to the work of Prometheus Radio, which has lobbied for community radio access via low power FM (LPFM), the Federal Communications Commission announced that it would accept new applications for LPFM stations during a two-week window in October 2013 for the first time in 13 years.
“Alright, we have to stay alive until then,” Critz remembers thinking.
KFUG spent much of the past year preparing the FCC application, converting to a non-profit entity (a qualification for the LPFM license), and acquiring a $8,200 grant from the Humboldt Area Foundation for the FM equipment. Thanks to being in Del Norte County, where there were not any competing applicants, KFUG’s license was approved in the first round last week. The license allows the station to crank up its 30-foot antenna on the roof of the local Elks Lodge to 100 watts.
What’s in the future for KFUG after the big upgrade?
“More and more community involvement across the board,” said Critz, who hopes that includes local American Indian voices and utilization of mobile broadcasting with the KFUG van.
“I’d love to broadcast Crescent Elk basketball games, just being involved as much as possible,” Critz said. “The way we’re going to get people to listen to KFUG is by putting them on the radio, which is what I grew up with listening to Bill Stamps.”
Critz hopes to continue KFUG’s video content online as well, which has included local bands playing in studio and the “Local Voices” broadcast that highlights community ventures.
Critz thanked KFUG’s underwriters that have helped keep the station open so far, and said he hopes to maintain enough funding “to make sure the electricity stays on, the rent gets paid and we have fun doing it.”