Did you know?: Black history: FM radio comes to Del Norte

By Bob Berkowitz February 12, 2014 02:12 pm

February is Black History Month, a month when the media will highlight the accomplishments of many black leaders nationwide. What does that have to do with Crescent City, where the black population is minuscule?

As it turns out, plenty. Without the aid and assistance of one black family here you would not be listening to local radio as you know it.

It all began in February 1980. KCRE-AM, our daytime-only station, had been on the air less than a year. It had a great lineup of local personalities like Jerry Yarberry, Dave Angell, Sue Williams and our Traffic Director Dee Mattz, but having a daytime station was not ideal when going up against the local powerhouse KPOD-AM, which could be on the air around the clock. Something had to be done if the station was going to survive.

That “something” came in the actions of the FCC in Washington, D.C., where it created a new FM radio station allocation for Crescent City. This was the chance to build the area’s first local FM radio station; however this would be no easy task. In addition to the large financial resources for new equipment and studios, there was an enormous amount of paperwork required. The FCC required 250 interviews with potential listeners about what they wanted out of their station and 50 interviews with community leaders.

We submitted the paperwork and one day the envelope we had been waiting for arrived. Our application had been denied! I got on the phone to the FCC looking for an explanation. The answer was unbelievable.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: I would like to know why our application for an FM radio station for Crescent City California has been denied.

FCC: I found your file and it looks like your application was denied because you failed to include interviews with the major community groups in your town.

Me:  We interviewed almost every community leader we could find. What did we miss?

FCC: Well from what I see here is that you missed every one of the black organizations. Not a single one is listed here.

Me: The reason is that we have very few black people living here and no black organizations.

FCC: That’s impossible. Every community has black organizations. We just approved an application from Oakland and they listed. You are in California, right? So don’t tell me you don’t have any black organizations, but I will keep your application on file until you comply.

Me: Thank you.

The problem was that I did not know of any local black families. Sheriff Tom Hopper told me that of one family led by a wonderful woman, Irene Sanders. Irene had no phone so I just showed up her doorstep and I asked her if she knew of any black organizations in the entire county. She looked at me kind of funny for the absurdity of even asking such a question. As far as she was concerned, hers was the only black family in the county.

When I found out that she had four sons, a light bulb went off in my head. Irene, I asked, would your four sons be willing to help me get the radio station licensed? She inquired as to what I had in mind. Well considering that the FCC is asking for just the head of the black organizations without any membership numbers, could we form four black organizations with each of your sons heading each one, so one son could be the leader of the NAACP, another one could be the leader of SNCC, etc. Sure enough we were able to have a leader of each of the four organizations that we created.

With that, we sent off the amended paperwork off to Washington and several weeks later I got a call from the same FCC representative who had denied our application.

FCC: Congratulations! Your application has been approved. You see, I knew you could find those black organizations if you just took the time to look.

Me: Yes, I should have taken more time to really think creatively.

So now you know the real story behind how Crescent City got its first FM radio station. Three years later Bill Stamps was able to use those same black organizations to get his license for KPOD-FM. Yes, both commercial FM stations were possible because one black lady said yes to the challenge and made it all possible 34 years ago this month.

And by the way, thanks to Richard Enea for coming up with this column’s name.

Bob Berkowitz is a Crescent City resident and president of LifeStyles Research Co.