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Whidbey will have a radio station - again

"Jim Tilton wants to make one thing perfectly clear - Oak Harbor's old radio station KJTT is dead and gone.The new local radio station he plans to turn on this weekend is just that - brand new.This is not the same old stand. It's not the same old station. It's not the same old people and it's not the same old attitude, Tilton said about his new venture, KWDB radio. We're here to stay.By pouring the latest technology, radio expertise, a professional staff and lots of his own money into KWDB, Tilton hopes it will be a strong and respected voice for the local area. He also hopes it will erase ugly memories of the last couple of Whidbey radio stations, which have suffered from management and money troubles and twice gone dark, leaving a sour note in the ears of local listeners, advertisers and the Federal Communications Commission.KWDB is set to go on the air as a daytime-only station as early as Saturday. But Tilton said programming will be a bit odd during the first few days as the station tries out its new equipment and performs broadcasting tests required by law. He said regular programming should be fully in place in March.That programming will emphasize the local community, said Oak Harbor resident Rick Bell, who along with partner Steve Bohlen teamed with Tilton to put KWDB on the air. Bell said a broadcast day on KWDB will showcase local news and features ranging from programs on horses and high school sports to event coverage, political interviews and neighborhood classifieds. In between will be music from the last four decades.Tilton said they also plan to throw a few surprises into the music mix.I think every so often we're going to hit you with a couple that you haven't heard in a long time, he said. You might even hear a record now and then that really is a record. Tilton and Bell are both retired Navy men with electronics backgrounds. They have lived in the area for about 30 years. Tilton admits to no real radio background, but Bell and Bohlen have Armed Forces Radio and local radio experience.Even though KWDB's studio probably won't be finished in time, the station has to start broadcasting by the end of February in order to keep its broadcasting license alive.When former station manager Duane Polich pulled the plug on an in-debt KJTT radio a year ago, it put the future of radio on Whidbey in jeopardy. The FCC allows a station to be off the air for a maximum of one year. After that the agency will yank the station's operating license and force the ownership to reapply for a frequency. If that happened, it would be highly unlikely that the owners could ever get back on the air. The commission has not licensed any new daytime-only radio stations since 1987. Plus, Tilton said, the FCC was not in any mood to do favors for the Oak Harbor station. The station had gone off the air in 1996 as well when owner Oak Harbor Communications of Seattle bailed out due to poor finances. It got back on the air just in time in the winter of 1997, only to fail again last year. In addition, previous station management had run up $19,000 worth of FCC fines for broadcast violations.It's going to take some convincing on our part that we aren't the same crowd, Tilton said about his relationship with the commission.What makes Tilton think he can succeed where others have failed?The community has grown. It's hungry for a station, he said.Tilton has consolidated ownership. During the KJTT days, the broadcast license was owned by one group, the transmitter site by another and the station equipment by a third. Now, everything is owned by Tilton and his West Beach Broadcasting company.Aside from the lingering FCC fines, Tilton said the station will go on the air debt free. That's despite the fact that its broadcast tower has been upgraded and the studio facility will have some of the newest digital audio equipment.Tilton also plans to pay his employees. The former KJTT was working with pretty much an all-volunteer staff by the time it shut down. As a result, the station often had an unprofessional and seemingly haphazard sound.Bell said KWDB's on-air staff will all be experienced professional broadcasters who will get a regular paycheck for their work. By the time the station is fully operational, it will employ about 12 full- and part-time people he said.For the time being, KWDB will only operate between about 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.. But as summer approaches and the days get longer, the station will be able to stay on the air later. Bell said they might be able to push operating hours to as late as 11:30 at night. Tilton said making equipment changes and getting FCC permission to go to a 24-hour broadcast day and more power could be costly and time-consuming but he wants to try. He said improvements already made to the station's broadcast antenna should give the station a stronger and clearer signal that should help KWDB build an audience.Tilton said that in the final analysis, it will be the station's commitment to the local community and vice-versa that will spell its ultimate success or failure. In the meantime, he promises not to give up on Whidbey's only radio station.It's something this community has gone a long time without, he said. We will give the community time to see if they like us.Radio factsStation: KWDBFrequency: 1110 AMPower: 500 wattsOperation: Daytime onlyOn Air: President's Day WeekendOwner: West Beach BroadcastingStudio location: Oak HarborTransmitter location: Oak HarborCoverage area: Langley to Mount Vernon to Friday Harbor to the Olympic Peninsula** Source: KWDB promotional letter. Actual coverage has yet to be determined and will vary depending upon atmospheric conditions."

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