Sacramento gets new low-power radio stations

Access Sacramento leads the charge, brings voice to disenfranchised

There will be at least two new community-powered radio stations on the Sacramento airwaves soon. KUBU-LP will be broadcasting in the city of Sacramento at 96.5 on the FM dial, hopefully by this fall. KSCF-LP has been granted a license for 99.1 FM. Several other local applications are pending with the Federal Communications Commission.

The “LP” is for “low power,” the class of limited-range licenses reserved by the FCC for local nonprofit and education groups.

The U-B-U in KUBU-LP is short for “you be you,” a bit of encouragement from Access Sacramento—the nonprofit that was awarded the radio license. “We’re going to try to find a place for anyone who wants to get on the air,” said Gary Martin, executive director of Access Sacramento.

Production will be done largely from Access’ studios on T Street. The KUBU-LP transmitter will be perched atop a Midtown office building, and the signal will cover about a 5-mile radius. That’s as far as Sleep Train Arena in the north, Florin Road in the south, throughout West Sacramento and out to Sacramento State University in the east. Martin says funding will determine when the station goes live; the transmitter could cost as much as $30,000.

The radio station fits perfectly with Access Sacramento’s mission for the last 30 years: to help citizens create the kind of TV and radio programming that the commercial media doesn’t provide.

“The idea is that local people get to share their thoughts with the community and have a free and open debate on issues of public importance. That’s the essence of democracy,” Martin explained.

Yup. The best way to get on air is to contact Access and sign up to attend its orientation and radio classes. Maybe Bites will see you there.

The other license awarded so far, with the call letters KSCF-LP, goes to Williams Memorial Church of God in Christ in south Sacramento. Church member and community-radio wrangler Reuben Meeks explained the S-C-F stands for “Sacramento Christian families.” The programming will likely be a mix of locally produced talk, daily devotionals, urban and gospel music, and some streaming of church services.

“We are going to really focus on south Sacramento and bring a positive vibe to the disenfranchised,” Meeks said. The transmitter signal should reach as far as Elk Grove in the south, Greenhaven in the west, downtown Sacramento in the north and Rancho Cordova in the east.

Meeks’ name may be familiar: He was a captain in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department for many years and police chief in Rancho Cordova until 2009. Radio has been a constant part of his life. He’s the only licensed ham radio operator Bites has met in a while, and his father was a broadcast engineer in the Sacramento for years. “I was a kid in those smoke-filled studios, watching my dad engineer.”

The whole idea behind LPFM is getting local voices on the air. There are still applications pending from groups like Verge Center for the Arts, West Sacramento Neighbors Fair and the Sacramento Old City Association. All real organizations with a strong sense of place, Bites can attest.

Then there’s the local-sounding but somewhat mysterious North Sacramento Community Radio. When Bites called the contact listed on the FCC application, attorney Dan J. Alpert, he asked, “Sacramento is near Mexico, correct?”

Nope. But Texas is, and that’s where the nonprofit North Sacramento Community Radio is incorporated, rather than California. Mesquite, Texas, is also the address of Antonio Cesar Guel, president of the Hispanic Christian Community Network, listed as consulting engineer for the North Sacramento group.

Alpert (area code 703, that’s Virginia) says he and Guel are consultants helping local groups navigate the FCC approval process. Also, he said sorry that he got Sacramento mixed up with San Diego.

The board of directors listed for North Sacramento Community Radio have addresses in El Dorado Hills and Elk Grove. The group’s phone number has a 530 area code. So that’s all sort of Sacramento adjacent.

But no one answered the North Sacramento Community Radio phone number, or returned Bites’ phone message. The application mentions religious and educational programming, but doesn’t list any local churches or community groups.

And it turns out that LPFM-advocacy groups have complained to the FCC that Guel has filed for several LPFM licenses around the country that appear to have no real connection to the local communities. In fact, the language that North Sacramento Community Radio uses to describe itself in its application is exactly the same as language in other Guel-filed applications.

And recently, the FCC sent Guel a letter of inquiry asking about possible violations of law in 14 applications he filed around in several states. Specifically, the agency wants more information about “the authenticity of the applicants and parties to the applications,” and has concerns about “instances of potential misrepresentation and/or lack of candor.” So does Bites.