KPTZ: Role in community more important than ever

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 2/28/17

Robert Ambrose believes that the role of community radio stations, such as KPTZ-FM, is more relevant than ever.

Ambrose became board president of the Port Townsend radio station after Colin Foden, …

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KPTZ: Role in community more important than ever

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Robert Ambrose believes that the role of community radio stations, such as KPTZ-FM, is more relevant than ever.

Ambrose became board president of the Port Townsend radio station after Colin Foden, who cofounded KPTZ 10 years ago, stepped down as president. (Foden remains on the station’s board.) Ambrose started attending board meetings six months after moving to town, which was two and a half years ago.

“One of my criteria for where I would move to was whether the town had a community radio station,” said Ambrose, who worked in radio for 20 years before moving to Port Townsend. He joined the KPTZ board in 2015. “Community radio is very important to democracy, because it gives people a space to share with each other, that creates connections within a community.”

Ambrose admitted that “entire generations, including my kids” listen to radio either less often or not at all, which is why his goal for KPTZ is to create content that makes people want to listen and reaches them through the ways in which they listen now.

“It’s good to reevaluate how you’re going along,” said Ambrose, who compared the station’s progress to the current political state of the country. “You can just be living your life when these giant changes drop onto you, and you have to figure out how to move forward.”

MOVING, TECHNICAL CHALLENGES

Moving forward involves some considerable technical challenges, especially for a 100 percent listener-supported station. While occasional glitches and lapses in continuity are no strangers to community radio, KPTZ is facing the bigger issue of possibly having to move its transmitter, and definitely having to move from the Mountain View Commons campus it currently shares with the Port Townsend Police Department and the Port Townsend Food Bank.

“They’re renovating the campus here, so we’ll need to move by 2018,” Ambrose said. “Our transmitter is on leased property, and that lease sunsets in four years. That gives us more time, but even if we do decide to move it, it’ll take at least a year, during which time we’ll need to put up a new tower. Either way, we’ll need to build another transmitter.”

Ambrose estimates the capital costs of these two moves alone are likely to total at least $250,000.

ALL VOLUNTEERS

With those expenses in mind, Ambrose deems the station’s estimated crew of 60-80 volunteers to be essential and not just a nice perk. Neither he nor any of the board members, nor any of the on-air talent or other station staff, receive any money for the work they do to keep KPTZ in operation.

“We don’t pay anyone,” Ambrose said. “Larry Stein is our program manager. Bill Putney is our chief engineer. All our positions are volunteers. We could not run this station otherwise.”

Along with the volunteers’ passion for radio comes an eclectic collection of musical tastes and programs, from Stein’s interviews with local folks to Ambrose’s showcases of African music. Ambrose would very much like to see the station expand its local news coverage, airing perhaps a single news story a day.

“I want us to be more responsive to local news,” said Ambrose, who would love to fund a part-time reporter position. “Local news is the most important service that community radio can provide, and in a small town, a reporter is a bit like a doctor; they’re always going to be on call.”

While Ambrose proudly touted the talents of his existing volunteer base, he welcomes others who are interested in volunteering to contact the station by phone at 379-6886 or online at

kptz.org. He emphasized that KPTZ has plenty of positions and duties outside of the studio, but he also is willing to train prospective on-air talent as well.

JAZZ, BLUES

“People have learned all sorts of specialties here,” Ambrose said. “At the same time, I’m amazed by how many of our volunteers bring with them radio experience from elsewhere.”

Ambrose is tentatively receptive to finding openings for new musical shows in the station’s on-air schedule, although he noted that it would be with an eye toward filling gaps in genres.

“Just in the time that I’ve been here, we’ve started some very nice jazz and blues shows,” Ambrose said. “Surprisingly for this area, we don’t have any hosts devoted to Celtic music, but I look forward to seeing what people come up with. For all the challenges we face, this station generates a lot of positive energy.”

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