Bob McCullough, longtime manager of Idyllwild’s emergency radio station WNKI (1610 AM), is hanging it up. McCullough, a direct link to WNKI founders George Covington and Carol Lindholm, received a charge from Covington early in the station’s life. “He told me if anything happened to him, that I should keep the station running, and that is what I have tried to do,” related McCullough who has served the station since 1989 and managed it since September 2003.
In 1988, Covington and Lindholm envisioned a station to keep Hill residents informed of approaching disaster threats, updates during emergencies, and information for residents who have complied with evacuation orders. “It [the station] was George’s idea, WNKI was his baby,” McCullough remembered. “IFPD said they’d provide the space, but George had to raise the money.” Covington did raise the $19,000 to equip and launch the station, which went live in July 1988. WNKI also provides local weather information and public service announcements, but its primary function is to provide emergency broadcasts.
And that is what McCullough, a career Navy veteran, has done tirelessly during his many years of service to Hill residents — staff and man the station during developing emergencies and during actual disasters. “During the Bee Canyon Fire [1996, when much of Idyllwild evacuated] George and I manned the station for 84 consecutive hours over a four-day period,” said McCullough. He remembers fielding, with staff, 4,500 inquiry calls an hour, during the Bee Canyon emergency, keeping Hill evacuees and those who stayed behind up to date on fire conditions.
He also remembered that the majority of Idyllwild-Pine Cove residents who did not evacuate were older ladies who lived alone. And, a word of thanks he said he would always remember was from one of those ladies who said, “I don’t want you to think I’m being forward, but your voice is the last I hear before going to bed at night and the first I hear in the morning.”
McCullough described how he came to work during emergencies. “My method of operation, that I have always used, is to plot and track every fire within 10 miles of Idyllwild or Pine Cove,” he said. He described how, during the first minutes or hours of a fire, his job was to gather information from scanning official first responder traffic, since emergency personnel were busy getting equipment and personnel on fire lines. “After that it’s conducting and broadcasting threat assessments, using official information from fire personnel,” he said.
“But now, at 85, it’s time to be able to go to my off-the-Hill condo without always having to man the scanner,” he said.
McCullough leaves a stronger WNKI — automation of the station, that Lindholm made possible in 1994 by donating the equipment and writing the programming, expansion of coverage with the addition of a new transmitter in November, 2009, and a current reach, for disaster broadcasts, to north of Allandale, west of station 53 in Garner Valley and just east of Valle Vista. “Right now, I feel WNKI, with our new transmitter, is fully equipped to handle most disaster situations,” said McCullough.
Still in WNKI mode, he cautions listeners about the necessity of tuning precisely to 1610, since the channel sits between two stronger station signals on each side.
Rick Foster has volunteered to take temporary responsibility for WNKI. Bill Tell will make a presentation to Mile High Radio Club about the possibility of taking on overall management. IFPD retains the primary license and whoever operates the station will do so under the auspices of IFPD.