Negotiations about Idyllwild’s emergency radio station, WNKI, between the Mile High Radio Club and the Idyllwild Fire Department have reached an impasse, according to MHRC President Bill Tell.
Since Bob McCullough retired as WNKI’s manager in the fall of 2012, the position has been vacant, although volunteers have kept it functioning. But MHRC offered to manage the station and bring their expertise to its dials and antenna almost two years ago.
Speaking to members of the Pine Cove Property Owners Association, Tell said he had sent a letter to Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz indicating MHRC had withdrawn its offer to manage the radio station.
The club’s original offer is nearly two years old, Tell said. The length of time for the negotiations has been frustrating for MHRC’s steering committee, which decided to rescind its offer and hope that is recognized as a wake-up call.
Nevertheless, Tell indicated he still hoped an arrangement between IFPD and the club might still be possible.
“I hope it spurs the fire department to re-enter negotiations,” he told the group. He asked PCPOA and County Service Area 38 (Pine Cove) to draft a letter supporting MHRC’s management of WNKI. “If we pull together and put your weight behind MHRC, we may bring IFPD back to the table.”
Current PCPOA president Annamarie Padula said she would “definitely prepare the letter.”
As of Tuesday, Oct. 7, Reitz has not responded to an email from the Town Crier asking if he was optimistic that a successful agreement could be reached between the two organizations.
“[The club] has a vision to broadcast WNKI from Poppet Flat to Pinyon,” Tell said. “We can cover the entire area that’s part of the [Community Wildfire Protection Plan]. People are screaming, ‘We can’t hear you.’”
With mountain terrain, coverage of the whole Hill is a challenge, according to Tell, but MHRC member Tom Pierce has developed a plan that should accomplish this task of propagating the station’s signals.
“The MHRC has the vision, the engineering know-how and the drive to pull together a team from multiple agencies to make this happen,” Tell has said.
When Padula asked what would happen if the letter failed to be a catalyst to complete the agreement, Tell remained positive. “I’ve been to many meetings in town and a lot of people are behind us,” he replied. “County Fire is helping with a repeater on Santa Rosa Mountain. There are a lot of parts which can help it happen.”
WNKI, 1610 AM, was established in 1988. The station founders were George Covington and Carol Lindholm who were involved in managing the station until 2003 when McCullough, Pine Cove resident and former water district director, assumed the daily management, especially during fires and other emergencies.
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.
“[The station] was George’s idea, WNKI was his baby,” McCullough told the Town Crier in 2012. “IFPD said they’d provide the space, but George had to raise the money.”
While IFPD holds the FCC broadcast license, Covington did raise the $19,000 from various agencies, such as Cal Fire, the Forest Service and private donations, to equip the station. WNKI also provides local weather information and public service announcements, but its primary function is to broadcast emergencies.