Despite some dissension, the Mile High Radio Club last Thursday approved the agreement for operating local emergency radio station WNKI (1610 AM) that the Idyllwild Fire Protection District commission approved at its November meeting.
The approval is the culmination of a two-year process of negotiations between the club and IFPD.
After the meeting, MHRC President Bill Tell said, “I feel great and equally excited about the steps ahead that we must tackle to bring this station up to today’s standards and technology. … It may take a couple of months to form the various operational committees, as there may be other directions or items of higher priority in the early stages of the agreement that could require our attention.
“The district is excited with the MHRC partnership and the potential to have WNKI modernized and more effective as a resource for travelers’ advisories and emergency situations that impact the Hill,” said Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz.
Club member Jeff Smith raised a concern about the explicit language in the agreement to broadcast non-emergency information, even if it is related to emergency preparedness.
Smith referred to a Federal Communications Commission document that explicitly limits broadcasts from travel information systems such as WNKI.
In a July 2013 rulemaking, the FCC stated, “We find that allowing routine [travel information systems] broadcasts during nonemergency periods of terrorist threat levels, public health alerts, emergency preparedness messages, conservation messages and the like, is not in the public interest, as such routine broadcasts also would dilute situational awareness pertinent to the traveling motorist. The primary purpose of the TIS is to assist motorists in the process of traveling and to provide emergency and imminent threat information in covered areas. Therefore, we will continue to disallow messages that do not have a travel nexus, are not emergency-related, or do not relate directly to an imminent threat because such messages would dilute the convenience and efficacy of TIS.”
However, Tell and Michael Andelson, who assisted the club in reviewing the agreement, stressed that the actual limitation is on a licensee’s conduct, not simply language in the agreement. Both men stated that the club’s broadcasts would have to comply with FCC regulations and guidelines.
“We always have to follow FCC rules and any agreement is subject to change,” Andelson said, responding to Smith’s concerns. “If we’re concerned we can modify the agreement later in time. We won’t act contrary to the rules.” And Tell said these issues would be addressed in the development of the operation plan for the station and through training.
Initially, MHRC set priorities for improvements to the station while seeking funding sources, including grants. “We have preliminary estimates for many of the improvements we have proposed to date … most likely we’ll move out on some simple, less expensive ones first, making sure we maintain an operations budget and validate performance improvements as we go along,” Tell said.
Reitz added, “MHRC has been working diligently for about two years to move WKNI into the new generation; the initial steps are actually a continuation of what has already taken place to date with the MHRC, all of which has been very positive.”