By Jeff Smith
During the morning commute of Oct. 26, 2006, I came upon fleeing people towing horse trailers, one on a bicycle and, yes, on foot. No smoke or flame was immediately visible. Within minutes that all changed. Driver situational awareness was critical. The Esperanza Fire was making a run at Poppet Flats and threatened Highway 243.
WNKI, a Traveler’s Information Service (TIS), was not a viable assistant when I left home nor when I arrived at the fire as there was no signal in Pine Cove, let alone Vista Grande, and if there were, its message welcomed folk to the San Jacintos listing many activities available to visitors. That’s it: a violation of federal law and the licensed purpose of WNKI.
If there’s no declared emergency, then broadcasts are only limited to situational awareness of the traveling public such as untoned flash-flood advisories, rock slides, traffic collisions, fire and road work, not to Idyllwild residents in their homes associated with public relations, community events, emergency preparedness or training messages.
Federal laws explicitly prohibit these types of broadcasts, citing their willingness and authority to enforce these prohibitions with draconian outcomes, namely outrageous fines in the tens of thousands of dollars, and loss of nonprofit status/licensing for all involved.
This community must understand the very limited scope of WNKI broadcasts and the responsibilities with its management. When the Federal Communications Commission sought public comment before updating these long-standing rules, the Idyllwild Fire Protection District, WNKI personnel and Mile High Radio declined public comment before the FCC on the proposed rulemaking not because they chose not to but rather were unaware of existing law regulating WNKI, including enforcement provisions. Without formal comment or objection, total, immediate and unmodified license compliance is the only option.
WNKI has been mis-managed for years — no required audits on its government account with an alleged balance off by one-third, unlawful broadcasts and unlawful equipment with proposed managers unaware of existing law.
Sadly, the hardest obstacle in establishing an effective TIS requires the elimination of caustic Idyll-centric tunnel vision.
In my opinion, IFPD has burned countless bridges regarding trust with Riverside County Office of Emergency Services, Riverside County Fire Department, Cal Fire, County Service Area 38, and Pine Cove Water District (owner of the highest antenna site by far) if only through grand jury fights and subsequent investigation/enforcement actions.
The road through this mess requires leadership, not a dangerous and irresponsible white wash over the pig pen. A transfer of the WNKI license to an agency with jurisdiction and antenna access outside IFPD boundaries is the only way out of the sty.