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High school radio station finds new home at 88.9 FM

A contractor climbs the radio tower at Mercer Island High School to switch the transmission frequency. The high school radio station recently switched to the opposite end of the dial. Tune in to 88.9 FM from now on.  - Contributed photo
A contractor climbs the radio tower at Mercer Island High School to switch the transmission frequency. The high school radio station recently switched to the opposite end of the dial. Tune in to 88.9 FM from now on.
— image credit: Contributed photo

The Mercer Island High School radio station has a new home. For the past four years, KMIH had been teetering on the edge of its FM wavelength, 104.5, nearly pushed off by a bigger Oregon station vying for the same dial number. Because the high school-run radio station was considered a “Class D” educational station, KMIH did not have the commercial clout to defend its long-standing home in the face of competition. And so Nick DeVogel, director of the MIHS radio station, turned to professionals for help.

On top of collecting petition signatures to keep KMIH at 104.5, DeVogel garnered the attention of Washington’s U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell. Eager to support small, educational radio stations, Cantwell brought DeVogel’s battle against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — which granted the Oregon station, KMCQ, permission to change its city license to Covington in southeast King County and take over 104.5 FM — to the United States Senate in 2004, introducing a bill that would give Class D stations protection against bigger commercial stations.

“The bill was introduced on the floor of the U.S. Senate and didn’t go through, but that got us into negotiations [with the FCC],” DeVogel said. “The senator brokered an agreement, and we got some parties to sign on to it.”

Soon DeVogel and his supporters were in a legal skirmish to maintain KMIH’s home at 104.5; a skirmish that lasted nearly four years.

“This battle was huge,” the MIHS radio teacher said. “From the onset, it consumed the better part of three summers and a good half of my time teaching class. We had to file pages and pages of legalese, and spent hours talking to our attorneys in D.C.”

In total, the station spent $145,000 in legal bills. But it was well worth it. Last month, the legal battle was settled with Broadcasting Investment Partners out of Dallas, Texas. Both KMIH and KMCQ walked away happy.

On Aug. 31, KMIH, “Hot Jamz,” broadcast its first radio show on 88.9 FM, the station’s new home. In a compromise negotiated between both parties, KMCQ-FM was still able to expand to 104.5.

As for DeVogel’s legal expenditures, the station earned every cent back.

“Broadcasting Investment Partners stepped in and paid for our moving expenses as well as all legal costs incurred,” DeVogel said.

DeVogel’s excitement over the new move is shared by that of his students.

“I think it’s a great move for us. It definitely saved us. Without moving, we’d be off the air,” said KMIH program director Nic Alquist, who has worked at the station for more than a year.

Hot Jamz is also set to launch a radio translator in Seattle on 94.5 FM, which will bring a better signal to listeners driving in their cars.

According to DeVogel, KMIH will continue to play contemporary hits as it has for the past several years, keeping up with the latest names in rhythmic music: Brandy, Mariah Carey and Chris Brown, to name a few.

“If you listen to Kube or Kiss, we’re more on the Kiss side,” DeVogel said, adding that KMIH has strayed from playing urban music. “We’re staying with the trend of music today.”

In total, DeVogel has about 35 students working at KMIH, either through his radio class or after school. As part of the NEVAC program, which offers technical and vocational courses to students at nine Eastside schools, DeVogel has two students from Newport and Bothell. He may pick up more after the Bellevue teachers’ strike.

“It’s a great place to get some real-world experience because we are a real radio station,” said Alquist, who is a NEVAC student from Bothell High School.

“The music is completely done by students,” DeVogel added. “I love working with the kids — that’s why I’m here.”

DeVogel was once a KMIH student himself, back when he attended Mercer Island High School in the 1970s. The station, which was first begun in 1969, is like a second home to him.

“It was the highlight of my life growing up. It made me look forward to going to school every day. I loved the station, and it took me to a professional career at King 5 TV and back here to teach,” he said.

Indeed, KMIH radio has come a long way since its first broadcast in 1969. Changing its music through the decades, seeing students move on to careers in professional radio and fighting successfully to maintain its spot on FM radio, the station has created its own legacy — one that, hopefully, will continue for decades to come.

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