New station has cultural mission
KBFT has limited power at 1,000 watts, but that hasn’t limited the station’s goals
Tom Klein
T. Klein
KBFT station manager George Strong watched over the operation of the new Nett Lake radio station earlier this week.

NETT LAKE – At 1,000 watts, Bois Forte station KBFT reaches a limited radio audience. The station’s broadcast signal covers only a 30-mile radius from its small studio located in a wing of the Nett Lake Elementary School.

But what it lacks in range, the station hopes to make up for in significance by preserving the culture of the Bois Forte Band as well as keeping the communities it serves informed.

Those goals are in line with the philosophy behind the Local Community Radio Act, which permits the Federal Communications Council to issue low-power broadcasting licenses for community radio stations. The Act’s intent is to ensure the public has access to a wider diversity of voices and music in an age when media conglomerates own most of the high-powered radio stations.

Freepress.net argues that community radio stations, such as KBFT, strengthen a community’s identity, create an outlet for amateur musicians to get their music heard and open the door for more diversity of views from a wider spectrum of the community, including racial minorities and the youth of the community.

General manager George Strong said plans originally called for a more powerful station that could be used to promote the band’s Fortune Bay Resort Casino. But when those plans fell through, the Bois Forte Tribal Council opted to seek a noncommercial, community radio license instead. Their application for the license was successful and KBFT first went on the air at 89.9 FM in August 2011.

The station wasn’t well known initially, but has begun to draw an ever-increasing pool of listeners thanks to its diverse selection of music and programming. It has also expanded its listener base by streaming the station online. The online stream can be accessed at www.kbft.org.

Volunteers key

Strong explained that the station works with a skeleton staff and will rely on volunteers to expand its programming. As an example, the station recently added broadcasts of North Woods sports.

“We’re just getting our feet wet in that kind of programming,” said Marty Connor, programming manager for the station.

Although the station is currently limiting its coverage to home games, Connor said the station is exploring what it would cost to add out-of-town games in the future.

Another recent programming addition is the word of the day, which introduces listeners to a new Ojibwe word each day. Donald Chosa is providing the daily segment.

“It’s our way of trying to keep our language alive,” said Connor.

Connor said the station hopes to include more volunteer programming in the future. According to Strong, Native American recording artist Keith Secola, who grew up in Cook, is developing a program to feature local musicians and the station is also inviting input from area historians.

The station is also reaching out to area youth, including involvement from the Boys and Girls Club at Nett Lake Elementary.

Connor said the station is open to anyone from the region with ideas for programs and will help train volunteers on how to use the station’s equipment. Those interested are encouraged to contact Connor at 218-757-0042 or Strong at 218-757-3185. You can also reach Connor by email at marty.connor@boisforte-nsn.gov or at pgmgr@KBFT.org, and can reach Strong by email at g.strong@boisforte-nsn.gov or at www.KBFT.org.

Strong said the station recently posted an opening for an audio production technician in anticipation of developing more local programming.

Eclectic programming

Although the station broadcasts Native American artists, it also includes more contemporary music.

“We all grew up on CCR and the Rolling Stones, we have to include some music by them,” said Strong.

But the selection of music is more eclectic than is found on most commercial radio stations. For instance, Connor said early country music is popular among the senior audience listening to KBFT and he’s even worked a polka or two into the musical mix.

KBFT also features some syndicated programming not available elsewhere locally, such as “Democracy Now!” The daily program features news, analysis and opinion, and is hosted by investigative journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez.

Strong said because of its nonprofit status, KBFT was offered some programming at deeply discounted rates.

Strong sees KBFT as part of a growing movement by Native Americans to ensure their culture and traditions remain vital. Fond du Lac, Leech Lake and White Earth also operate community radio stations similar to KBFT.

In addition, KBFT is a member of Ampers, a collection of independent community radio stations across Minnesota.

“We’re the voice of our culture and the daily lives of the communities we serve,” said Strong, who said the station’s membership in Ampers could help spread its message statewide and prevent the evaporation of the region’s cultural and historical importance.

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1 comment on this item

I think this station has tremendous upside potential. I am glad to see Donald Chosa introducing and Ojibway word each day. As time goes on, the station may wish to broaden it's offerings to address the cultural commonality between the early Indians and Finns. That's a bit of history our young people are mostly unaware of.

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