BELKNAP, Mont. - Travelers in the Hi-Line region of north-central
Montana are often surprised when KGVA-FM pops up on their radio
because most listeners aren't accustomed to hearing a steady mix
of tribal news, Native commentary and pow wow drumming and singing
transmitted year-round, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
station, an affiliate of National Public Radio, American Indian
Radio on Satellite and a member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,
as well as the Native American Public Radio Consortium, is inconspicuously
based in a little wooden building here behind White Clay Hall at
Fort Belknap College.
major claim to fame is that KGVA is the only Native-owned and operated
public radio station in Montana, the nation's fourth largest state.
There are only 30 similar operations across the country, including
Alaska and Hawaii.
traveling nearly two hours away from the station, whose call letters
represent the host Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes, can still
pick up its 90-kilowatt signal. Manager Will Gray Jr. said KGVA's
broadcast covers nearly 9,500 square miles that are home to four
American Indian tribes, five Hutterite colonies and thousands of
other residents scattered along southern Saskatchewan and the U.S.
passersby might find the unusual programming a novelty, area residents
depend on the station as a crucial link to the outside world. With
most other media outlets many miles away, KGVA serves a dual niche
- keeping locals apprised of area happenings and bringing in programs
such as "Native America Calling," billed as the world's "first electronic
moderator Harlan McKosato notes that the popular call-in program
is the only nationally syndicated American Indian radio talk show.
Among many favorites at KGVA is "National Native News," which is
also a production of the Alaska-based Koahnic Broadcast Corp.
tribal station's wide range of memberships and affiliations allows
for a lively on-air montage, but Gray and Fort Belknap College President
Carole Falcon-Chandler note that keeping the doors open is an all-consuming
killing our budget, but we don't plan on closing it down," Falcon-Chandler
said. "It's too important."
to Gray, it takes about $130,000 a year to keep the station afloat,
and that's only with a skeleton crew of one full-time manager, two
part-time announcers and a batch of volunteers. The days are long,
the pay is short, but the satisfaction of serving the tribal and
non-tribal public seems to be the glue that holds it all together.
volunteers keep us open," Gray said, adding that the station must
broadcast at least 18 hours a day to keep its public accreditation.
"They're sometimes hit-or-miss, but they're something we rely on."
college provides space for the station and other support, and local
underwriting brings in between $6,000 and $7,000 a year for operations,
Gray said. Even though many area residents are mired in poverty,
KGVA hopes to soon start semi-annual fund-raisers throughout the
listening area to help pay the bills.
think people want to keep this going," he said. "I hope they do."
29, is into his second year as manager. He had never worked at a
radio station before and was KGVA's only employee the first six
months of his tenure. A member of the Fort Belknap Indian Community,
his professional background, in fact, is in natural resources.
was doing the automation, the repairs, everything," he said of those
harrowing first days on the job. "I guess I just had the drive to
much of KGVA's broadcasting is automated, which decreases the need
for a lot of personnel. Nonetheless, Gray acknowledges it's largely
been trial by fire so far.
putting in a lot of extra hours to keep it going," he said. "We
try to do as much local programming as possible, but it's difficult
to find people to do that. One community member plans to start covering
tribal council meetings as a volunteer. We're always looking for
also been working with high school students in nearby Harlem and
Hays in hopes of sparking their interest in public communications.
The station gets occasional work-study students from the college,
but on-air help is often hard to find.
(microphone) scares them off," Gray said. "They don't want to talk
on the mic."