Settlement allows high school radio station to move to lower frequency

WASHINGTON — A high school radio station will change its frequency and a commercial station will move into its old spot on the radio dial as well as pay for several years of legal proceedings involving the two, according to a recent settlement.

Although Mercer Island High School radio station KMIH will remain on air, the station will relocate from 104.5 FM to 88.9 FM and KMCQ, a contemporary adult radio station, will move to the area and broadcast at 104.5 FM, ending five years of dispute and litigation.

The student-run station, a staple in the island community since 1979, boasts an audience of 35,000. As part of the school, working at the station is integrated into the curriculum, but the station itself is entirely self-supporting.

In 2001, Mid-Columbia Broadcasting, owner of KMCQ, petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to move its 104.5 FM tower from The Dalles, Ore., to Covington, Wash., which conflicted with KMIH, the Mercer High School radio station in nearby Mercer Island, Wash., which was on the same frequency.

Higher frequencies are considered Class A stations and are reserved for commercial stations while lower frequencies are reserved for non-commercial stations, such as high school stations. KMIH and KMCQ both broadcast at 104.5 FM, a Class A frequency.

The FCC ruled in 2004 that KMCQ could move into the area, and that KMIH, “would be required to suspend operation” if its broadcast interfered with KMCQ’s.

Two years ago, two other radio stations petitioned the FCC to move to that frequency, delaying any action.

But in November, the FCC denied the other two radio stations’ request to interfere with KMCQ’s move, and confirmed the settlement.

KMCQ Attorney Dominic Monahan said the situation was one “where everyone walked away with something.”

KMIH Attorney Howard Barr agreed reaching a settlement was “a good thing.”

“It was a good result at the end of the day,” Barr said. “It’s taken a long time, a lot of hard work from everybody concerned, and it’s really the best result that could have been achieved.”

KMIH privately negotiated with the FCC to relocate to 88.9 FM, Barr said. Three other area radio stations broadcasting at 88.9 FM had to sign agreements granting KMIH’s relocation.

Barr said that while 88.9 FM was not “technically available,” KMIH’s relocation would not have a major impact on the other stations involved.

“Given the minimal potential for interference, the stations didn’t have any objection,” Barr said.

Nick De Vogel, Mercer High School teacher and KMIH general manager, could not be reached for comment, but told the Seattle Times that the money the station spent on legal expenses and technical studies is estimated to be more than $100,000, which KMCQ will now pay.

“Not only do we stay on air, but the sweat, blood and tears of raising money didn’t go out the window,” Vogel said.