"I was part of a panel of four new members," said Solberg, now 84. "My thinking was, I would like more people to hear what I'm hearing, and to feel what I'm feeling. I said I'd be happy to donate time to share that experience."
And so he did. Solberg has produced a weekly radio broadcast of Everett's First Presbyterian Church services for nearly 23 years.
The "First Presbyterian Radio Ministry" airs at 8:01 a.m. Sundays on KRKO (1380 AM), an Everett-based station. On Feb. 10, the church will celebrate the radio ministry's 1,200th broadcast. It made its debut on April 1, 1990.
Solberg, retired after a radio career in Eastern Washington, creates the broadcasts in a studio at his Everett home. On Wednesday, he explained the process.
At First Presbyterian, where the Rev. Alan Dorway is pastor, Sunday services are recorded by church members who operate the sound system. It used to be done on tape, but a digital recorder is now used.
At church, "I just sit in the congregation," Solberg said.
"I take those recordings and edit a 25-minute program of message and song," he said. Solberg transfers the recordings to tape, and uses a broadcast-quality reel-to-reel recorder. Speaking into a microphone, he adds his introduction and broadcast conclusion each week. The edited programs are transferred to CD.
It takes him nearly four hours to edit and produce each program, and he creates a broadcast every Monday morning.
"I deliver the CD to KRKO, and they enter it into a computer and put it on. I've never missed a program in almost 23 years," he said.
Solberg works two weeks ahead, so radio listeners get a different sermon and music than people in the pews hear on any given Sunday. On Easter, listeners are likely to hear the service from the previous year's Easter service.
He makes it sound simple, but it's a labor-intensive task. What's all the more remarkable is that Solberg is blind. Afflicted with glaucoma, he began losing his sight at age 30. By 1974, he was totally blind.
An Everett native, Solberg worked as a disc jockey and radio news director. He began in the 1950s filling in as a night DJ at a Moses Lake station. He then worked at what's now KWNC in Quincy. He was on the air into the 1970s at KRSC, an AM station in Othello.
"I've been in radio 20 years now, and I think the longevity of Ralph's program is unique in the industry," said Andy Skotdal, general manager of KRKO. "I can't think of a program in the market that's been on in the same time for almost 30 years. It's extraordinary."
Skotdal said Solberg and his wife Shirley faithfully deliver each week's broadcast. "It's like clockwork. The door swings open at 9:30 on Tuesday morning and in come Ralph and Shirley," he said.
"His program is very well produced, and that's no small achievement," Skotdal said. The station's technology forced Solberg to switch from the old analog to a digital format. "A couple times when we first put in computer systems, the program didn't run exactly as it was supposed to," Skotdal said. "What I've learned about Ralph and Shirley, they are exceptionally gracious and kind people."
Solberg has copies of every broadcast, essentially a nearly quarter-century of oral history for the church.
What First Presbyterian Church and KRKO offer as a gift to listeners -- the broadcast never asks for donations -- Solberg sees as a godsend in his life.
He has heard from people whose relatives listened when they were hospitalized and couldn't make it to church. Some in the congregation found their way there because of the show. And once, when Solberg's phone rang and it was a wrong number, the caller recognized his voice from the radio.
"I feel blessed to be able to volunteer," he said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The First Presbyterian Radio Ministry" broadcast can be heard at 8:01 a.m. every Sunday on KRKO (1380 AM). Produced by Ralph Solberg, the broadcast features messages from clergy and guests, the church's Chancel Choir and other music.
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