2 more radio towers sought for new station

The Skotdal family says it has won the last available AM frequency in the Puget Sound area and wants to build two new radio towers in the Snohomish River valley to put it on the air.

The owners will wait on a format for the new station — 1520-AM — until they receive county and federal approvals for construction of the antennas. The signal will reach all of Snohomish County during the day, and a half-dozen core cities at night, including Everett, Marysville, Lake Stevens, Snohomish, Mill Creek and maybe Mukilteo.

“This new station has never been on the air before,” said Andy Skotdal, spokesman for the family’s radio business and general manager for KRKO 1380-AM. “It’s a special frequency in a lot of ways.”

Except for a proposal for 740-AM in Redmond, “it’s the last unrecognized frequency available in Western Washington.”

The two proposed towers each are to be 199 feet tall.

Opposition to the proposed towers is expected at hearings next week, mirroring the years of controversy that mired four other towers at the same location for the family’s other station, KRKO (1380-AM).

“I expect that health issues will get more play this time,” said Angela Day, a member of Citizens to Preserve the Upper Snohomish River Valley. “That’s a key issue here.”

She says new research shows leukemia risks are higher near AM radio towers.

Like before, project opponents and nearby residents are expected to raise concerns about the appearance of the towers, the effect on birds and parks.

“All those same issues will be in play,” Day said.

To win the rights to the new frequency, the Skotdals competed against 13 other proposals to the Federal Communications Commission this summer. Technically, the Skotdals will be awarded the frequency only after the FCC approves the towers.

“It turns out that the area, the northern half of Snohomish County, is one of the most underserved in the country for local radio,” said Skotdal, chairman of the Washington State Association of Broadcasters.

No call letters have been chosen, Skotdal said. The station might be on the air by 2009, Skotdal said.

It takes a lot of expensive engineering to find a usable frequency that doesn’t interfere with another station, said Mark Allen, president and chief executive of the Washington State Association of Broadcasters.

“It’s harder and harder to find a frequency you might be able to work with,” Allen said. “You punch the buttons in your car anywhere in the state, you’d be hard-pressed to find a vacant space that’s not taken up. It’s something that’s been a scarce resource for a long time.”

In 2000, the family applied to build up to eight radio towers for KRKO and the new frequency.

The company faced 15 days of rancorous hearings in front of a Snohomish County hearing examiner over the four KRKO antennas. All told, there were 35 hearing and court dates for the KRKO project, Skotdal said.

Last month, crews poured the foundations for those four towers, three of which are expected to be 199 feet tall, and one 349 feet tall. Federal building permits are pending.

Once the towers are operational, KRKO will increase its broadcast signal from 5,000 to 50,000 watts. The more powerful signal will be able to better penetrate buildings and reach as far as Bellevue, Skotdal said.

This round of hearings is expected to be swifter because environmental review covering up to eight towers is complete. “We did all of that up front,” Skotdal said.

Still, with opposition mounting against the two newly proposed towers, “it’s reasonable to assume there are going to be a number of appeals after this, and we’re planning for that,” Skotdal said.

The 1520-AM station is proposed to have a 20,000-watt signal by day, and 50,000 watts at night.

The company’s plans for eight towers were scaled back when they learned the two stations could piggyback on just six towers, Skotdal said.

“This new AM radio station requires at least four or five structures depending on how you design the pattern,” he said. “What we were able to do was to end up sharing a couple of the already permitted structures at the site. It’s rare, but it’s possible, and in a lot of ways we feel very fortunate this was able to happen.”

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or jswitzer@heraldnet.com.

Radio tower hearings

Hearings on two proposed radio towers are scheduled next week on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. The hearings will be on the first floor of the county administration building, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett.

Radio station owners are scheduled to give their presentations beginning at 9 a.m. at the first hearing. Time for public comment is set aside from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon Friday. For updated information about public testimony times, call 425-388-3538.

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