The theme for this year’s 4th of July celebration in Sitka will be “Communications through the Years.”

Ken Fate, the general manager of Raven Radio, made the announcement at this week’s meeting of the Sitka Chamber of Commerce (5-16-12).

Fate told the Chamber – which sponsors the 4th of July event – that he had only just learned that he and his three predecessors at KCAW would serve as grand marshals for this year’s parade.

Now, he’s looking for a suitable ride for himself, Lily Herwald, Barnaby Dow, and Rich McClear.

“Does anybody have a Corvette or a convertible they want to donate to the cause?”

Fate went on to tell the chamber about KCAW’s thirty-year history, and its connections – both social and financial – to the community.

He reminded the audience that Raven Radio broadcasts 49 programs a week hosted by 65 community volunteers. Another 50 volunteers made up the substitute roster.

Fate corrected the common misconception that KCAW is owned by National Public Radio, or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

He said Raven Radio’s license is owned by its membership: the listeners who support the station financially during its twice-yearly fund drives.

“Some folks think of public radio as something that is brought to the community from the outside. I just want to make very clear that Raven Radio is of, by, and for the people of Sitka.”

Fate stressed the economic impact of the station. It brings in almost $300,000 in federal funding annually from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and generates another $200,000 in business underwriting and memberships. The station owns the 104-year-old Cable House, and has leveraged grants from the Rural Development Administration, the Rasmuson Foundation, and other agencies, to renovate the building from top-to-bottom using local contractors exclusively.

Fate said Raven Radio is successful because Sitka is successful. He said the station was integral to the community’s vibrancy – especially its local news service.

“News reporting – having a daily newscast, a daily newspaper that’s locally-owned – a daily newscast and two full-time news people helps a community (any community) be introspective, democratic, and to thrive. I feel passionately that it’s not just something that occurs. A healthy community relies and depends on looking at itself and all of the good and the bad it does, in a neutral voice, and in an all-inclusive way, so that every voice in the community is welcome.”

Fate said the station has made considerable efforts to make sure those voices – and the news – are heard, even in dire circumstances. Emergency generators recently have been installed at both the Cable House and at the station’s transmitter site on Japonski Island, so city power outages will no longer knock KCAW off the air. And if Sitka were ever inundated, as northeastern Japan was 14 months ago, the station now has a portable transmitter – called “Radio-to-Go” that can run off of a car battery.

Finally, Fate said that Raven Radio’s internet presence had dramatically expanded the station’s reach. The station’s website receives over 2,000 unique visitors a week; at least 500 unique listeners per week stream the station online.

An audience member asked Fate if KCAW’s growing web audience would dilute Raven Radio’s programming.

“I think that comment defines one of our next great challenges. As our audience has been Southeast Alaska, and now that audience has the potential – and the reality – of being worldwide, how do we (or do we?) change the programming? Or if not, why? The first step is to understand that that’s a distinction. If you’re a program director, the question is who are you programming to and why? And just realizing that the game table has changed is the most important thing for us to do. We do know that; it’s just started. We’ll be evaluating how to proceed to best protect what we have, and to grow what we might want to get to.”

Listen to Ken Fate’s complete address to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce.