On Aug. 4, 1979, Bev Munro flipped a switch and announced “This is KBBI, Homer, Alaska, signing on air.”
The words marked the first local radio broadcast of KBBI, which is celebrating 44 years this month. Munro was a founder and coordinator of the organization “who basically started the whole process for imagining a radio station in Homer,” current director Josh Krohn said.
Since then KBBI has continued to provide essential information services such as severe weather warnings, emergency alerts and local, regional, state, national and international news as well as entertainment programming to communities and remote regions of Southcentral Alaska.
“KBBI’s relevance to the community remains strong and still serves as a vital source of information and a focal point for connecting with our families, friends and neighbors,” Krohn told the Homer News in a text message Tuesday. “It is also a source for spreading awareness about local politics and events. Over the past few years, we’ve focused on formalizing our relationships with the municipalities we serve in an effort to better inform our listeners at critical times like emergencies or natural disasters.”
According to previous Homer News reporting, KBBI staff wanted the station’s maiden voyage to be a live, remote broadcast.
“More than 100 Homer residents gathered in the gymnasium of the Homer Middle School and the band Skybird provided the first tunes over KBBI’s scratchy airwaves until the radio feed was switched to its studio then located on Lake Street,” Chris Russ reported in the Homer News in 1999.
Efforts to launch a public radio station go back to at least 1976, when long time resident Kevin Hogan and Munro began campaigning in the Alaska Legislature to start a public radio station in Homer, according to an email from Rita Turner.
Lance Petersen, who was chairman of the KBBI board of directors in the first few years, told the Homer News in 1999 that the impetus for starting the station was a lack of options for those looking for news.
“It’s hard to believe that there were no stations that reached Homer. We wanted to be able to provide news and weather to everybody on the Lower Peninsula. We wanted to serve everybody, be an eclectic mix and an information clearinghouse,” he said.
There were many delays to the original launch date for the station including the inability of KBBI to share the FAA-owned transmitter station on Main Street, according to Turner, who was the first employee hired in 1977 and also served as an early board member.
Eventually, Larry Smith, a long-time Homer resident, coordinated the first building to be used as the transmitter, a 3-acre parcel on the Homer Spit donated by community member Doug Sweat, Turner wrote.
When the Alaska Public Broadcasting Corporation determined the original building was too small, KBBI leased one of the cabins across from Spenard Builders Supply on Lake Street. The station lasted one year in the building on Lake Street before damage to the building forced them to find another new station location.
“The support within the community was phenomenal and included professional electricians, donations and family oriented fundraising events with many volunteers for assistance,” Turner said in an email.
Smith also helped coordinate a request to Spenard for supplies to begin construction on the Main Street site and the business donated $14,000 in building materials.
In 1990, the station moved to its current location on Kachemak Way.
In 1999, Dave Webster, station news director at the time, said in a Homer News article that one of the most significant periods in KBBI’s history came in 1989 with the grounding of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound. At that point, public radio was one of the best ways to transmit up-to-date information on how the oil spill might impact Kachemak Bay to local residents.
In 1980, the station also launched the first Concert on the Lawn, an event intended to bring the community together for a day of musical celebration. This year KBBI held their 37th concert at Karen Hornaday Park.
Turner coordinated the first two years of the station’s fundraiser. The inaugural event opened with an invocation by Brother Asaiah Bates, a well-known figure from Homer’s history, and featured musicians Steve Smith and Eddy Wood.
“The English Bay Band wrapped up the event with concert attendees and their kids dancing to the music,” she said.
There were several recent years when the concert did not take place due to COVID and lack of enough revenue to the station. But, the event has successfully returned for the past two years.
Today, the station has recently expanded to include the community of Seward in its network system and listeners from out of town can listen to live streaming at www.kbbi.org.
Turner encourages listeners to support KBBI in whatever way they can, by becoming a member or volunteering.