Lease dispute leads to shutdown of radio tower
Tuning into your favorite program on KNWT 89.1 Trapper Radio may prove to be a challenge for the foreseeable future, as a dispute over a lease has put Northwest College’s campus radio station off the air.
Already in a difficult transition period following the elimination of the school’s Radio/TV Broadcasting program last year, KNWT was dealt a further blow earlier this month, when Legend Towers, LLC — the owner of the radio tower used by KNWT — shut off the broadcast on July 17.
The shutdown comes at an inopportune time for NWC, as the college was working to transfer KNWT’s lease and license to Wyoming Public Media. Those negotiations, however, have been slowed.
As part of budget reductions more than a year ago, NWC leaders decided to cut the college’s radio/television program, but KNWT stayed on air, continuing to incur expenses like the lease of the radio tower lease.
Then, last week, “I received a certified letter from the owner of the radio tower to say we were out of compliance with our lease payments,” said NWC President Stefani Hicswa. “They wanted the lease payments up front, and we had been paying it monthly until we figured out what we’re going to do.”
“That apparently wasn’t acceptable, because they shut us down,” Hicswa said.
Also included in the certified letter was an invoice for the remaining three years of the lease.
“The owner’s interpretation of the lease agreement is that it needed to be paid annually,” Hicswa said. “We interpreted it to mean we could pay monthly.”
She added that, “We believe we are in compliance with the terms of the lease.”
In a Monday letter to the Federal Communications Commission, KNWT General Manager Troy Hunt outlined the station’s dilemma.
“When clarifications regarding our lease and contract with Legend Towers, LLC were asked by college administration, tower company officials powered down our transmitter, locked us out of the building and have trespassed us and all representatives from the property,” Hunt wrote. “Our attorney is examining our legal options regarding this forcible shuttering of the broadcast and seizing of the college’s transmission equipment located at the Cedar Mountain tower site.”
Legend Towers, LLC, is a subsidiary of Legend Communications — the same company that owns the Big Horn Radio Network in Cody (made up of radio stations that include KODI, KZMQ and KTAG) and other radio networks around the state. Larry Patrick, who co-owns Legend Communications with his wife, declined to comment to the Tribune about the situation.
As to what the shutdown means for the future of KNWT Trapper Radio, negotiations are still underway with Wyoming Public Media, according to WPM General Manager Christina Kuzmych.
“We’re moving along and addressing issues as they come up,” Kuzmych said. “This process is nearing completion, but there proved to be a sticking point with the current owner of the site. We are in the process of resolving the issue.”
“However,” she added, “taking KNWT off the air does not serve the public’s interest and punishes people in the community who listen.”
Should WPM acquire the license, the company would bring one of their services to the area, with the Wyoming Sounds Channel emerging as the top contender.
“We already have the main Wyoming Public Radio channel in the area, so a new channel would bring a new experience for listeners and retain the public radio flavor,” Kuzmych said. “Wyoming Sounds is a relatively new service for us, it features Americana repertoire plus a heavy dose of local Wyoming bands and artists.”
Kuzmych went on to say she’d like to see a relationship between WPM and NWC continue in some capacity.
“WPM would work with NWC to identify local talent for whichever service we bring to the Powell/Cody area,” she said. “Working with the local community is a key to successful local and statewide distribution. WPM would also like to keep the KNWT call letters to keep the history intact.”